If biting into a smooth and creamy slice of sweet potato pie with notes of cinnamon, and cloves, and nutmeg, and bourbon weren’t Thanksgiving enough, then pull out the blowtorch and blast away for a burnt sugar brûlée topping. This is one sweetie pie; sweet potato pie to be exact.
My culinary discovery with this dessert started out in another direction all together. I was focused on making a traditional French crème brûlée, a dessert more associated with Thanksgiving in Paris, France than Lafayette, Louisiana. And I remember it like it was yesterday (cue the flashback).
It was 12 years ago in late November 2004 that Roxanne, Lauren, and I arrived in Paris. We quickly settled into a small apartment on the West Bank just off the Rue St. Honoré and were ready to embark on a whirlwind exploration of the city. Our respective goals during that week were to soak up the city’s historic museums (Lauren); shop along the Champs-Élysées (Roxanne); and to eat my way across every café, bistro, and brasserie in town. We didn’t miss a thing: Musee d’Orsay, The Louvre, and Rodin; Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Chanel, and Les Deux Magots, Brasserie Lipp, and Café de la Paix. Whew!
And that Thursday morning we woke up and realized that we were Americans in Paris on Thanksgiving Day. But, with a serendipitous intervention by a taxi driver, we were driven to the Marais district of Paris and arrived at a quaint café. It was there at the end of a non-descript side street that the hustle and bustle of just another workday Thursday in the City of Lights came to a halt; it was home to a gathering of Americans giving thanks. We sat at a long table in an American-owned restaurant with a couple of dozen other ex-pats dining on roast turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberries, and yes, a spectacular sweet potato crème brûlée. It was a glorious celebration and our most memorable Thanksgiving holiday.
This holiday, I know I want to create a dessert that plays to South Louisiana tradition, but is unique in its interpretation of an old standard. Sweet potatoes are part of the DNA of Cajun country, and you’re hard pressed to find any Thanksgiving gathering that doesn’t have several dishes featuring it on the buffet table. And I’m not one to defy tradition, especially one as sweet as this.
My French Louisiana version is the best of both culinary worlds. It preserves the familiarity of a traditional Louisiana holiday dessert with the French flair of a brûléed exterior. And if you follow my Cajun recipe, it’s as easy as pie.
This year, as we gather around our Thanksgiving table, it will be much simpler than that holiday over a decade ago, but like then, we’ll be dining on a very French–Cajun French–sweet potato pie brûlée. Sweet memories, indeed!
- 3 large Louisiana sweet potatoes, baked until soft
- ¾ cup whole milk
- ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) melted unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of salt
- 1 (9-inch) frozen, premade piecrust
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8 thinly sliced sweet potato rounds
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- Honey, for drizzling (optional)
- Mint leaves, for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
- Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes and mash with a fork until the consistency of a smooth purée. Remove any hard or stringy parts. Measure out 2 cups of the mashed sweet potatoes and reserve.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the sweet potato along with the milk, butter, eggs, sugar, honey, vanilla, and ¼ cup of the bourbon. Stir until smooth and lump-free. Season the mixture with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and just a pinch of salt.
- Pour enough of the mixture to fill the piecrust and place into the preheated oven. Bake until the pie is set to a moist custardy consistency and the crust is browned, 45 to 60 minutes. (Watch the exposed top edge of the piecrust carefully and cover with a collar of aluminum foil if it begins to burn.) Remove the pie and refrigerate.
- Meanwhile, add the rounds of sweet potato into a microwaveable container. Add the water and cover the container loosely. Microwave on high and steam the sweet potato until it softens and becomes fully cooked but still maintains its round shape, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the slices from the container and drain on paper towels until dry.
- Make the bourbon crème by adding the whipping cream to an ice-cold stainless steel bowl. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons bourbon, and using a hand mixer (or immersion blender) whip the cream until stiff peaks appear. Chill until ready to serve.
- For serving, blot dry the sweet potato rounds and place on top of the pie in a circular pattern overlapping slightly; sprinkle evenly with light brown sugar. Using a kitchen torch, hold the flame near the sugar and move back and forth until the sugars begin to melt and caramelize with burnt bits appearing, 1 minute or less. Stop short of blackening all of the sugar. Let the pie rest while the brûlée hardens. (If you do not own a culinary torch, carefully place the pie under your oven broiler while protecting the crust with an aluminum foil collar. Watch intently; it will only take seconds until browned.)
- For serving, remove the pie from the metal pie plate to a decorative cake stand. Slice into traditional wedges and place on individual dessert plates. Add a generous dollop of bourbon crème and drizzle the entire plate lightly with honey. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
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