Sweet Potato Pie

by Randy Murray on December 7, 2011

Today’s recipe is a guest post contribution from Mari Baskin.


Sliced and adorned, The Best Sweet Potato Pie.

A few years ago I inherited our family Thanksgiving dinner preparations. My family has never been a big fan of pumpkin or sweet potatoes, but I was intrigued by whether I could create an affinity for either one. Pie making was hands down the perfect test genre given both the vegetables’ well-documented appearance on holiday dessert menus and my family’s intense appreciation for anything accompanied by whipped cream.

With an urge to conduct an unbiased and controlled pie experiment, one that had only to convince me I was comparing apples to apples, I relied upon America’s Test Kitchen “Best” recipe. They have consistently foolproof recipes with top results. I’ve used their detailed approach here with my own contributions. I’m happy to reveal that after several years this pie still crowns the finale of our Thanksgiving feast.

This is a full, from scratch approach and worth every effort.


Mari’s Sweet Potato Pie

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, Home of America’s Test Kitchen

Makes one 9-inch pie, serving 8 to 10

Pie Dough

  • 1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 4–5 tablespoons ice water

Sweet Potato Filling

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 5 small to medium)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2–3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon molasses (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar


Making The Pie Dough

Chilled and unbaked pie crust.

The dough needs to refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, no longer than 2 days, before rolling. I like to make the dough on Wednesday, typically the last recipe I do, so that it’s ready to roll on Thanksgiving Thursday morning after I’ve prepped the turkey.

  1. Fill a cup with water and ice. You’ll need this for Step 3.
  2. Making pie dough in a food processor fitted with a steel blade is quick and simple, but similar results can be achieved using your fingertips, a pastry blender or even two butter knives, working quickly so the fat does not become soft and completely blend with the flour. With a few pulses in the food processor combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Scatter the chilled butter pieces over the flour mixture; cut in the butter with five 1-second pulses. Add the chilled shortening and with about four more 1-second pulses continue cutting in until the flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal. Butter bits should be no larger than small peas. Turn out the mixture into a medium bowl.
  3. Time for the ice water: sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture. With a stiff rubber spatula, use a folding motion to incorporate the water. Test for readiness by squeezing a golf ball size portion in the palm of your hand. It should hold together, but not be sticky. If it’s still crumbly, add up to 1 tablespoon more of the ice water. Turn the dough onto a clean and dry work surface. Gently gather the dough into a ball then flatten the ball into about a 4-inch disk. (I like to turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and use the sides of the plastic to gather and press the dough together.) Wrap the dough disk in plastic, and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days, before rolling out.


Making The Pie Shell (Soon-To-Become Piecrust)

  1. Remove your dough from the refrigerator (if refrigerated for longer than 30 minutes, let your dough become malleable at room temperature). Roll your dough on a lightly floured work surface or between two large sheets of plastic wrap to make a 12-inch disk about 1/8-inch thick. Fold your dough in quarters, then place the point in the center of a 9-inch pie plate; unfold your dough. It will overhang your plate.
  2. Ease your dough carefully into the plate’s corners by gently lifting the dough edges with one hand while pressing around the pie plate bottom with your other hand. Trim your dough’s edge to 1/2-inch beyond the plate’s lip. (I like to save the trimmed dough. I make it into a little disk and wrap it well in plastic then freeze. Later I find a reason to make a mini-crusted dessert!) Tuck the excess rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is about 1/4-inch beyond the plate’s lip; flute your dough edge. (I use the pinch approach: with the thumb and index finger of my hand on the outside of the plate and the index finger of my inside hand I pinch my way around the circumference of the dough.)
  3. Refrigerate the pie shell for 40 minutes, then freeze it for another 20 minutes to reduce crust shrinkage during baking. Note: dough made with butter and shortening is also less susceptible to shrinkage than an all butter dough.


Baking The Crust

  1. After the pie shell goes into the freezer, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Using heavy-duty foil, press a doubled 18-inch square inside the frozen pie shell. Fold back the edges of the foil to cover and protect your beautiful fluted edge. Evenly spread about 2 cups of metal or ceramic pie weights over the foil. (The original recipe suggests metal or ceramic pie weights for their heft and ability to conduct heat. I have always used 2 cups of white rice. After baking I let the grains cool and return them to a zip-lok bag to reuse as pie weights.)
  3. Bake your crust, leaving the foil and weights in place until the dough dries and lightens in color, 17 to 20 minutes. The dough will lose its wet look and turn straw-colored from its original buttery yellow shade. Removing the foil lining and weights at the appropriate time will prevent the sides of the pie shell from slipping down and losing its shape. Carefully remove the foil and weights by pulling up on the foil sides. Continue to bake the crust until it is light golden brown, about 9 minutes longer. Remove your crust from the oven and admire. Reduce your oven’s temperature to 350 degrees.


Making The Pie Filling Then Baking The Pie

  1. Cooked and unmashed sweet potatoes.

    Wash and dry your sweet potatoes. Use a fork to prick them in several places then place the sweet potatoes on a double layer of paper towels in the microwave, radiating out from the center like the arms of a starfish. Similar size potatoes perform best here. Cook potatoes at full power for 5 minutes; turn each potato over and continue to cook at full power until they’re tender, but not mushy, about 5 minutes longer. (Alternatively you can prick the potatoes and bake them in a 400 degree oven until tender, 40 to 50 minutes.) Cool your sweet potatoes for 10 minutes.

  2. Halve each potato across its equator, then using a small spoon scoop out the flesh into a medium size mixing bowl; discard the potato skin – they’re perfect for composting. (If the potatoes are too hot to hold while scooping, double up some paper towel and use it to hold the potato half.) You’ll wind up with about 2 cups. While your potatoes are still hot, add the softened butter and mash with a fork or wooden spoon; small lumps of sweet potato should remain visible.
  3. In a second medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugar, nutmeg, and salt. Stir in bourbon (I use 2 tablespoons), molasses if using (I use unsulfured blackstrap dark molasses for a deeper sweet potato flavor), and vanilla, then whisk in the milk. Gradually add the egg mixture to your sweet potatoes, whisking gently to combine.
  4. Warm your partially baked piecrust in the oven, about 5 minutes. (I’ve noticed if I start to microwave the sweet potatoes just after I’ve put the frozen pie shell into the oven, Step 3 in Baking The Crust, my crust is still warm enough.) Sprinkle the dark brown sugar evenly over the bottom of your warm crust. Pour the sweet potato mixture over the brown sugar layer. (Reserve any extra filling and bake separately in a buttered casserole. I enjoy this for later lunches. It’s my reward!) Bake until the filling is set around the edges, but the center jiggles slightly when shaken, about 45 minutes. Transfer your pie to a wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, and serve with homemade whipped cream.

The just-baked pie cools.

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