I've said it once. Actually, I've probably said it about 1000 times, but that's not going to stop me from saying it again: I love sweet potatoes.
I've never been a huge fan of white potatoes themselves. I know; that's very un-American. Baked potatoes don't thrill me, and I'm rarely tempted by french fries. Luckily, Eric consumes enough of those to fulfill my quota. And mashed potatoes? The majority that I've tasted are just blah. There was this one restaurant that we went to, which served a sort of mashed potato "tasting" with your entrees, including lobster mashed potatoes and truffle mashed potatoes. I'll admit that those versions were pretty darn outstanding. But let's face it: You can add lobster and truffles to just about anything and make it outstanding. In that situation it wasn't really about the potatoes, now was it?
My first memories of sweet potatoes are probably similar to those of most people, ones that involve Thanksgiving dinner. My mom would always make candied sweet potatoes, using the canned version in syrup, cinnamon, brown sugar, butter, and I think raisins (Mom, am I right?) The tops of the potatoes would get nice and caramelized in the oven, and this super sweet dish was the perfect foil to her savory gravy, turkey, and stuffing (and it tasted even better the next day.) Since my dad and brother never indulged in orange food, other than Doritos, I could have as much as I wanted.
When I started to become a bit of a health nut, and my taste buds became less sugar-dependent, I started to realize that sweet potatoes didn't necessarily need to be doused in sugar, syrup, and more sugar to be delicious. They were, after all, SWEET potatoes, right? Sometimes for dinner, I'll just roast up a red-skinned variety and top it with the tiniest amount of butter, cinnamon, and maple syrup: heaven. The same applies for the very similar tasting, but even lower calorie butternut squash. I consume these two vegetables on such a regular basis, it's a wonder that my skin hasn't turned a spray-tanned Snooki shade of orange by now.
Sweet potatoes and butternut squash are a great substitute for pumpkin in most recipes, and I'm always trying to think of new ways to incorporate them into my cooking and baking. While using fresh pumpkin puree might be the only way that Martha Stewart rolls, it's a huge pain in the butt to make, and it's not attainable year-round. Fresh sweet potato puree is ten times easier, so that is what I like to use in muffins, pies, pancakes, etc.
I believe that I've also mentioned about 1000 times that I'm not a huge dessert person. Obviously, there's nothing that I love more than creating desserts. I just like to give them away, probably because I find it much more gratifying to watch others enjoy something that I've made. Ice cream is the exception, especially the fresh or homemade variety. If a restaurant dessert menu offers a tasting of exotic ice creams and sorbets, it's hard for me to turn that down. When Eric and I were in Jackson Hole this summer, I must have dragged him to the town square ice cream shop every other day to get a scoop of their local huckleberry ice cream. I could never work in an ice cream shop.
After a humongous Thanksgiving dinner, I tend to decline dessert. I might take a bite off of someone else's plate, just to taste, but a heavy piece of custard or fruit-filled pie is usually not even a little bit tempting. I love the idea of serving an ice cream pie though. It's essentially a scoop of ice cream in a thin cookie crust (in this case gingersnap), and it seems like a much more refreshing option than some other alternatives. Plus, you can use the leftover ice cream and cookies to make fun mini sandwiches for the kids...or adults who should be seated at the kids table.
I love to play around with my ice cream maker. I have a really inexpensive version, and it has never failed me. This is my first attempt at sweet potato ice cream, and I was really thrilled with the results. You can definitely omit the spiced pecans, but I think that they add some great texture and flavor. Here are my extra tips for making this cool and sweet post-Thanksgiving dinner treat:
- Here's a great bonus ideas for a fun kids dessert: Use leftover ice cream, gingersnaps, and chopped nuts to create some fun mini Sweet Potato Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwiches. You can also roll the outsides of the sandwiches in sprinkles, coconut, mini chocolate chips, etc.
- The ice cream pie can be prepared up to one week in advance. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze. Allow the pie to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cutting and serving to guests.
- While you can definitely mash the baked sweet potato flesh to make a puree, I have found that a much better method is to actually puree it in a food processor, as this yields a much smoother outcome -- more suitable for an ice cream base.
- Instead of using a combination of whole milk and cream, you may use all half and half (or even al heavy cream if you want a REALLY rich ice cream.)
Serves 8-10 (with leftover ice cream for ice cream sandwiches!)
For the ice cream:
3 medium red-skinned sweet potatoes
¾ cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
⅓ cup pure maple syrup
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For the spiced pecans:
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups pecan halves
For the crust:
2 cups finely crushed gingersnaps
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Prepare the ice cream base: Preheat the oven to 425F degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes several times with the tines of a fork and wrap them in foil. Bake for one hour or until soft. When cool enough to handle, peel and then puree the potatoes in a food processor (or mash the potatoes.) Measure out 1 ¾ cups puree.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, eggs, egg yolks, and maple syrup. Place the milk in a medium saucepan set over medium heat; bring to a simmer. Slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that you won’t scramble the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan set over low heat. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it thickens to a custard consistency, 8-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the potato puree. Mix in the cream and vanilla. Transfer the custard to a bowl, cover, and chill until very cold (at least 3 hours.)
Prepare the praline pecans: Keep the oven at 325F degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick baking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg white and water until foamy. Whisk in the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Add the pecans, and toss the mixture until the nuts are evenly coated. Spread the pecans in an even layer onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant. Cool completely. Reserve 15-20 pecan halves for garnish, and coarsely chop the remaining pecans.
Prepare the gingersnap crust: Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together the gingersnap crumbs, sugar, and butter until the mixture is evenly moistened. Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch glass pie plate. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until set. Cool completely.
Prepare the ice cream: Transfer the chilled custard to your ice cream maker, and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Five minutes before the ice cream is ready, add 1 ½ cups of the chopped praline pecans to the machine. When the ice cream is ready, transfer it to the gingersnap crust, smoothing the top (there will be ice cream left over.) Arrange the reserved pecan halves decoratively on top. Cover the dish and freeze for 2 hours, until firm enough to slice.
Garnish the pie slices with lightly whipped cream or caramel sauce (optional).