Sweet Potato Pie

Have you guys ever had sweet potato pie? It’s pumpkin pie’s “Black Sheep” cousin. It sounds kind of weird in theroy, but upon first bite you discover it’s absolute deliciousness. A little bit lighter and less filling than pumpkin pie, but still just as festive for Fall.

We grow lots of sweet potatoes here on Virginia’s Eastern Shore – most notable, a white-fleshed sweet potato variety called Haymans. You rarely find them off of the Eastern Shore because they’re in such high demand with the locals. I still haven’t been able to get my hands on any this year…I’m hoping to track some down before next week for Thanksgiving, so keep your fingers crossed for me!

If you’re worried it might take more time and effort than a pumpkin pie, don’t be – it’s just as easy, with an even shorter ingredient list. It’s one of those recipes that the little ones like to help make too! Plenty of stirring and whisking involved. It may seem strange that there’s no brown sugar or nutmeg – but just go with the lemon extract. It adds such a bright note to the sweet potato, and really makes it sing.

So, if you’re looking for a new dessert that’s still traditional – you’ve found it. The perfect addition to your holiday Thanksgiving table that everyone is sure to enjoy! Have a great weekend, everyone.

Sweet Potato Pie

2 cups sweet potato puree* (about 3 medium sweet potatoes)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp lemon extract
1 unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine sweet potato puree, sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, flour, and lemon extract in a large bowl. Whisk until combined and smooth.

Pour into pie shell and bake for around 50 minutes, until crust is golden brown and the filling doesn’t jiggle.

Remove from oven to cool to room temperature before serving. Or refrigerate for a chilled pie.

* To make the sweet potato puree: Pierce sweet potateso in a few spots with a fork and microwave at high power for about 10 minutes or roast at 350° for about 1 hour, until tender. Let cool slightly, then peel and puree in a food processor.

Source: Mrs. JoSue

Baklava

Happy National Baklava Day! If there ever was a dessert worthy of it’s own day, I’d say baklava was it. I’d never had the pleasure of trying it before moving here to the Eastern Shore. I’ve made mention before how our little island has quite a few Greek families that live and operate restaurants here. Jon worked in one of them growing up  (Famous Pizza for you locals), so baklava was a favorite for him at a young age. He introduced it to me, and it quickly became one of my favorite as well!

Tender, crunchy, golden brown layers of phyllo dough encasing layers of finely chopped spiced nuts and brown sugar, all enrobed in honey. It’s pretty much as close as one can get to perfection in a baking dish. I can’t believe it took me this long to get around to making it in my kitchen. I was afraid it would be super time consuming or tedious, neither of which it was. Took all of about 15 minutes to assemble, and the results were in-sane…

I used a mixture of the traditional walnuts and pistachios for a little depth of flavor. I also added a few slices of lemon to the honey syrup. Jon said he remembered Rula (the owner) putting lemon in her syrup when she made baklava at the pizza shop, and thought that sounded like a great touch.

I actually need to make another batch soon, the poor folks at Jon’s work didn’t even get to enjoy any! That’s how we know something is really good, when leftovers don’t make it into the office. If you’ve never made baklava, or worse – never even tried it, do yourself a favor and make this soon!

Source: adapted from TheKitchn and Famous Pizza on Chincoteague Island, VA.

Salted Duck Fat Carmels

Okay, I know what you must be thinking – say whaaaaaaat?  Duck up in your caramel? She crazy! But just trust me little ones, these little bites of Heaven are truly divine.

A couple of months ago the good people at D’Artagnan sent me a cooler full of duck fat to play around with in the kitchen. They’re a company that’s well known for their duck products, but also have a plethora of other wonderful gourmet products available online.

You can use duck fat as you would use butter, great for sauteeing some veggies or roasting some potatoes. Adding an incredible richness and depth of flavor that you just don’t attain with butter or olive oil. I’ve been using it to make a vinaigrette for my salad, which it lends itself perfectly for this chilly weather that’s finally come our way. It’s also great in biscuits or pie dough. And, as it turns out – salted caramels!

This recipe has always been a winner for me, so I just adapted it by adding rendered duck fat in place of the butter. They are rich and chewy, with a wonderful silkiness. If you’re afraid they will taste “ducky”, don’t be! While duck fat has a different flavor than butter, more savory – I think the biggest difference is the texture on the tongue. It’s super smooth and silky, with a heavier mouth-feel than butter or oil…and that definitely transcends into the caramels.

I topped off with a bit of my current favorite sea salt (if you haven’t tried Maldon yet, do it!) for a salty, crunchy bite that pairs perfectly with the rich sweetness of the caramels. Sliced and wrapped up in pieces of wax paper, they make a wonderful homemade gift that is as unique as it is delicious. 

Disclaimer: I received products from D’Artagnan for review. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Have I mentioned enough times how much I love this little stretch of land that we call home? Sure we love the ocean, and the bay, and the abundance of fresh seafood that comes with both. But you know what I love more than anything? Our community. Good people and great events are always just right on the horizon here on the Eastern Shore!

One event we always look forward to is the suborbital rocket launches out of Wallops Flight Facility. For the past few years our little corner of NASA has been launching resupply missions to the International Space Station, one recent launch (LADEE) even went to the moon! They don’t go that often, a few times a year – but it’s always so exciting for us. We have many friends and family who work at the base, so to say that I’m proud that these folks are launching things into space is kind of an understatement.

Last night we had a catastrophic failure, the rocket exploded about 6 seconds after liftoff. I’ve never seen anything like it, and never hope to again. Thankfully, no one was injured…which, is just a testament to how wonderful our folks at Wallops are.  But, the facility is destroyed. All the work that went into the launch, and the scientific experiments on board – just gone. Wallops will rebuild though, and most certainly relaunch! But please keep our small community in your thoughts and prayers.

So, the cupcakes. I baked these to take to our PTA’s Annual Pumpkin Walk. Families and local buisnesses carve pumpkins to display on one of our nature trails here on the island to create a spooky and fun walk to raise some money for the PTA. They of course have a bake sale as well, so I baked these to donate to the cause. We got to the walk about 30 minutes after it started, and they were already gone – definitely a hit!

I used my favorite vanilla cake recipe, then added some chopped apples, caramel sauce, and fall spices to the batter. Then topped them with a caramel cream cheese frosting. Holy moly, were they good! The spices were not overbearing, allowing the fresh flavor of the apple to really shine through. And I loved having the tender chunks of apples in the cake as well. I’ll most certainly be making this one again and again. I think it would be great as a 9-inch layer cake too! Enjoy!

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
16 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup caramel sauce

For the Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. block cream cheese, room temperature
12 Tbsp butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup caramel sauce
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk together and set aside. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Add in the sugar, and beat for 2 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.

For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar until incorporated. 10 seconds, until evenly combined. Frost cupcakes as desired.

Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated. Add in the apples and caramel sauce and mix until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full (you will likely have batter left over after filling 24 wells.) Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Replace paper liners and bake remaining batter if desired. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar until incorporated. Then add the vanilla, caramel sauce, and a pinch of salt. Mix for 10 seconds, until evenly combined. Frost cupcakes as desired.

Drizzle with additional caramel sauce if desired before serving.