Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bourbon Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole with a Pecan Crust

Bourbon Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole with a Pecan Crust
On my Thanksgiving table there are non-negotiables.  Turkey, duh.  Gravy, cranberry sauce, a legit green vegetable, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes.  I will forever and ever have a soft spot for sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows.

And while I'll never turn down those ubiquitous marshmallow sweet potatoes, I can't help but cringe a bit as well.  I mean, have you ever made a classic sweet potato casserole?  Do you know how much sugar is in there?  Cups.  CUPS of sugar, in a "vegetable" side dish.  No wonder they're so good!  You might as well just move that pyrex to the dessert table.

So for the past few years I've been making sweet potatoes that highlight the actual sweet potatoes, and qualify as a reasonable side dish, not a dessert disguised as a vegetable.  And this year, I finally found the ultimate sweet potato dish.  Mashed sweet potatoes.  Apples.  Bourbon.  And an herbed pecan crust.  Yeah, this is good stuff.

In lieu of actual spices to this dish, whole spices are simmered with cream and then strained out, leaving behind a whisper of scent and subtle flavors.  The bourbon lends a gentle smoky, sweet flavor.  And the apples contrast to the sweet potatoes both in texture and sweetness.  The tartness of the granny smiths works really well with the lightly spiced sweet potatoes.  The crispy bread crumb and pecan topping gives the dish much-needed texture and crunch, rounding out the whole thing perfectly.  This recipe highlights the actual sweet potatoes, rather than disguising them in mounds of sugar and marshmallows.  I think it's safe to say that I've finally found the perfect sweet potato dish.  No question.

Bourbon Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole with a Pecan Crust 

Bourbon Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole with a Pecan Crust
barely adapted from Fine Cooking, Holiday Dishes 2014
serves 8

  • 3 lbs sweet potatoes (about 3 large)
  • 4 Tbs unsalted butter
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 oz toasted pecans
  • 4-5 slices rustic white bread (such as sourdough or country bread), torn into pieces
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, sliced as thinly as possible
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 Tbs bourbon
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and arrange on a baking sheet.  Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until they are completely tender when pierced with a fork.  Let them rest until they are cool enough to handle.*   Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees.

Discard the skins and put the flesh in a mixing bowl.  Use a fork or potato masher to mash the potatoes (they don't have to be perfectly smooth!).  Set the bowl aside.

To make the crumb topping, combine the pecans, bread, and parsley in a food processor.  Pulse until the nuts and bread are coarsely chopping.  Transfer to a small mixing bowl.  Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and mix into the bowl, along with a generous pinch of kosher salt.  Set aside.

To infuse the cream, combine the heavy cream, ginger, star anise, and cinnamon stick in small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, watching carefully so it doesn't boil over.  Remove from heat immediately, cover, and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes.  Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a liquid measuring cup, pressing down on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of the bourbon, the vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  

While the cream-spice mixture is steeping, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the apples, season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and toss well.  Increase the heat to high, and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are softened and lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes.  

Remove from heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon of bourbon.  Stir until it evaporates, which should only take a few seconds.  Stir in 1/3 cup of the infused cream.  

To assemble the casserole, lightly grease a shallow 3-quart baking dish (such as a 9x13 inch dish).  Stir in the remaining cream to the mashed sweet potatoes, and season generously with salt to taste.  

Arrange the apples across the bottom of the baking dish, then spread the sweet potatoes over the apples in an even layer.**  Sprinkle the pecan-crumb mixture over the sweet potatoes.

Bake at 375 degrees until the crumb topping is dark brown and the casserole is heated through, about 25 minutes.  Serve.

*This is a great thing to do ahead of time.  Bake your sweet potatoes off at least a day in advance, then when you are ready to assemble, you have them ready to go.

**At the point, the casserole and the crumb topping can be stored (seperately) in the refrigerator overnight.  When ready to bake, sprinkle the topping over the sweet potatoes and add a few extra minutes to the cooking time.


Josie said...

We never had sweet potato anything growing up, so as an adult I've been catching up in a major way. I just love this casserole!

Josie said...

Yes, please! Sweet potatoes with marshmallow are a serious no go at our house, so I'm loving this crunchy, nutty version!

Josie said...

Love it! A sweet potato casserole I can feel much better about serving more than once a year. Thanks, lady!

Josie said...

OMG this is over the top----this is not just for the holidays.

Josie said...

We never had the marshmallow sweet potatoes growing up, so I've never been that into them. I much prefer this version with that nutty topping!

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