Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is my absolutely favorite holiday, as it celebrates food and being with the people you love. When I was growing up, we always hosted Thanksgiving at our house. Every year, our celebration grew and grew. My parents would invite their resident trainees from the hospital, many of whom had immigrated to America in search of better opportunities. We had our dearest family friends, a truly diverse and varied group. We often had about 40 people, from every background and religion. We always sat around the table together, and while we are not in the habit of saying grace before meals, we broke this rule on Thanksgiving. We offered a prayer to the diverse group of loved ones at our table, from the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, written in 1900. In these difficult times, when hate seems to have conquered love, when so much division looms in front of us, when there is so much uncertainty, his words ring more powerfully than ever before:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
After our grace, we would eat. We filled our bellies with food made with so much love. After we were sated, we ate dessert. I was not much of a baker in those days, thus our pies often came from Baker’s Square. Luckily, over the years I’ve grown to love making pies, and I seem to be on a never ending quest to find the right pie crust. I thought I had found it, but then this recipe came along from the incredible Stella Parks of Bravetart. It is so unbelievably easy to handle, it almost feels like pizza dough. She is not exaggerating when she says that you can literally sling the pie crust into the pie dish. I was skeptical at first, but once I tried it, I was sold. This is not to say I won’t keep trying different recipes or keep looking, but this pie crust is pretty spectacular. It’s flaky and beautifully rich with butter. It also makes the best pie crust cookies ever.
This pie crust uses equal amounts by weight of butter and flour. Some salt and sugar are added in for flavor. It comes together with just your hands, no pastry blade, stand mixer, etc needed. Then, what appears to be an unreasonably high amount of water is added in, and…you knead the dough. It’s pretty amazing. Then, roll it out, and it handles like a smooth pizza dough! It’s honestly a joy to work with. I blind baked the crust to firm it up a bit before adding the sweet potato filling, and made some pie crust cookies with the leftovers and they were astoundingly flaky and the perfect balance between shatteringly crisp and meltingly tender.
The pie filling is a sweet potato pie, also based off of this recipe by Stella Parks. I decided to swap out her spices with my family’s chai masala, because I think those warm, spice notes are a perfect, and more complex substitute for the spices typically called for in dessert recipes. To start, you simply boil the diced sweet potatoes in milk, cream, sugar, with some whole spices until the whole mixture reduces. Then, puree with eggs and chai masala. Pour into the blind baked crust, and bake until it is mostly set. To echo the classic sweet potato casserole, I decided to top the pie with a meringue. I used a recipe from my favorite pie cookbook ever, The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie. It’s creamy, and thick, and utterly delicious. To complement the chai masala, I added cardamom, and to complement the flavors in the pie, I added in the vanilla beans from the pod that I had scraped prior to boiling the sweet potatoes. And, of course, what’s a meringue topping without a little torching? All in all, it’s a decadent, sweet end to my favorite meal of the year. The meringue, of course, is quite sweet. If you would like a less sweet dessert, the meringue is totally optional. Or, you can scrape it off and just eat the pie. I won’t tell. Happy Thanksgiving!
Chai Sweet Potato Pie with Vanilla-Cardamom Meringue
|Yield: 1 pie|
A deliciously spiced sweet potato pie topped with a luscious and creamy meringue scented with vanilla and cardamom. A perfect Thanksgiving pie!
- For the pie:
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and diced coarsely
- 3 1/4 cups of whole milk
- 3/4 cup of heavy cream
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- 1 whole nutmeg
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped of seeds with seeds reserved for meringue
- 1 Tbsp chai masala
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 blind baked pie crust, use your own recipe, or recipe below
- 1 vanilla-cardamom meringue recipe, below
- For the pie crust
- 115 g All purpose flour
- 1 stick (4 oz) cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 cup cold water
- For the vanilla-cardamom meringue:
- 5 egg whites
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- All the vanilla seeds from above
- 1 large pinch of ground cardamom
- For the pie crust:
- Mix together the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter, and toss well to thoroughly coat the butter. Grab the butter between your fingers and pinch it to flatten it out.
- Add the cold water, and stir to combine. Knead in the bowl until it comes together in a shaggy ball. Transfer to a well floured countertop and roll into a large rough rectangle. Fold two of the edges into meet in the center, then fold in thirds until a smaller rectangle is formed. Roll until it measure about 13 inches. If you have a 13-14 inch lid, trace it out, otherwise transfer the dough to the pie crust. Trim the edges, leaving about 1 inch of overhang. Roll this under, and crimp with your fingers and thumb, creating a rippled pattern.
- Transfer onto a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- To blind bake, preheat the oven to 350F, fill the pie with weights, I used beans and pie weights, and bake for about 40 minutes, until slightly golden. My oven is uneven, hence the variation above. Set aside to cool.
- For the pie filling:
- Combine the sweet potatoes, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla pod (scraped of seeds), nutmeg, cinnamon in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Continue to reduce and allow the milk to thicken, until reduce by about 1/3-1/2 in volume. The sweet potatoes will break down and largely disintegrate. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan intermittently so that the milk doesn't burn.
- When it has reduced and thickened, take off the heat. Preheat oven to 350F. Blend the sweet potatoes with an immersion blender until smooth. Whisk in the chai masala, vanilla extract, salt, and eggs. Pour into the prepared pie shell and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until just set in the center. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until room temperature.
- For the vanilla-cardamom meringue:
- Wait until the pie is almost at room temperature before making. Combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla seeds, and cardamom in a large heat proof bowl. Set a saucepan of water over high heat to boil. When it boils, reduce to a simmer.
- Place the bowl on top of the simmering water, and stir continuously until the temperature hits 165F with an instant read thermometer. Once that temperature is achieved, transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk on high, until the sides of the bowl feel mostly room temperature. The meringue will be voluminous!
- Transfer onto the pie, use the flat of the spatula to pull back and create peaks. Torch gently if you want a toasted look, and serve.