december 5, 2014
There are good reasons to covet pie fillings without the fuss of crust. The making of a good, flaky pie crust is time consuming and, if you’re like me, you may find premade pie crusts lacking in quality and flavor. Lots of folks are foregoing extra carbs in grains, making a homemade grain free crust (made with ground nuts) attractive, but also time consuming.
When offered pie, I generally scoop out the creamy or crunchy filling anyway, so this recipe represents my favorite way to enjoy a slice : crust-free. This sweet potato custard, made with local Hanover county sweet potatoes and local pastured eggs, would make a lovely pie filling.
Unlike commercial sweet potato pie filling, this one avoids the overpowering flavor of artificial lemon extract, which ruined my early memories of this pie as well as those for store bought birthday cakes. Instead, we riff on standard pumpkin pie spices, omitting cloves (which can hit you over the head with their essence) and add the zip of white pepper. Not so much pepper that you feel the burn, but after that last bite you remember the visit.
Why use a hot water bath to surround the ramekins as they bake? One avoids those unsightly surface cracks, but if you plan to cover the top thoroughly with whipped cream, ice cream or caramel, you can be forgiven for skipping this step. Note, however, that water baths also ensure an even cooking temperature for custards of all types, so your dessert is creamy through and through and not stiff at the edges.
Best served slightly warmed, this sweet potato custard may be made several days ahead and revived with a quick oven rendezvous.
sweet potato custard
recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company
makes six servings
one pound sweet potato, peeled, cooked, mashed and cooled ( about two cups)*
3 large eggs, room temperature
⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
scant ½ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
scant ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups half-and-half cream
optional garnishes : ½ cup heavy cream, whipped with 1 tablespoon powdered sugar; ¼ teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and white pepper, mixed together
*cut sweet potato in large chunks, bring to boil with lightly salted water to cover and simmer until tender, drain and mash well, then cool to room temperature
- Bring full teakettle of water to boil, then keep simmering over low flame while you assemble ingredients.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until well blended.
- Add cooled mashed sweet potato, brown sugar, dry spices and vanilla and mix well with heavy spatula, pressing to remove any sweet potato lumps.
- Add half-and-half in three additions, mixing well; mixture will appear watery, but it thickens nicely with baking.
- Divide mixture into six 8-10 ounce oven ready ramekins and place cups in large roasting pan.
- Pour hot water carefully until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins; it is safest and easiest to place the roasting pan with custards on a partially pulled out oven rack and then slowly pour the hot water into the pan, then carefully slide the pan and rack into the oven.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes or until custards are set.
- Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan (carefully, with oven mitts) and let cool slightly before serving and garnishing.
- To garnish, top each custard with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of the cinnamon/white pepper mixture.
- Custards may be made up to one week ahead, and warmed briefly in a 350 oven until just hot; custards may also be served chilled, but mouth feel will improve with heating.