Post updated 11/5/2019
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!
Southern Sweet potato ingredients
This recipe for sweet potato pie utilizes 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 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.
- Sweet potatoes
- Evaporated milk
- Cinnamon sticks
- Brown sugar
- Vanilla extract
- Baking powder
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!
How to make southern sweet potato pie
A proper southern sweet potato pie relies on strong natural sweet potato taste, the right amount of sweetness, a smooth and fluffy texture, and depth of flavor overall.
To Boil or To 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.
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 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. Brown 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.
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 to 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 has the added benefit of keeping all that fiber in tact as well as creating that ultra fluffiness for the pie.
How to make sweet potato pie the southern way – additional tips
- Make several pies. One for you and multiples for your friends and family
- Use fresh sweet potatoes not canned
- Don’t bring 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 allow 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 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.
How to 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.
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.
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 Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. If you like any of the music you find on the site, visit me at Spotify to find curated monthly playlists.
- 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 youâ€™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).