Hazelnut-Streusel Sweet Potato Pie

Sure, pumpkin pie is often trotted out this time of year, but let's not forget sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie's (usually) less-sweetened, less-spiced Southern cousin.  Simpler to make from scratch (no hassles of cutting a pumpkin in half), this velvety custard pie makes no apologies for itself and does not try to cover up its tuber origins. 

Generally, the spice profile in a sweet potato pie is a little bit toned down from pumpkin pie, which is usually just a vehicle for spice as it is. That said, I will admit, this particular recipe is a little more spiced than you'll usually find, but the spice note here is not ubiquitous "pumpkin pie" spice to be found in every latte in America right now. Instead, it is heavy on the mace, which is the sheath that covers a nutmeg kernel, and it is quite luscious and rich (blame the heavy cream in place of condensed milk).

Fully ensconced in African-American culinary history, sweet potato pie goes way back. In fact, here's an 1881 recipe from Abby Fisher, a former slave who made her way from South Carolina to Mobile, Alabama, to San Francisco post Civil War. In California, she set up a pickles and preserves shop, and encouraged (as she says in the "Preface and Apology" to her book) by her "lady patrons and friends" from San Francisco and and Oakland, she was the first African-American woman to publish a cookbook.

And here's a great article from The Washington Post tracing the history of the sweet potato pie, especially in opposition to its Northern pumpkin rival and in celebration of its deep roots in the African-American community. 

This is a pie with a story, and it's one that often gets shadowed by the ubiquitous pumpkin pie.

Just to snazz this up a bit, Greg Patent, our cookbook's author, whipped up this hazelnut-steusel topping.  Let's just admit that this topping is gilding the lily for an already wonderful dessert. However, it does add a nice sweet crunch against the smooth, spiciness of the filling. So, I caution you not to skip it. 

Gilded lily be damned.

As you get ready, my American friends, to sit down to turkey-day dinner soon, might I suggest sweet potato pie?

 I promise, even after gorging on a bird and stuffing and potatoes and salad and whatever else might be on your holiday table, the final dish will look a lot like this:

Hazelnut-Streusel Sweet Potato Pie 

Adapted from Baking In America  

4 Servings


1 graham cracker crust (see below or make your favorite recipe)

For the filling
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3/4 cups heavy cream

For the topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp cold butter
1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts

1.  Make the graham cracker crust (see below).

2.  For the filling: steam the potatoes, covered, until tender, about 30-40 minutes. Cool, cut in half, scoop out the flesh, and mash with a fork or potato masher. You need about 1 2/3 cups for the filling. The sweet potatoes can be prepared a day or 2 ahead and refrigerate, covered.

3. Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

4. In a food processor, combine the sweet potatoes, sugar, mace, nutmeg, salt, vanilla, eggs, and cream or about 20 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and then process about 20 seconds longer, until smooth.  Pour the mixture into the graham cracker crust.

5.  For the topping: combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. With a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs or peas. Stir int he hazelnuts.

6.  Sprinkle the topping over the filling. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the sides are puffed and set but the center of the pie jiggles a little when you move the pan.

7. Cool on a wire rack until the filling firms up, at least 2-3 hours. Cut into wedges and serve, perhaps with some whipped cream.

Graham Cracker Crust

Adapted from The New Best Recipe  and  Baking In America  

1 9-inch crust

9 graham crackers (5 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar, plus more if needed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter

1. Adjust the oven rack tot he center position, and preheat the oven to 325°F.

2.  In a food processor, process the graham crackers until they are fine crumbs, about 10 seconds. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and butter and process for 10-15 seconds, until the butter is in small bits.

3.  Coat the pie dish with cooking spray and press the mixture firmly into the bottom and up the sides. 

4.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned and smells aromatic. Let cool completely on a wire rack. 


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