Or to be more accurate, I suppose I should call this Praline Yam Pie, but that just doesn’t sound as good. That’s right– if you didn’t know it already, those orange fleshed root vegetables that are commonly called sweet potatoes are actually yams. Those skinny, yellow fleshed tubers? Those are sweet potatoes. But be it mashed, fried or pied, the orange flesh ones work better since they’re less starchy and aren’t as sugary tasting. I guess we prefer our food misnamed, unless you’re Canadian where they stick with calling their fries yammer jammers.
In any case, I’d only made a sweet potato pie once before and admit that among the many pies I’ve added to my repertoire, sweet potato is often overlooked when I get a craving to make a pie. But inspiration struck after watching an episode of Tyler Florence’s show on the Food Network: sweet potato pie topped with a crunchy layer of praline as an homage to New Orleans. Additionally, John and I had pledged an item to my law school’s charitable auction that promised a case of homebrewed beer with a pie, paired to go well with the beer. Since John makes a wicked ginger beer, I hypothesized that perhaps a sweet potato pie spiced with lively ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom might be a good pairing.
I wanted the pie to be cohesive, despite it’s crunchy topping so I incorporated ground pecans into my crust so that the buttery, nutty flavor would echo throughout the pie. The filling was made from baking the yams until the flesh was soft and scoopable. It was then pureed with lots of flavor boosters like fresh ginger and a generous splash of brandy. (See head note preceeding recipe below.) When the pie came out of the oven, the center was soft, more like a side of mashed potatoes than custardy, but I kind of liked that. In my mind, it distinguished this pie from pumpkin which I prefer to have a firm custard. Once the pie cooled, I poured on a praline made with cane syrup and spiked with heat from additional cinnamon and cayenne pepper. In the end, I loved all the contrasts in this pie: the softness of the filling after breaking through the crunch of the topping, the soothing coolness of the cold center after little prickles of spice in the praline. Only problem? John nixed this as the pie to pair with his homebrew, feeling that the spices in this pie competed with rather than complemented the ginger in the beer. Oh well– that just meant we had an excuse to make another pie and would have the burden of finishing this delicious one to boot.
Note: I really wanted to use dark rum in this pie, figuring that it would add some nice, deep caramel undertones to complement the praline, but all I had on hand was light rum which wouldn’t do much flavor wise. So instead, I grabbed the brandy, figuring that its darker, sugar flavors, while not as deep as dark rum were better than light rum. So try swapping out dark rum for brandy instead. Also, this is just a guess based on my favorite pumpkin pie recipe, but if you want a firmer, more custardy filling, try using three large eggs and some evaporated milk in place of the heavy cream.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup pecan pieces
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick cold, unsalted butter
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup ice water
- 1 large yam, about 1.5-2 pounds
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 dashes ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pecan halves, toasted
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cane syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pierce the yam all over with a fork then place directly on a middle rack in the oven and bake until soft, about one to 1.5 hours. Remove from oven and cool to touch.
While yam bakes, combine flour, 1/2 cup pecan pieces, 1/8 cup of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in food processor bowl fitted with steel blade. Grind until pecan pieces are tiny, no more than 1/16 of an inch big. Quickly cut the cold butter into 1/4 inch pieces and scatter over pecan flour. Pulse until crumbs are no bigger than pea-sized pieces. Turn the processor on and slowly add ice water through feed tube, stopping after you’ve added 1/8 of a cup and adding water a tablespoon at a time until a ball forms. If you add too much water, you can correct for this by kneading a bit more flour into the dough. What you’re looking for is a smooth, pliable dough that is not sticky. Flatten dough into a disc, cover in plastic wrap and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Roll dough out, fit into a 9 inch pie pan and flute the edges if desired. Put in freezer while you make the filling.
Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees F. Toast 1 cup pecan halves for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and let cool while you assemble the filling. Split the yam in half and scoop out the orange flesh into your food processor. Add the eggs and cream and puree until smooth. Mix in the rest of the filling ingredients. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 degrees F for 40-50 minutes. The filling should still jiggle slightly. Cool completely to room temperature on a wire rack.
Once pie has cooled, make the praline topping. In a small, heavy bottomed skillet, melt the butter, 1/4 cup sugar and cane syrup over low heat. Add the pecans, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and salt. Increase heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Let this boil for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let topping cool for 5 minutes. Pour over pie, using a spatula to gently spread the topping out to all edges of the pie. Cool pie in the refrigerator for 4-12 hours or until the topping has completely hardened.