Our little lady has started dabbling with foods. Watching someone learn to eat and discovering food for the first time is so much fun! She is a particularly enthusiastic fan of sweet potatoes. The verdict is still out on peas, though. Not that I blame her. Anyhow, I've spent a lot of time preparing sweet potatoes lately, and it got me in the mood to try out a sweet potato pie. I can't recall ever eating a homemade sweet potato pie before, so I had my work cut out for me. Challenge accepted. I'm not ashamed to admit that we partook in no less than 6 sweet potato pies last week in the search for our favorite version. We found that we love sweet potato pie in a very different way than we love pumpkin pie. Sweet Potato Pie is a bit lighter, not quite as dense, and boasts a more pure flavor than pumpkin pie. It isn't quite as heavy on the spice, and a splash of vanilla really makes it stand out.
While we enjoyed all of my attempts, I found a few things that made a big difference in the outcome:
Roasting vs. Steaming the potatoes: You really should roast your sweet potatoes if you're going to make pie with them. Steaming is a great way to cook sweet potatoes, but it causes too much moisture for the best texture of pie filling. The flavor was great with both preparations, but the filling was much looser with the steamed sweet potatoes. Just roast them at 375°F on a sheet pan for an hour, then let them cool enough that you can handle them. The skin will peel off really easily, so you don't have to bother peeling or chopping which is nice.
Par-baking vs unbaked crust: First, let's clarify that you NEED to make your own pie crust. I love shortcuts whenever possible, but store-bought crust is not tasty. It is merely a vessel to deliver the filling. Pie crust deserves to shine in its own right. As for the par-baking vs. unbaked crust dilemma, this is really a matter of preference. I am not offended when the bottom crust of a pie is a little bit soft, as long as it isn't soggy. I have made this pie both ways. Partially-baking the crust before adding the filling helps to avoid the potential for soggy crust. In order to partially pre-bake the crust, just line your pie plate with the pie crust, then cover the crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the crust begins to turn slightly golden around the edges but not brown. Remove from oven, remove pie weights and foil very carefully, and then pour filling mixture into crust and bake as directed in recipe.
Dairy options: I tried a few different dairy ingredients and the results were interesting. I made one pie with whole milk, one with half and half, and one with evaporated milk. The unanimous favorite in terms of flavor was the whole milk version. It was a light, clean flavor that allowed all the other ingredients to shine through. It did however result in a slightly looser filling with a few cracks on top. It looked fabulously homemade. It was absolutely delicious, but not as perfectly smooth, picture-perfect as the evaporated milk version. The evaporated milk version was the prettiest. It was perfectly smooth on top and it set up beautiful so that every slice came out perfect and held its shape without so much as a bubble in the filling. It didn't have as pure of a flavor as the whole milk version though. The half and half version was almost indistinguishable from the whole milk version. Overall, I will be using whole milk in mine, but you could absolutely use evaporated milk and still have delicious results, and very likely a more beautiful pie.
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