Sweet Potato Pie with Maple Meringue

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie begins with one of my favorite types of crust… the press in crust. I’ll be honest, making and rolling out traditional pie dough IMG_7999induces anxiety and nightmares of ruined desserts; so logically, I try to avoid them when I can. This crust is the result of toasted pecans, graham crackers, fresh ginger, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and melted butter taking a spin in a food processor before being pressed into a pie plate. After baking in the oven for 25 minutes you’ve got yourself a delicious pie crust without any tears, curses, or tell tale signs of patchwork.

The filling is very similar to pumpkin pie, but made with roasted sweet potatoes, along with eggs, cream, brown sugar, and a splash of bourbon to round everything out. After baking in the oven, then cooling, the pie could very easily (and tastily) be served with a dollop of whipped cream. However, I highly recommend you spend an extra 10 minutes to push this pie over the top. Blanket it with a heaping cloud of maple syrup meringue and pop it under the broiler for mere seconds to achieve a golden blush. Your family and friends will thank you. You will thank you.

Another plus for this recipe, especially when entertaining, is that it can be broken down into tasks over the course of a couple of days. For example, on day 1 make the crust, roast the sweet potatoes and puree the flesh. Cover tightly and refrigerate. On day 2, prepare the filling and bake. Allow the pie to cool, then whip up the meringue, top the pie and brown. The pie can be served immediately, or covered and tucked in the fridge overnight before making its big debut on your table.

IMG_8062There are a number of ways you could have fun with this recipe if you’re up for experimenting. Simply swap:

walnuts for pecans
rum for bourbon
pumpkin for sweet potato
gluten free graham crackers for regular graham crackers

The original meringue recipe from Food & Wine calls for quite a bit of simple syrup and tastes cloyingly sweet to me, without doing much to enhance the seasonal tastes of the pie. Instead of simple syrup, I use maple syrup (less than half the amount of syrup called for in the original) to make the meringue which pairs beautifully with the fall flavors of the sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and ginger. I also reduce the amount of sugar in the crust, as the graham crackers already have plenty of sugar in them.

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie and Apple Cream Pie will be on our dessert table this Thanksgiving and possibly even Christmas… what will be on yours?

Sweet Potato Pie with Maple Meringue

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie

  • Servings: 8-10
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*adapted from a recipe Chef Andrew Carmellini contributed to Food & Wine

Ingredients:
For the crust:
1 cup (4 ounces) pecan halves
11 whole graham crackers, broken (gluten free, if needed)
4 teaspoons minced ginger
1 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
32 ounces of sweet potatoes (about 3 large sweet potatoes)
½ cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 Tablespoons bourbon
½ cup heavy cream

For the meringue:
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
3 large egg whites
pinch of salt

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a pie plate, toast the pecans for about 10 minutes or until fragrant and browned. Let the nuts cool completely.

In a food processor, combine the pecans, graham crackers, ginger, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon; pulse until crumbs form. Add melted butter and process until incorporated. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool. Keep the oven on.

Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork and cook in a microwave oven for 10 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to the 325°F oven and roast for 10 minutes longer, or until soft. Let cool, then scrape out the flesh; you should have about 2¼ cups.

Transfer the sweet potato to the food processor and puree until smooth. Add the brown sugar, eggs, and bourbon and process until blended. Add the heavy cream and process until incorporated. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 50 minutes, or until set; cover the crust edges with foil if they darken. Let the pie cool completely.

In a small saucepan, bring maple syrup to a boil. Cook over high heat until a candy thermometer inserted in the syrup registers 240°F, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. With the machine running, carefully and slowly drizzle in the hot syrup and beat at high speed until the whites are stiff, glossy, and warm to the touch, about 3 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Mound the meringue over the sweet potato filling, swirling it decoratively. Broil the pie 4-6 inches from the heat for 30 seconds, or until lightly browned- do NOT look away(!), it can burn very quickly.

Cut into wedges and enjoy!

*Pie can be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.

Pie crust ingredients ready to go into the food processor: pecans, graham crackers, ginger, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter.
In a food processor, combine pecans, graham crackers, ginger, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter.
Pecan and graham cracker crust
Press processed ingredients into deep dish pie plate. Bake at 325°F for 25 minutes.
Pecan and Graham Cracker Crust
Let the pie crust cool while you make the filling.
Roasted sweet potatoes cooling.
Microwave the sweet potatoes for 10 minutes, then finish roasting in the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until soft. Allow to rest until cool enough to handle, then scoop out flesh and puree in the food processor. You should have 2 1/4 cups puree.
Sweet potato puree, brown sugar, eggs, bourbon, and heavy cream on cutting board.
Sweet potato puree, brown sugar, eggs, bourbon, and heavy cream are ready to combine in the processor.
Sweet potato pie filling in the processor
The sweet potato pie filling is ready to go into the pie crust.
Unbaked sweet potato pie
Bake at 325°F for 50 minutes or until set.
Baked sweet potato pie is cooling.
Filling is set and pie is cooling.
Maple syrup in saucepan.
Let’s make the meringue! Boil maple syrup until thermometer reads 240°F.
Soft peak egg whites on whisk.
At medium speed, beat the egg whites and salt to soft peak stage.
Pouring hot syrup into beaten egg whites.
With mixer going at high speed, pour the syrup in a slow steady stream.
Stiff peak egg whites on whisk
Continue beating egg white/syrup mixture until eggs are glossy and stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes.
Mound of maple syrup meringue in center of pie.
Mound maple syrup meringue in center of the pie and swirl decoratively.
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie
Place pie under broiler for 30 seconds or until lightly brown. Do NOT walk away from oven… it will quickly go from brown to burned. Watch it carefully!
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie with Pecan Graham Cracker Crust

Chestnut and Sausage Stuffing

Chestnut and Sausage Stuffing

Heirloom recipes, tattered and splattered notes scrawled in cookbooks, on index cards, and handwritten on scraps of paper are gifts from our individual pasts as well as time capsules for us collectively. Holiday dinners celebrated around the world, of all traditions and faiths, are windows into our kitchens, our mothers’ and grandmothers’ kitchens, and all the cooks who went before them.

My family’s chestnut and sausage stuffing recipe has been on our Thanksgiving table since before I was born. My grandfather was the head tennis pro at a club for over 30 years. The chef at the Club made this dressing for their Thanksgiving dinners and at some point shared the recipe with my mother. As a child I remember going to the Club and visiting “Chef” in the hot humid kitchen, delicious smells enveloping me while the sounds of banging pots and pans filled the air. My little girl self recalls the Chef as a big man with a Scandinavian accent, always gifting me with an ice-cream cone- my choice of any flavor, before heading back to the tennis courts with Pop-Pop.

This is Chef’s own recipe; I am forever grateful that he shared it with my mother, Jean at the Thanksgiving table 1972and though he couldn’t have known it at the time, he now shares it with me. My childhood is full of taste memories, and every Thanksgiving, as I step into the kitchen with my own children to help, this delicious stuffing serves as a direct connection to not only my past, but theirs, the fourth generation to have it on their table each November.

The stuffing is so much easier to make these days. I can recall many Wednesdays before Thanksgiving filled with burnt fingers as my mom spent what seemed like hours cutting x’s into fresh chestnuts, boiling and peeling them, only to discover they were rotten. Happily that has not happened to me, as cooked and shelled chestnuts are now readily available in jars! The stuffing is made the day before Thanksgiving, which frees up some oven space on Thursday, and makes you feel like you’ve got a head start on your preparations. It also smells incredible! As soon as the sausage, followed by the onions and celery hit the sauté pan, you are clearly announcing to the world- or at least your household, that delicious things are in store.

*Fun Fact: Dressing vs Stuffing? Dressing and stuffing are one in the same, Thanksgiving Tableonly dressing does NOT get stuffed into the bird. It is cooked separately in a casserole, while stuffing does go into the bird. However, in the American South, most everyone calls it dressing whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird.  This recipe allows for both. The dressing is cooked the day before, and on Thursday you can take a portion of it and stuff the bird. Or, you can do as I do, and use drippings from the turkey or stock to moisten the dressing and then reheat it in the oven before serving.

Chestnut and Sausage Dressing

Chestnut and Sausage Stuffing

  • Servings: 12-16
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Ingredients:
4 stalks celery, cut fine
3 medium onions, diced
2 lbs sausage
1½ lbs chestnuts (cooked and shelled)
2 lbs day old bread, cubed
2 cups milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning* to taste

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Fry sausage until golden brown. Add celery and onion and cook 5 minutes. Soak bread in milk until moist, then squeeze out any excess. Add to the sausage mixture. Add 2 slightly beaten eggs, melted butter, and season to taste with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.

Transfer to a deep casserole dish and bake for 1 hour. Let cool and refrigerate until next day.

Before reheating or stuffing the turkey, stir in 1½ lbs fresh chestnuts, roughly chopped.

*To make homemade poultry seasoning: combine 1 teaspoon each crumbled dried rosemary, crumbled dried sage, dried thyme, dried marjoram, and celery salt, with 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.  Crush together in mortar and pestle, mini food processor, or spice grinder (poultry seasoning recipe from Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers).

**Another variation would be to use chopped fresh herbs like parsley, sage, and thyme in place of the dried poultry seasoning blend.

Drying bread cubes on sheet pan.
Trim crusts from bread and cube. Leave to dry overnight.
Diced onion, thinly sliced celery, and sausage on cutting board.
Dice onion and thinly slice celery.
Browned Sausage
The sausage is brown and ready for celery and onions.
Celery, onions, and sausage in skillet.
Add the celery and onions to the browned sausage. Cook for 5 minutes.
Adding milk to cubes of bread.
Add milk to bread cubes. Let sit and squeeze out any excess… (I rarely have to squeeze out any excess).
Bread cubes, melted butter, egg, and sausage mixture ready to combine.
Add sausage mixture to bread cubes and stir to combine. Add slightly beaten egg and melted butter.
Stuffing mixture in bowl, ready to season with salt and pepper.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.
Stuffing mixture in casserole, ready for the oven.
Transfer stuffing mixture to casserole and bake at 350°F for 1 hour.
Cooked stuffing in casserole.
Stuffing is nicely browned after an hour in the oven.  We still need to add the chestnuts, though!
Roughly chopped chestnuts on cutting board.
Roughly chop chestnuts and add to cooked stuffing.
Chestnut and Sausage Stuffing
The stuffing is ready to go into your bird OR serve it as dressing. Just moisten with turkey drippings or stock and reheat.

Apple Cream Pie

Apple Cream Pie

I love this time of year! The weather, color, gatherings with friends and family,Braeburn and golden delicious apples in a bowl. and the food! Thanksgiving in the US is just a few weeks out and menu planning at White House Red Door is well underway. Truth be told, the planning is not too difficult, as the menu has pretty much remained unchanged since my childhood. It’s not that my parents, siblings, or my own family don’t like to try new foods, or experiment; Christmas dinners, Easter brunches, and other traditional meals vary from year to year, but Thanksgiving has always remained the same, well at least the main dish and sides. There would be a “coup de cuisine” if candied yams weren’t on the table. That said, desserts are an entirely different story. We are far more flexible in our after dinner fare thinking. Friends often join us for dessert, bringing their favorite treats, creating a beautiful cornucopia of desserts.

One pie that has made appearances off and on through the years is my mom’s Apple Cream Pie. Quite unlike a traditional double crust apple pie, Tarte Tatin, or apple crisp, which have all shown up to the party over the years, this pie features tender slices of apples nestled in a bed of creamy custard. Traditional enough for the purists but outside the box enough for those wanting something new or different. For reasons unknown, this pie has not been in attendance for some time, and I’ve never made it myself. Curious to give it a go, I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered and should be included on the menu this year. Without a doubt, it was and will be.

Women's Day Encyclopedia of CookeryConversations with mom revealed that the original recipe came from a long out of print encyclopedia like set of cookbooks from Women’s Day, actually called Encyclopedia of Cookery. My mom still has her set and found an identical set at a tag sale years ago that she gave to me as a gift. It turns out the recipe for this wonderful pie has been sitting in the vintage set of cookbooks, in my own house, for years.

The pie is simply elegant, with few ingredients, quite light and perfect after a heavy meal. I’ve taken the original recipe and updated it somewhat by adding a cinnamon stick, star anise, and cardamom pod to the stewing liquid. These additions infuse the simple syrup, and eventually the cream, with classic flavors and aromas that pair well with the apples. After making the cream pie for dessert this week and receiving all round approval, it will now regularly appear not only on our holiday tables, but throughout the fall and winter.

What desserts will show up on your table this year? Are you a traditionalist serving the same menu each year, or do you like to mix it up?

Apple Cream Pie

Apple Cream Pie

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients:
5 cooking apples, peeled and sliced into eighths
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 anise star
1 cardamom pod
Pastry for one 9” pie crust, unbaked
1 egg
½ cup heavy cream

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put apples in a saucepan with sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. While apples are simmering, line a 9” pie plate with crust, decoratively crimping edges and place in freezer until needed.

When apples are tender, remove and place them in a strainer set over a bowl to catch any juices. Continue to simmer syrup left in saucepan until reduced to approximately ½ cup. To that add any syrup caught from draining apples.

After apples have cooled slightly, place in the pie pan lined with pastry. Beat egg and cream together and stir in reserved syrup. Pour over apples. Transfer to oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until custard is set- the center will be slightly jiggly, but will continue to firm up as it cools. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Peeled apples, cut into eighths.
Peel the apples and cut them into eighths.
Apples with sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod in a saucepan.
Add sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod.
Simmering apples in sugar syrup with cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod.
Simmer apples until tender, about 10 minutes.
Apple syrup in measuring cup, with apples draining in sieve.
Drain apples, reserving any syrup, you should have about 1/2 cup of apple syrup.
Apples placed in the bottom of a pie plate lined with pastry.
After apples have cooled slightly, place them in the bottom of a pie plate line with pastry.
Egg, cream and syrup mixture poured over the apples.
Egg, cream, and syrup mixture is poured over the apples. Bake for 30-45 minutes in a 350°F oven until custard is set.
Apple Cream Pie cooling on a wire rack.
When the custard is set, remove the pie and place on a wire rack for cooling.
Apple Cream Pie dusted with powdered sugar.
If desired, dust the Apple Cream Pie with powdered sugar before serving.