My family is not so into the pumpkin pie. Years ago, I made a “back of the Libby’s can” version with a premade crust with still-frozen Cool Whip on the the side, and their memories are still tarnished by the taste of that weirdly sweet pie.
I very much want to change their minds, but a chance encounter with a Pumpkin Spice Latte a few weeks ago has sworn me off of the gourd for a bit. (It tasted exactly like this and not like the goodness I remember.) So I half-heartedly found a pumpkin pie recipe to make for Thanksgiving dinner, and switched my plans the instant my dad, while eating mashed sweet potatoes, suggested a sweet potato dessert instead.
His idea, to saute slices of sweet potato in butter and top with chopped pecans, sounded interesting but not so feasible for our usual large Thanksgiving gathering. I wanted individual servings that could be eaten by hand, if need be, so I added a pastry crust base to the slices, and “marinated” them in maple syrup so that they would be sticky.
A wee bit of cinnamon and some nutmeg later, we were in business. Rather than sauteeing each slice in butter before baking it (the Redskins game was almost on, and I can’t be at the stove when there’s football to watch!), I added browned butter to the marinade, to lend a nutty undertone to the tart. They were so inherently Thanksgiving — the warm spices, the slight sweetness, the earthy sweet potato, the flaky pastry — that when topped with a dollop of maple whipped cream, no one missed pumpkin at all.
The process is a bit time consuming: slicing the potatoes, making the pastry dough, rolling out the pastry dough, baking the tarts, making the whipped cream. But if you plan ahead, it’s not so bad — make the pastry dough beforehand (it’s good for up to a month in the freezer), and slice the potatoes up to 8 hours before cooking. The whipped cream can be made in advance as well. And, depending upon your counter space, it helps to have a second set of hands rolling and cutting the dough, perfect for the eager-to-help guests in the house.
It’s a little late to make these for this year’s Thanksgiving, but they’re so delicious that you may want to make them a few times before next year … you know, just to test the recipe. This year, among other things, I’m thankful that my parents instilled a deep love of food and cooking in my sister and I, and are always willing to try new things in the kitchen. What are you thankful for?
Sweet Potato Tarts
For this recipe, it helps to buy long sweet potatoes that are relatively uniform in width — avoid very round sweet potatoes or ones with weird bulges.
- 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
- 2/3 cup pure maple syrup (I used Grade A but Grade B has a richer flavor so it might be better here) + 1/3 cup for the whipped cream
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon nutmeg
- 1 recipe pate brisee (I used my go-to), chilled and ready to be rolled out
- brown sugar, for sprinkling
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
1) Preheat the oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with tin foil.
2) In a small sauce pan, melt the butter on a low flame. At first it will foam, and then begin to brown — watch it carefully, stirring to make sure that nothing burns. Once the butter is a rich caramel color, remove it from the heat.
3) Arrange the sweet potato slices in a shallow baking dish. Add the browned butter, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg, mixing everything together so that the slices are well coated. Set aside.
4) Roll out the chilled pate brisee until it is 1/8-inch thick. Use a 2-inch cookie cutter* to cut rounds out of the dough, then press a sweet potato slice lightly into the dough. Place on a lined baking sheet and sprinkle a bit of the brown sugar on top.
5) Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the pan and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Let cool on a rack.
6) Make the whipped cream: Beat the whipping cream until it is frothy, then pour in the maple syrup. Beat the mixture until the cream is thick and has stiff peaks. Top the cooled tarts with the whipped cream and serve.
*I of course don’t have any normal cookie cutters, so I used a standard champagne glass for the small pieces and a standard red wine glass for the larger pieces.