Southern Sweet Potato Pie – a blackalicious, old school sweet potato pie recipe with a few twists that delivers an aromatic, rich and silky smooth Thanksgiving Day dessert.
I know most of America celebrates Thanksgiving Day with traditional pumpkin pie, but the other America, i.e. black America it’s sweet potato pie all day. To learn more about this phenomenon peep this article about how sweet potato pie became the Thanksgiving Day dessert for black people. I never even knew pumpkin pie was a thing for the first 16 years of my life. I remember celebrating early with my family before traveling across town to my classmate’s house for our annual touch football game. Post game I saw an orange pie on the kitchen table for the taking and went for it. I smooth grabbed a slice and took a bite, only to realize that this wasn’t big mama’s recipe. It was bland, pulpy and had a few stringy pieces hanging suspended. Pumpkin pie is also dense and creamy; I prefer light and airy. I tried to play it cool and though stressed about wasting food I cased the scene for a place to inconspicuously unload my not so sweet potato pie.
I’m sure my non-black followers may be thinking but aren’t sweet potatoes a side dish. Well yeah, sure, but can you really have too many sweet potato dishes. It’s quite normal in most black homes (especially down South) to have something like a sweet potato casserole, mashed sweet potatoes, or candied yams as one of many sides then close dinner with a sweet potato pie.
I’m not a baker. I don’t even pretend be one on TV. The exactness that baking requires stresses me out so much, I didn’t even bother trying to come up with my own crust. I considered making my own and probably would have if I weren’t cooking multiple pies. Instead I just copied the pros over at Serious Eats for their Old Fashioned Flaky Crust recipe. But this ridiculous and fantabulous pie filling is all me babeeee!
How to maximize flavor in Southern Sweet Potato Pie
There ain’t nothing like walking into a kitchen a getting a big whiff of the intoxicating aroma of a baking sweet potato pie. I love cinnamon and want those spices to permeate throughout the pie but in a subtle way as not to overpower the sweet potatoes. So rather than relying solely on dry spices I used a few in their whole form, specifically one whole nutmeg and a few sticks of cinnamon. My approach was to steep the whole spices in simmering evaporated milk. Cinnamon actually helps keep the milk from curdling as it simmers on a low flame. You will have to stir it some, but not much. I find this process gives you a highly aromatic pie.
The other next level flavor tip is to brown your butter first. As a kid I used to watch my grand mother “burn”her butter, which I thought was weird, but hey my young self was only concerned about the end results, and Madear always delivered the goods. Brown butter is all the rage right now, but it’s simply overcooked butter that gives it a caramel like flavor. Technique does matter as you don’t really want to burn the butter. Brown is good, black is whack.
How to Make Sweet Potato Pie the Southern Way
- Make several pies. One for you and multiples for your friends and family
- Use fresh sweet potatoes not canned
- Don’t bring elfin pumpkin spices into the house let alone the kitchen. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla are your core seasonings
- Keep the add ins to a minimum. A little citrus or bourbon is ok, but stop with all the extra. Keep it simple and the chosen few ingredients work together and harmonize.
- Butter, yes please
- Evaporated milk, check. No harm if you want to make your own version using heavy cream, but that can stuff works magic.
- Add eggs for that airy lightness.
- Roast your sweet potatoes in their skins. You get a deeper, more intense flavor vs. boiling.
Can Sweet Potato Pie be made ahead?
Without a doubt, particularly if your crust has high moisture content which helps the crust absorb moisture and allow you to leave your pie out overnight at room temperature. Giving the pie plenty of time to rest is actually preferred. Sweet potato pies aren’t ready to slice immediately; waiting allows it to settle in nicely and ensures you will get a nice clean cut.
Southern Sweet Potato Pie
Try this rich, delicious and soulful Thanksgiving Day dessert. This Southern sweet potato pie can easily be made ahead to make your big day more relaxing.
If you make this great dessert, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
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Southern Sweet Potato Pie
- 1 whole Store bought pie crust or homemade Old Fashioned Flaky
- 2 lbs sweet potatoes washed & dried
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- Pinch orange zest optional
- 1 whole whole nutmeg
- 2 whole cinnamon sticks
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup light brown sugar packed
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
For Sweet Potatoes
- Pierce skin on sweet potatoes with a fork several times.
- Place on foil-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until very tender. Set aside and let cool.
- After cooling, scoop out the flesh into a large mixing bowl.
For the brown butter
- Add butter to a saucepan and cook over medium heat.
- Once butter melts and begins to foam a bit, whisk continuously. As the butter begins to brown keep whisking to avoid burning. If necessary lower the heat. When the butter develops that cooked caramel apple aroma you’re good to go. Remove from heat and pour everything into a glass dish.
For the Milk
Bring evaporated milk to a simmer. Add orange zest, cinnamon sticks and whole nutmeg and allow to steep 10-15 minutes. Stir as needed to keep the milk from curdling.
For The Pie
- Mix cooled sweet potatoes until creamy and smooth, adding a few splashes of milk. Texture should be that of a thick puree.
- Mix in the brown butter until smooth.
- Mix in the brown sugar, plain sugar, evaporated milk milxture, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and baking powder until well combined.
- Pour into pie crust shell and smooth the top.
- Bake on middle rack in preheated 350 F. oven for 45-50 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let cool completely. Pie should sit undisturbed for at least an hour.
- Optional (serve with whipped cream).