High Altitude Baking: Sweet potato pie with sugar-pecan topping (recipe)
Editor’s note: High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Oh my, sweet potato pie! It’s so good, people write songs about it. Yep, it’s a classic, and though not well-known in the West, it’s as traditional as pumpkin pie in other regions. The two pastries share creamy custard fillings and similar seasonings, but the texture of a sweet potato pie is lighter, smoother and more luxurious, and the taste is more complex.
While it’s not time consuming to make, you can spread its preparation over a couple of days. On the first day, make the topping and pre-bake the crust. The next day, make the filling and bake the pie. Serve it on the day it’s made or on the following day.
To make the sweet potato puree, bake two medium-large sweet potatoes/yams, wrapped in foil, for about 1½ hours in a 400-degree oven until very soft. Unwrap, cool completely, and then peel and cut them into pieces. (Or use 15 ounces of canned cut sweet potatoes/yams, drained and rinsed.) Place the potato pieces in a food processor, and process/puree until completely smooth. Measure out 2 cups. If you lack a food processor, mash them with a large fork or potato masher until smooth and lump-free.
I highly recommend adding the optional rum; it adds a layer of flavor that contributes significantly to the overall effect. If you don’t use it, consider adding the optional orange zest.
Sweet potato pie
(Make in a 9-inch pie pan, preferably glass.)
Your favorite nine-inch pie crust, prebaked and cooled
1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ tablespoons packed dark-brown sugar
1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup whole pecans
½ cup superfine granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest, optional
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup evaporated whole milk,
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum, optional
2 packed cups pureed, cooked sweet potatoes/yams
Make the topping (up to a day ahead): In a small food processor, combine the flour, sugar, butter and pecans, and pulse until the nuts are chopped and the mixture forms clumps. Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center position. If made ahead, remove the topping from the fridge and let it warm to room temperature.
Make the filling: Combine the sugar, spices, salt and orange zest (if using) in a small bowl, and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the melted butter, eggs, milk, vanilla and rum (if using) until well blended. Add the sugar-spice mixture, and mix at a low speed to combine thoroughly. Beat in the pureed sweet potatoes until the filling is silky smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes (the time this takes depends on the texture of the sweet potatoes; if mashed by hand, it will take longer than if done in a food processor).
Pour the filling into the pre-baked and cooled crust, filling it to about ½-inch from the top. (You may not use it all, depending on your pan’s capacity; some are shallower than others.) Sprinkle on the topping (either as a border, like the photo, or all over). Cover the edges of the crust with foil strips to prevent over-baking. Place the pie on a cookie sheet, and carefully move it into the oven.
After baking 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until the filling starts to puff around the edges, is no longer shiny, firm when touched and, if the pan is gently shaken, jiggles slightly in the center. This will take from 40 to 55 minutes, depending on the depth and capacity of your pan. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, at least 2 hours. Store, lightly covered, in the refrigerator. If condensation creates moisture on the filling, gently blot it dry before serving. Serve it at cool room temperature.
This recipe is a variation of one from “Fine Cooking.” Vera Dawson is a high-altitude baking teacher and author of two high-altitude cookbooks, “Baking Above It All” and “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.