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"Black Enough" How To Make Real Southern sweet potato pie

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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.

When it comes to holiday desserts, nothing is more traditional than sweet potato pie. And when it comes to sweet potato pie, nobody takes it more seriously than black folks. This sweet potato pie is made with the finest ingredients, including fresh sweet potatoes, brown sugar, and spices.

The result is a rich and flavorful pie that is sure to please even the most discerning palates. Whether you enjoy it plain or topped with whipped cream, marshmallows, or ice cream, this Southern pie greatness is sure to be a hit at your next holiday gathering.

I know most of America celebrates the holiday season with traditional pumpkin pie, but the other America, i.e. black America it's sweet potato pie all day. More people probably know Patti Labelle more for her particular sweet potato pie recipe than they do for her legendary career as a singer.

Sweet Potato Pie is right there along with Potato Salad and Mac and Cheese as dishes black people get irrationally passionate about.

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.

Southern sweet potato pie with cream on a plate

I remember celebrating Thanksgiving dinner 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 know most have their favorite pie crust recipe, but 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!

Beats and Eats (music to pair with Southern Sweet Potato Pie)

The best sweet potato pie recipes IMO are simple and use simple ingredients, but flavor-wise have a lot of depth, character, and to a certain degree complexity which is exactly how I would describe Somi's song "Black Enough." It's a song that stirs the soul which you'll need to be able to pour those emotions into this dish.

Southern Sweet Potato Pie Recipe Ingredients

This recipe for sweet potato pie utilizes warm spices heavily to add depth and complexity of flavor. Whole nutmegs, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla extract provide a more intense flavor that is balanced by a generous helping of real butter and evaporated milk.

The end result is a delightful mouth experience that can be enjoyed from the tip of your tongue to the back of your throat. The sweetness comes from multiple sources including the sweet potatoes, brown and cane sugar, and the evaporated milk.

For the Pie Filling

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Evaporated milk
  • Large Eggs
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Brown sugar
  • Vanilla extract
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Baking powder

For the Buttery Pie Crust

  • Low-protein all-purpose flour
  • Sugar
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Cold tap water

How To Make Sweet Potato Pie

A proper southern sweet potato pie relies on a strong natural sweet potato taste, the right amount of sweetness, a smooth and fluffy texture, and depth of flavor overall.

Prepare the Sweet Potatoes

  • Pierce skin on sweet potatoes with a fork several times.
  • Place the potatoes on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes or until very tender. Set aside and let cool.
  • After cooling, scoop out the flesh into a large or medium bowl.

Make the Browned Butter

  • Add butter to a saucepan or large pot and cook over medium heat. Once the 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. Set aside

Make The Pie

  • Mix cooled sweet potatoes until creamy and smooth, adding a few splashes of the milk. The texture should be that of a thick puree.
  • Mix in the brown butter until smooth. Mix in the brown sugar, plain sugar, evaporated milk mixture, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and baking powder until well combined.
  • Pour the sweet potato mixture into the pie crust shell and smooth the top. Bake on the middle rack in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and let the pie cool completely. The pie should sit undisturbed for at least an hour.
  • Optional (serve with whipped cream).
Southern sweet potato pie with cream on a plate

Cooking Tips and Considerations For Making Sweet Potato Pie In The Southern Tradition

I use an electric hand mixer on medium speed to blend things. Feel free to use a pastry blender or electric mixer (stand mixer) or even an old school potato masher

I use large sweet potatoes and then cut them into smaller, more manageable cubes that I try to cut as evenly as possible so that they all cook at the same rate.

To make a truly great pie with maximum flavor consider the following

  • 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 whole pie but in a subtle way so 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 grandmother 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. Browned butter is all the rage right now, but it’s simply overcooked butter that gives it a caramel-like flavor. The technique does matter as you don’t really want to burn the butter. Brown is good, black is whack.

Additional tips for consideration

  • Have several pie pans on hand to make several pies - One for you and multiple for your friends and family
  • Use fresh sweet potatoes not canned
  • Don’t bring pumpkin pie spice into the house let alone the kitchen. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla are your core black folks seasonings
  • Keep the add-ins to a minimum. A little citrus (lemon juice and/or zest) or bourbon is ok, but stop with all the extra. Keep it simple and allow the chosen few ingredients to work together and harmonize.
  • Butter, yes please!
  • Evaporated milk, check. No harm if you want to make your own version using heavy cream or regular milk, but that canned 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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can You Use A Store-bought Crust For Southern Sweet Potato Pie?

You most certainly can. I’ve done it many times. I’m not a baker. I don’t even pretend to be one on TV. The exactness that baking requires stresses me out so much that even when I forgo store-bought I don’t even bother trying to come up with my own crust. 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!

Should I Boil or Bake the sweet potatoes?

Many recipes out there call for boiling the sweet potatoes, but not this one! I don’t boil ribs, and I don’t boil sweet potatoes when making sweet potato pies. Boiling is obviously much faster and may get you the tenderness you need, but it falls waaaaay short on flavor and worse it produces too much moisture which dilutes the filling.

You must protect flavor at all costs. Roasting the potatoes is the ticket. Not only do they soften the potatoes, but like it does with most vegetables, roasting concentrates flavors and brings out that sweet potato flavor even more.

What is keys to the right amount of sweetness?

  • Choose quality sweet potatoes; the darker (more oranger) the flesh the better. How you determine the color of the flesh in the grocery store. I cannot confirm or deny scraping some of the skin away is acceptable
  • Use evaporated milk for both sweetness and density
  • As mentioned earlier, roast the potatoes instead of boiling them.
  • Use a combination of cane and brown sugar for both sweetness and depth of flavor

How do I make a smooth sweet potato pie filling?

  • Using either a stand mixer or food processor is the best way to get that smooth, lump-free sweet potato filling
    • Food processors have the added benefit of keeping all that fiber in tact as well as creating that ultra fluffiness for the pie.
Southern sweet potato pie with cream on a plate

How do I cut sweet potato pie?

The actual slicing/cutting of a sweet potato pie in and of itself is a simple thing. However, one major consideration needs to occur; absolutely no matter how delicious and scrumptious the fresh out the oven sweet potato smells, you must let the pie set before cutting it. The pie needs to fully cool otherwise your slice will crumble like feta cheese. I recommend a full day to cool and rest, but if you must give yourself at least four hours.

It’s actually easier to get that perfect uniform slice by cutting into a well-chilled pie. As a ‘quality control’ measure I cut one slice out of my refrigerated pie which has the benefit of making room for me to cut the rest of the pie into slices.

Can sweet potato pie be made ahead?

If you’re making sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving it’s actually a good idea to make it ahead of time, assuming you have the refrigerator space for it. You’re safe to make up to 2 days; just be sure to wrap it tightly and keep in the refrigerator after all this recipe calls for eggs.

My fridge is usually full with pre-made sides and sauces so bake my pies as late as I can. Well, I don’t bake, my wife and daughter actually graciously wait til I’m out of the way. I will roast my sweet potatoes ahead of time though and then store them in the refrigerator for a few days.

Can You Freeze Southern Sweet Potato Pie?

Of course you can. It will be fine frozen for up to 8 months. When you’re ready to eat it, be sure to defrost very slowly in the fridge. Defrosting too quickly increases moisture on the pie.

For Other Holiday Recipes Try These:

Crispy Roasted Okra

Southern Collard Greens w/ Smoked Turkey

Classic Mac and Cheese

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Grapes

Crispy Cornish Hen

Candied Yams

Key Lime Pie

Southern Peach Cobbler

Making southern sweet potato pie

Try this rich, delicious and soulful Thanksgiving Day dessert. This Southern aka “black folks” sweet potato pie recipe can easily be made ahead to make your big day more relaxing.

So, if you’re looking for a delicious and Southern-inspired way to celebrate the holidays this year, be sure to try out this sweet potato pie recipe. It’s bound to become a family favorite pie recipe that makes it to the holiday table! Happy cooking!

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.

You can also keep up with my food exploits as well as original recipes! You can find me on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest. If you like any of the music you find on the site, visit me at Spotify to find curated monthly playlists.

Southern sweet potato pie with cream on a plate

Southern Sweet Potato Pie

Rich and delicious southern sweet potato pie recipe that is as aromatic as it tasty and with a silky smooth texture.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: southern
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 344kcal
Author: Marwin Brown

Ingredients

  • 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 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions

  • 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).

Nutrition

Calories: 344kcal | Carbohydrates: 51g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 81mg | Sodium: 103mg | Potassium: 529mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 32g | Vitamin A: 16550IU | Vitamin C: 3.1mg | Calcium: 127mg | Iron: 1.1mg
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Recipe Rating




Sunday

Monday 2nd of November 2020

Hot damn! This a slap-your-mama quality pie! As an East Texas native, this is truly a "no. Sweet potato pie done right is way better than pumpkin" pie. Everyone in my family likes pumpkin pie better so growing up, I never learned how to make it. And it seems like SPP is harder and harder to find at restaurants these days.

I was looking up recipes last night and I was turned off by anything that called for "milk". What good southern recipe would ever use "milk" if buttermilk or evaporated milk are options? That brought me to your recipe. And considering the hands sown best SPPs I have ever had were from good ole, soul food cooking, southern, black grandma's, I knew I had found the right recipe. And boy was I right. Mr. Brown, this is an award-winning pie you got on your hands. Thanks a million for sharing.

I think next time, I am going to add a pinch of salt and maybe less sugar? Just to try.

Marwin Brown

Monday 2nd of November 2020

Thank u, thank u! Glad you liked the recipe

Michele Glemser

Wednesday 27th of November 2019

This is my very first time to visit your site. I am so happy I found you!!! Just made your Sweet Potato Pie...I was looking for an authentic recipe as my family did not make this pie. Born and raised in So.Cali.(white and not much exposure to the black community) I was very curious about Sweet Potato Pie. What is that stuff and why do people rave about it? Well one of my clients from Texas brought me a small individual pie one holiday season. I bit into that baby and DEVOURED IT. I couldn't stop! FINALLY, THE PIE I WAS BORN TO EAT! When I saw your recipe (and I have been scouring all of the recipe sites) I knew this was the perfect one. Love that you steep the milk with whole spices and brown the butter. I did a couple things differently. I was out of canned milk but I had heavy cream and used that. Also I made a Graham cracker crust. (Next time your flaky crust!) Just took it out of the oven...its beautiful and smells so wonderful. And damn, I have to wait until it cools!!! Thank you, thank you ,thank you!

Marwin Brown

Thursday 28th of November 2019

That is awesome! Enjoy and I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

C WASHINGTON

Friday 18th of October 2019

This is an Amazing Recipe!! The Flavors are SOOOOOK on point!! Thank you!!

Marwin Brown

Friday 18th of October 2019

Thank u! Glad u enjoyed it!

roniece weaver

Friday 30th of November 2018

The calories and fat are for the whole pie. Please let me know if you need my assistance with food analytics. I am a registered dietitian and have been following you.

moopbrown

Friday 30th of November 2018

Thanks for catching this Roniece. Looks like there is a glitch in the plug-in I use. Also thanks for following and offering your assistance; it's much appreciated. I may take you up on your offer at some point.