It’s almost Thanksgiving! One of the most important national holidays in the United States, celebrating the first successful harvest that the Pilgrims and Native Americans held together on American soil, and while no record exists of that first Thanksgiving’s menu, we know that the table was covered with dishes of poultry, corn, pumpkins, and squashes that were most likely prepared using spices and cooking methods typical of the 17th Century. Celebrating the harvest was a big deal. It was so hard to grow food in the New World. The soil and climate were so different from what the Pilgrims had in Europe, so their traditional methods of farming had failed. If it hadn’t been for the help of Squanto, Abenaki, and several tribes of Native Americans, the European colonists would not have known how to grow food in the New World, and they would have succumbed to hunger, malnutrition, and starvation. Needless to say, that first Thanksgiving did not feature any pies, cakes, or lavish desserts, because the Pilgrims had no oven, and by the fall of 1621, the European sugar supply had pretty much been consumed; but somehow, nowadays when we celebrate Thanksgiving, we center the holiday on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family or friends, usually featuring an oven-roasted turkey and traditional foods like stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, and various kinds of pie. The most popular pie for Thanksgiving is definitely pumpkin pie, but pecan pie and sweet potato pie come in a close second. It’s a far cry from that original Thanksgiving menu, but has become a standard of the holiday menu.
In general, when we gather with family or friends, the meal is potluck style. Some years we’ve made the turkey. Some years we’ve contributed side dishes and stuffing. More recently, I have been tasked with bringing a dessert. This year, Thanksgiving will be so special, and I have been looking forward to it, not only because last year we couldn’t gather in Minnesota due to the height of the pandemic and recommended restrictions on gathering with members outside the household, but also because this is my first Thanksgiving as an American citizen. So it is that it feels right to do something extra special and a little bit fancy and original for this Thanksgiving. At times, I’ve asked myself: why do I celebrate this holiday with such gusto when some of the cultures in our household (namely South American and Asian cultures) are not represented in the original story? The answer I have arrived, after mulling it over for the last 19 years living in the US, is that it is such a cornerstone of American history and that the American concept of the Thanksgiving menu can expand to include flavors, ingredients, and dishes from other immigrant cultures that are part of the fabric of American society today. In this spirit, this year I created a dulce de leche-banana cream pie, which I have yet to record on the blog, and it’s a fun combination of Argentine dulce de leche pastry cream blended with the Southern classic of banana cream pie. I also created the beautiful purple sweet potato pie that is featured in today’s blog post.
I love sweet potato pie because it’s not as overly sweet as other pies. This is a classic American sweet potato pie with a few twists of originality. It has a nice delicate, subtle flavor, and I think the nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon combination is unique and brightened up by a touch of lemon zest. I used Asian sweet potatoes and coconut milk which I buy at my local family-owned Chinese grocery store as a way to incorporate Asian ingredients and flavors. The pie is also visually striking and a complete showstopper. It’s an irresistible treat! Traditional sweet potato pie is topped with whipped cream, torched marshmallows, or merengue, but I decided to decorate it with leaves made of pie crust instead so that the filling remains the star of the show. However, you could totally add the topping of your choice if you really wanted a topping.
And so, for this Thanksgiving, I’m planning for this purple sweet potato pie to be the star of the feast with its deep purple hue (a nod to Minnesotan Prince and the Vikings, anyone?) This vibrant purple dessert will stand out on the Thanksgiving dessert table and is sure to delight everyone. This Argentine American Pilgrim and her Chinese American family are ready to celebrate! Happy Thanksgiving, and hope you have a great holiday weekend!
Purple Sweet Potato Pie
Prep time: 45 minutes
Bake Time: 80-95 minutes total
- 1 disc or recipe of pie crust
- 2 cups mashed purple sweet potato (about 3 potatoes)
- 1 cup + 4 tbsp white cane sugar
- 1/8 tsp (pinch) salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp cardamom
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp lemon zest
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 1 cup stirred full-fat coconut milk
- To garnish: ½ disc or recipe of pie crust, to make decorative leaves; or whipped cream or merengue for serving
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Roll out the pie crust to 1/8 inch thickness and fit it on the inside a 9-inch pie plate. Make sure you have about ¾ inch overhang dropping over the edge. Fold the edges under and crimp as desired.
- Place a circle of parchment paper on top of the unbaked pie crust and fill it with pie weights, or if you don’t have pie weights, dry rice or beans. Cover the whole pie with foil.
- Place the pie dish in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes, covered with the foil, then remove foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the surface is dry.
- Remove the pie from the oven. Remove the pie weights and parchment and let the pie crust cool to room temperature.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
- While the pie crust cools, prepare the filling. Peel, slice into ½ inch circles, and boil the sweet potatoes in abundant water until tender or a fork can gently pierce them through. This should take about 40 minutes.
- Once the purple sweet potatoes are tender, drain them using a sieve, reserving some of the purple water.
- Return the sweet potatoes to the pot, and mash them, and finally, blend in a food processor until very smooth. It should look like the consistency of canned pumpkin. If the consistency is too dry, add some of the reserved water you used to boil them, 1 tbsp at a time. If you have a smooth and puree-like consistency, you can throw out the reserved water; you will not need it. Some purple sweet potatoes can be grainy, although that wasn’t my experience when using Japanese sweet potatoes, but if you do have some hard chunks remaining, use a potato ricer or pass it through a mesh sieve to eliminate grainy chunks. Measure 2 cups of pureed sweet potatoes. If you have any leftover potatoes, save them and use them for another meal or dish.
- Place the pureed sweet potatoes in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisking them together with the cane sugar, pinch of salt, vanilla extract, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest.
- Prepare your browned butter by melting the butter in a very small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. When the butter is melted and starts to bubble, the aroma will start to change and the butter will start to caramelize. Reduce the heat and keep stirring and heating until you see the butter turn a light brown or amber color and the aroma is nutty. Immediately remove the butter from the fire when it reaches this point to avoid burning it. Let the browned butter cool completely before adding it to the mixture.
- While the browned butter cools, add the coconut milk to the sweet potatoes, followed by the eggs, one at a time. Incorporate the sour cream, and finally, the fully-cooled browned butter, beating well until the filling is smooth. Your mixture should be thick but fairly liquid, and a purple lavender color. If you want to accentuate the color, you could add your own food coloring, but I found it unnecessary since the sweet potatoes provided plenty of color naturally.
- Slowly pour the filling into the cooled pie crust and bake at 325°F for 60-75 minutes, or until the edges of the pie filling are puffy and set. To test for doneness, open the oven and gently shake the pie plate. If it there is a very slight jiggle in the center, the pie is ready, but if when you shake it, your jiggle produces a wave that ripples through most of the pie surface, it is not done and will need additional time in the oven.
- When the pie has baked, remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack for 2 hours. You can choose to decorate it with prebaked leaves made of pie crust. To make these leaves, all you need to do is use store-bought or homemade pie crust and cut out leaves using a cookie cutter, brush them with a mixture of milk or light egg wash, and bake them for 15 minutes at 375 F on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Always add the leaves to the pie after it has baked, as when the filling is uncooked, it is semi-liquid and the leaves would sink in.
- If you do not wish to decorate the pie with leaves and prefer to have a whipped topping, feel free to use merengue or whipped cream to cover and decorate the surface of the pie as desired. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
© 2021 Carol’s Baking Adventures