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This rich and creamy sweet potato pie recipe is full of holiday spice and a hearty shot of bourbon! The top is covered in a heated sugar crust, like a creme brulee, which gives a fun and pretty presentation that's perfect for your holiday dessert table.
As a southern belle --yes, I'm a belle, y'all-- I consider myself a connoisseur of all things sweet potato, especially during the holidays. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the 4th of July, any holiday will have at least one or two sweet potato recipes on the table: a sweet potato pie or two, and most definitely some candied yams.
But I love jazzing up the classics, and my classic southern sweet potato pie (which is a recipe passed down many generations) has gotten a serious jazzing up with a hearty amount of bourbon and a brulee top. You know how you have to crack that bubbly, brown sugar crust on top of creme brulee? This is the exact thing! And it's not hard to make at all, all you need is a culinary torch and some sugar!
The Origins of Sweet Potato Pie
For Black folks, sweet potato pie is the real Turkey Day staple, as it is in most of the Southern US. Sweet potato pie came about because enslaved Black people in the U.S. could not get their hands on yams, which is a root vegetable found in many parts of West Africa. Yams were used often in West Africa and while sweet potatoes were introduced by colonizers in the 1600's, they were dismissed for the more familiar and abundant yam.
Sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing, by the way. Yams are tougher, white fleshed tubers that go into much more savory dishes and do not taste like sweet potatoes at all, though they are used in creamy vegetable pies.
When Black people in the U.S. wanted sweeter dishes, they began eating mashed sweet potatoes and as culinary technology became more advanced in the States, sweet potatoes were added to pie just like pumpkin in European pie preparations.
How to Make Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie from Scratch
Brulee bourbon sweet potato pie is creamy, sweet, and the texture of the custard is denser than a pumpkin pie. I say custard because that's what pumpkin and sweet potato pie fillings are: rich cream based desserts thickened with eggs.
So the filling is creamy and smooth, the crust is nice and flaky, and all those classic holiday flavors --vanilla, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger-- get a boost from the bourbon. And I know you wouldn't think a sugar crust would add flavor, but if you've ever had creme brulee you'll recognize that complex caramel flavor that comes from the sugar.
And don't worry if this is your first time making a sweet potato pie if you follow this recipe and use my techniques you'll have a delicious dessert on your hands, no problem. Those techniques are the difference between an exceptional pie and a so-so pie. We don't do so-so here, y'all! I want you to always have exceptional dishes from my recipes.
Sweet Potatoes. Please do not use actual 'yams'! Yams are a completely different vegetable! I personally love garnet sweet potatoes, which have a pretty red skin and very sweet flesh. Any sweet potato variety will do, though.
Roasting sweet potatoes gives them better flavor than boiling, in my opinion. Their natural sugars (which they have a lot of) become richer in flavor and caramelized when you roast them, and those flavors will be in your pie.
Do not use canned 'yams' or sweet potatoes, they do not have the same flavor and do not caramelize as well when roasted (they're also already soft and covered in liquid which makes it more difficult to get those rich, roasty flavors).
My big trick to smooth, creamy, not-stringy sweet potato pie is a potato ricer. I know some recipes will have you using a hand mixer to rip up the strings, but I'll tell you why that's a bad idea:
One, the strings are still in your pie filling. They're just smaller. When you press your sweet potatoes through a ricer, however, the strings are stuck in the ricer and only the soft flesh of the potatoes push through.
And two, you risk overworking your potatoes. Have you ever heard about overworking regular potatoes when making mashed potatoes? They'll end up 'gluey' or like wallpaper paste in texture. Same thing here! Electric hand mix at your own risk.
Brown and Granulated Sugars. Brown sugar has molasses added to it, which gives it sweetness and moisture.
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger, Clove.
Bourbon. There's no need to go out and buy a fancy bottle of bourbon if that's not how you do things. Sweet potatoes and bourbon pair so well together, they're a match made in heaven. I also have used spiced rum in a test batch and it was delicious so even if you don't have bourbon, rum is also a great addition to this pie.
Evaporated Milk. Yes, it needs to be evaporated milk, it makes the pie more stable while baking so you'll have less of a chance of failing.
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One unbaked pie crust. You can use homemade or store-bought. I buy this one from Whole Foods (comes with two crusts for more pie, of course!) and it tastes really god. It's frozen and needs to thaw but I place it back into the freezer as I'm mixing the filling so it stays cool before baking (cold fats equal flaky crust!)
Turbinado Sugar. I find that using just white sugar for your sugar crust will end up burning it. Turbinado sugar crystals are bigger and can take more heat, making a nice thick crust without risk of burning, while the smaller granulated sugar can melt into the spaces between the turbinado sugar crystals.
To make the pie is simple:
Roast the sweet potatoes, peel them and rice them, then stir them all into a medium bowl with the eggs, milk, spices, and sugar. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 45-50 minutes. Remember: It should jiggle, just a little, in the middle. That's when you know your pie is done.
Why did my pie crack?
In custard pies, the pie will crack when the eggs are overcooked, making the custard tighten up.
This can happen because your oven may be too hot (oven temperatures can change over time and not be what you set it to, that's why a third-party oven thermometer is extremely useful!) or because you let the pie bake for a bit longer than it needed.
Let me tell you, as long as you don't let it cook for over an hour, even with some cracking around the edge (a typical area to crack for this type of pie) it will still come out 100% delicious and creamy, and after it cools and deflates no one will know the difference. Especially after you caramelize the sugar on top; the sugar cracks!
So if it cracks, don't panic. Trust me, as long as there was some jiggle to the center of that pie and you mixed that pie really well, no one will be able to tell. That's a secret between you, the Lord, and the ancestors who probably nudged you five minutes earlier to pull that pie out of the oven.
Let's Talk Brulee
Okay, now here's where we set this bourbon sweet potato pie apart from the rest: the caramelized sugar crust.
The brulee means "burnt" in French like creme brulee, which translates to 'burnt cream' in English. The 'burnt' part is the caramelized sugar, which we are creating using sugar, turbinado sugar, and a culinary torch.
A culinary torch is a small butane-powered kitchen tool that is affordable, (I received one for a White Christmas gift, it was $15 on Amazon!) and really useful! Not just for brulee but for toasting meringue or giving sous vide roast beef a little more color. Make sure to familiarize yourself with your model of torch and be safe, this is fire that we're messing with here.
Prep the pie
Before starting the caramelization, let your sweet potato pie cool to room temperature. You can also make the pie the day ahead of serving and then brulee the day of. The sugar crust does not last in the fridge, it becomes soft. Brulee the day of serving.
Blot the top of the pie with a paper towel to take away any excess moisture that can hinder the caramelization process. Take the turbinado sugar and generously spread around the top of the pie, using the same technique as you would if you were flouring the inside of a pan: shaking and tilting the pan carefully to coat the entire top of the pie, then gently shake off the excess into a bowl or the sink. Repeat this step with granulated sugar, to cover the nooks and crannies the turbinado sugar is too big to cover.
Turn your culinary torch to medium flame and gently swirl the flame over the sugar repeatedly, constantly moving so you won't burn the sugar. Browning is perfectly fine, actually preferred, in my opinion!
Once the flame is close, you'll see the sugar liquefy and steam rise as it bubbles and begins to melt. Once it turns brown, move on. And remember to keep moving the flame, even as you're focusing on one area.
Remember, it's always to be under done than over done. You can go back and heat up the under-done areas later.
When you're done you'll have a pretty, glass-like bruleed crust on top of your bourbon sweet potato pie. A masterpiece! And something that is very, very fun to crack and eat when you cut into the pie.
Storing, Freezing, Thawing
Because sweet potato pies are custard pies they need to be kept in the fridge for storing. Please keep in mind that the brulee crust needs to be done the day of serving. This pie gives eight servings; so for a family of four, it gives 2 nice slices of pie per person. It stays in the fridge for 4 days and keeps in the freezer for one month.
If you're trying to make this ahead of Thanksgiving or another holiday, it needs to be fully baked and frozen. Then slowly thawed in the fridge (give it a full 24 hours or so) to minimize weepiness. Weeping will cause a soggy crust and your sweet potato pie will fall apart.
Blot with a paper towel and caramelize the sugar to serve when ready. Sweet potato pie is great served chilled or at room temperature. Do not to leave the pie out at room temperature for more than 2 hours!)
Because making the pie really only has an hour bake time, I make it the day before or the morning of. Remember, if you make it the day before brulee the day of!
- Potato Ricer
- Mixing Bowl
- Pie Dish
- Oven Thermometer (for accurate temperatures)
- Culinary Torch
- Turbinado Sugar (if you can't find it at the store)
Looking for more holiday dishes? Check out:
- Classic Southern Sweet Potato Pie
- Sweet Potato Chiffon Pie
- Perfect Apple Pie from Scratch
- Southern Bourbon Peach Cobbler
- Southern Banana Pudding with Vanilla Meringue
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Sweet Potato Pie
- 4 medium (2-3 large) sweet potatoes
- 8 tbsp (113 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
- ¾ cup (150 g) brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- ⅛ tsp freshly cracked black pepper, finely ground
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup (125 mL) evaporated milk
- ¼ cup (59 mL) bourbon
- 1 unbaked pie crust, 9 inch
Caramelized Brulee Sugar Crust
- ¼ cup (50 g) Turbinado and Granulated Sugar, or as needed
Sweet Potato Pie
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
- Bake the sweet potatoes for 1 hour in the oven on a baking sheet. When done, let cool for 5 minutes. Peel the skin off of the potatoes and rice them with a potato ricer into a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl with an electric hand mixer, cream together unsalted butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until creamy and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla, spices, and salt, and beat until all incorporated. Mix in evaporated milk and bourbon, then add the mixture to the sweet potatoes in the large bowl. Whisk together by hand until smooth and creamy then pour the filling into your unbaked pie shell.
- Bake your sweet potato pie on the bottom rack of the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the center of your pie is just a little jiggly. It'll be puffy when it comes out but will deflate as it cools. Let cool to room temperature before starting the brulee process.
Brulee Sugar Crust
- Blot any moisture from the top of your pie gently with a paper towel, then sprinkle on about ¼ cup of turbinado sugar onto the pie. Tilt and shake the pie gently to cover the top of the pie in sugar then shake excess granules off into a sink or bowl. Repeat this step with granulated sugar until the entire pie is covered in sugar.
- Using a culinary torch on medium flame, hover about 3 inches over the pie and focus on small areas with the flame, constantly moving so the sugar doesn't burn instead of caramelizing.
- As the sugar caramelizes, whisps of steam will come up and the sugar will turn brown, this is your cue to move on to a new section. Continue this process until the entire pie is completed.
- Serve immediately or the day of. The brulee crust does not last in the fridge.
Because sweet potato pies are custard pies they need to be kept in the fridge for storing, but please keep in mind that the brulee crust needs to be done the day of serving. This pie gives eight servings; so for a family of four, it gives 2 nice slices of pie per person. It stays in the fridge for 4 days and keeps in the freezer for one month.
If you're trying to make this ahead of Thanksgiving or another holiday, keep in mind that it needs to be fully baked and frozen, then slowly thawed in the fridge (give it like a full 24 hours) to minimize weepiness. Weeping will cause a soggy crust and your sweet potato pie will fall apart.
Blot with a paper towel and caramelize the sugar to serve when ready. Sweet potato pie is great served chilled or at room temperature (be sure not to leave the pie out at room temperature for more than 2 hours!)
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 342Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 78mgSodium: 411mgCarbohydrates: 35gFiber: 4gSugar: 7gProtein: 5g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.