I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized that Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is a little over a week away. October flew this year, with travel to visit my father who was ill (but thankfully is much better), a dreadful cold that lived in my sinuses for two weeks, and fast and furious recipe development for my newest cookbook baby (working title: Mashed) that will be released by my publisher Gibbs Smith in fall 2016. I wanted to share this recipe with you, because it’s one of my favorites from those yet developed for the book, but also because it’s a perfect ending for your Thanksgiving feast. I love the color and flavor sweet potato adds, and the grist of the grits melts into the pudding as it cooks. Delicious! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I think I’ll be making it again next week.
Sweet Potato Indian Pudding
(Yields 6 to 8 servings)
This rustic and gorgeous sweet pudding combines elements of the traditional Indian pudding I grew to know and love as a child in my native New England, with ingredients widely used in in my adult hometown of Charleston, SC and throughout the South – sweet potatoes and grits. The New England version skips the sweet potatoes all together and uses cornmeal as the “corn” element of the pudding, while this recipe adds the perfectly appropriate flavor and texture girth of mashed sweet potatoes and grits – a rougher, stone-ground version of cornmeal. The results are stunning. As southerners are apt to say, “It’s the best thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.”
It’s best warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top. If you can’t find stone-ground grits, cornmeal or polenta will work fine. But, skip the instant variety. Longer cooking soaks up all the flavor of the pudding and melts the corn into one integrated bowl of perfection.
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups Half & Half
1/3 cup stone ground white or yellow grits (or substitute cornmeal)
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
The day before cooking, prep the mashed sweet potatoes. Preheat oven to 425F. Scrub and pierce a large sweet potato a couple times with a knife. Bake until soft and skin is puckered, about one hour. Remove skin when cook enough to handle and mash until fine and fluffy. Reserve (refrigerate, covered, for several days).
On pudding day, preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 1 1/2 to 2 quart deep-sided baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Bring the Half & Half up to a simmer over medium high heat in a medium-sized pot. Do not boil! When simmering, whisk in the sweet potatoes, grits and molasses. Whisk, constantly, over medium high heat until thickened to a thin pudding stage, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, ginger and cinnamon until frothy. Whisk in 1 cup of the warm pudding mixture. Pour in the remaining pudding mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the pudding into the buttered baking dish. Bake on center rack for 40 minutes. Add the cold butter cubes, sprinkling evenly over the top. Reduce the heat to 325F. Cook 45 – 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The pudding will quiver slightly to the touch. Remove from oven. Rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
It’s been a long time since I’ve created and tested a recipe just for the heck of it, heck just for the fun of it. Recently, as I finally looked up from the rubble of completed story and cookbook deadlines and awoke to Charleston’s welcome chilly temperatures, falling leaves and fading marshes, I got recipe-inspired. After all, fall is here and Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is coming.
Thanksgiving’s always been my favorite holiday because of what it symbolizes, literally and figuratively, both from the past and the present. So many wonderful meals created with love and gratitude for my own family in the past two decades, and by my mother and her family for two decades prior to that. Memories of scrambling around my Aunt Nancy Lally’s kids’ table with eight other kids for her three-bean salad or green jello mold and heaping plate of turkey, are my oldest Thanksgiving souvenirs. More recently, three day-long cooking bonanzas from my kitchens in Chicago, Minneapolis, Wyoming and later here in Charleston, fill my memory bank. There have been so many happy days of wafting cinnamon, basting turkeys, and simmering stocks. All of this, of course. to thank God for our mutual blessings and to enjoy time together at the table.
I’m weeping now reflecting on the many people I shared so many Thanksgiving’s with whom are now deceased or divorced from my life due to the pressures of distance and time. I’m crying a little, too, because this year I’m not going to be cooking, but instead going to visit my parents in Florida and we are going to go out to eat this year. This is because, a fact I’ve resisted facing for far too long, my parents are just getting too old (hovering near or above 80, respectively) to put up with the physical and emotional stress of putting on a big Thanksgiving hoopla even though Mom offered to do it. I wanted it to keep it simple, for their sake. And, fingers crossed, my darling Michael (whom I call TAO for “The Adorable One”) is coming along to meet them, and my dog TannMann, too. No matter how it goes, I will appreciate my parents more than ever this year. God knows I love them. Wishing you and yours a beautiful Thanksgiving!
Recipe for Your Holiday Table
Savory Sweet Potato Flan with Raisins, Bourbon, Maple Syrup and a Touch of Cinnamon
(Yields 8 to 10 Servings)
Here’s my new recipe that Thanksgiving inspired. It has the silky/mousse-like texture of a savory flan, boostered by the roasted sweet potato puree that yields a slightly firmer texture reminiscent of spoonbread. It should be firm enough to stand up in a spoon with a gentle jiggle. There is no sugar in this recipe, unless you count the raisins, one tablespoon of maple syrup, and optional drizzle of honey for final garnish. It’s truly decadent and surprisingly simple. I’m adding it to my permanent Thanksgiving recipe file and am thinking about it in the context of my next cookbook.
2 large sweet potatoes (about 3/4 pound each)
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon real maple syrup
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
2 cups Half & Half
1/2 cup dark raisins
1 tablespoon All-Purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter for greasing the baking casserole
Garnish: 2 strips cooked bacon, crumbled and light drizzle of honey or maple syrup
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Scrub and trim the potatoes. Pierce in several places with a knife or fork. Roast on the center rack until very soft when pierced with a fork (abour 50 minutes to an hour). Remove and allow to cool for comfortable handling. Slice in half horizontally and carefully scoop out the flesh (discarding the skin). Place the potato flesh in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Puree briefly. Add the bourbon, maple syrup, salt, black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla. Puree to combine until soft and fluffy. Set aside.
Meanwhile, fill your tea kettle with water and put over high to bring up to a boil for the flan’s imminent water bath (this is important to moderate the heat for the custard). In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the eggs and Half & Half until frothy and completely blended. Whisk in the reserved potato puree. In a small bowl, toss the raisins with the flour until evenly coated. Fold these into the flan mixture, gently. Butter a 1 1/2 quart casserole (or similarly sized 3″ high baking dish). Pour the flan mixture into the casserole. Place the casserole in a large, deep roasting pan. When the water in the kettle is boiling, pour into the roasting pan and around the casserole until about half way up the sides of the casserole.
Bake on the center rack until firm, yet bouncy to the touch, about 55 to 60 minutes. Serve hot, tepid or even cold. (Note: The flan will store in the refrigerator, covered for up to 2 days. If desired, reheat, covered, in a 325F oven for about 20 minutes before serving.)
Crumble the bacon over the center of the flan and drizzle with honey before serving, if desired.
PS – Remember to look for big, beautiful changes on my web site soon and be sure to tell your friends about it so they can subscribe for restaurant news, recipes, book signing events, and all things wonderful in Charleston. For signings and event, be sure to visit the events sidebar on the home page. I’ll be in at Southern Season in Richmond, VA on Dec. 7!