Like a sweet dessert song of the South, sweet potato pie gives reason to shut your mouth -- so you can enjoy every satisfying morsel of home-baked goodness. This velvety smooth dessert features sweet potatoes in a custard consistency, with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg to warm the palate. Serve sweet potato pie as an alternative to pumpkin pie year-round, with topping options including whipped cream, ice cream and candied pecans.
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Flaky, buttery pie crust complements the sweet, creamy sweet potato filling in a traditional sweet potato pie. Cut cold cubes of the fat into the dry ingredients -- using a pastry blender or by pulsing a food processor -- to make pea-sized crumbs.
As a general rule, use 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour for every 1/2 cup of butter or shortening, plus sugar and salt to taste, to make a single 9-inch pie crust. The flour coats the butter or shortening pieces; the cold temperature keeps the fat hard so it does not blend completely with the flour. Add just enough ice water to hold the ingredients in a dough, usually 3 to 4 tablespoons of water for every 1 1/4 cups of flour in the dough.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll the dough into a circle and lay it neatly into the pie pan. Trim the excess dough from around the pan edges.
Fibrous root strands extend from the root tip of a sweet potato usually up through the center, which can adversely affect the sweet potato pie texture. Process the boiled sweet potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill to simultaneously mash the potatoes and separate these strands. It takes approximately 2 pounds of fresh sweet potatoes or 2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes to fill a 9-inch pie crust of standard depth -- add an extra pound or cup of sweet potatoes for deep dish pies.
The filling also requires eggs, milk or half and half, white or brown sugar, vanilla extract, and optional spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Ratios vary among recipes, but generally call for 2 to 3 eggs, 3/4 to 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, and up to 1/2 teaspoon each of optional spices. Mix the ingredients until smooth and pour the filling into the pie shell.
Ovens, pie pans and recipes vary so greatly that suggested baking times really aren't much help at all. Where one recipe might suggest a 45-minute baking time at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, another seemingly similar recipe calls for 1 1/2 hours of baking at 350 F.
Instead of following strict time and temperature guidelines, pay attention to the consistency of the filling as it bakes. The filling sets up as it bakes, transforming from a nearly liquid state to a slightly jiggly, semi-solid when finished. Gently shake the pie pan to check for movement. Lack of movement indicates that the pie is done, but the toothpick check commonly used for cakes lets you know for sure. The pie is done if a toothpick inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean or nearly clean. Avoid overcooking the pie, which can lead to cracks throughout the top -- although sometimes cracks are simply an inevitable part of sweet potato pie.
On the off chance that you have leftover sweet potato pie, it must be stored properly to stay fresh and safe for consumption. Follow the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service guidelines for foods with cooked eggs, keeping the pie stored refrigerated for a maximum of three to four days. Package the pie in an airtight container to keep out bacteria and lock in moisture.
Wrap the leftover pie tightly in aluminum foil or a freezer-safe storage container alternatively and freeze for up to four months. Thaw the pie in the refrigerator and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 F to reheat before serving.
Prepare pie crust and filling up to five months in advance and bake as needed. Chill the pie filling before adding it to the unbaked pie crust, wrapping the pie and placing it in the freezer. Bake the pie from frozen, starting at a high temperature of approximately 400 F for the first 10 minutes and reducing to about 325 F until the filling sets.