This old fashioned sweet potato pie is taught to each generation in my family. With a flaky pie crust, creamy sweet potato pie filling, wonderful warm spices, and plenty of love, my grandma's sweet potato pie recipe will be the star of your holiday tables.
A True Soul Food Sweet Potato Pie Recipe
In a southern home, thanksgiving dinner cannot end without a slice of delicious sweet potato pie.
My grandma would make 4 sweet potato pies just for me when we drove to her house in Georgia for Thanksgiving, and I promise those pies would be gone by time we had to leave back home. It's my absolute favorite!
Now, if you're from the north, you are probably confused. Y'all are used to a traditional pumpkin pie, with fond memories of your grandma making it; but black folks have been eating southern sweet potato pie for a long while. She's a southern tradition that deserves some time in the spotlight.
By the way, I see y'all out here looking for 'black folks sweet potato pie'. I'm not judging, because y'all find my soul food mac and cheese by looking up 'black folks mac and cheese' all the time! You know I've got you covered.
You know how delicious a baked sweet potato is with brown sugar, cinnamon and butter? Now imagine all that good, sweet potato flavor as a pie. That's exactly what we're working with here.
My grandma's old-fashioned sweet potato pie is a family recipe made with a silky smooth sweet potato filling, classic fall spices, and a flaky buttery crust, I promise it's going to delete your traditional pumpkin pie recipe from the Thanksgiving dinner table this year...or at least give it a run for its money.
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- A True Soul Food Sweet Potato Pie Recipe
- Why You'll Love this Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie
- Origins of Black Folks Sweet Potato Pie
- The Best Sweet Potatoes for Pie
- How to Make the Best Sweet Potato Pie
- Variations and Substitutions
- Pro Tips
- Why didn't my sweet potato pie set?
- How to Store, Freeze, and Thaw Sweet Potato Pie
- More Sweet Potato Recipes
- 📖 Recipe
Why You'll Love this Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie
- Tried and True Southern Sweet Potato Pie - this is a family recipe we've had for generations. This is my grandma's sweet potato pie recipe!
- Incredibly Easy to Make - my sweet potato pie is easy to whip up, made with simple ingredients, and the sweet potato flavor is the star, not overwhelmed with too many spices.
- The Best Flavor - Sweet potato pie has a ton of delicious flavor, from the caramelized sweetness of the roasted sweet potatoes, to the warm fall spices. It's way better than pumpkin pie, in my opinion!
- Has the Flakiest Pie Crust Recipe Included - this is a truly from scratch, old-fashioned sweet potato pie recipe, including a truly buttery, flaky homemade crust.
- Can be Made Ahead of Time - in fact, I insist you do! Because this is a custard pie, it needs ample cooldown time to set perfectly. So no need to panic about making dessert the day of, it can be made up to 3 days ahead of time!
Origins of Black Folks Sweet Potato Pie
The origins of sweet potato pies go back to American slavery, where trafficked Africans grew and cooked sweet potatoes as recreations of the popular squash pies from Europe
But sweet potato wasn't unfamiliar to many of the West Africans, because the Spanish had brought it to them in Africa centuries prior, which wasn't a big hit compared to the more popular plantain, cassava, and yam.
Slave traffickers and plantation owners had the enslaved Black American chefs recreate the squash pies that were gaining popularity in Europe, but because sweet potatoes grew more abundantly and easily as crops in the South, the enslaved chefs would make pies with sweet potato.
After Emancipation, the black community makes sweet potato pies for their own families, usually saved for special occasions like the holiday season, Easter, family reunions, birthdays, etc.
Once the KKK was established in the Southern states many Black Americans left the South for the North, where pumpkin pie reigns supreme, bringing the beloved southern sweet potato pie with them across the rest of the country.
- Food Processor or pastry cutter
- Mixing Bowls
- 9-inch pie pan - you don't want a deep dish pie plate for this.
- Potato Ricer
- Whisk and Rubber Spatula
- Rolling Pin
- Leaf Shaped Pie Crust Cutters
The Best Sweet Potatoes for Pie
The three most common sweet potato varieties in the U.S. are the Beauregard, the Jewel, and the Garnet. All of these are fantastic to use in this recipe, with some slight changes in each potato.
- Beauregards are really common to find at the store and sweet with brown skin.
- Garnets have more moisture, which is great for baking in sweet potato pie, for yams, or sweet potato fries, and have a purple-ish reddish skin.
- Jewels are somewhere in the middle.
When picking out sweet potatoes at the store look for ones that are small or medium in size, the larger ones are starchy and tougher.
They should feel firm and have smoother skin with no stab wounds or cracks or wrinkles.
Store the fresh potatoes in a dark, cool environment. Light makes them think they're outside and they'll try to sprout. A bottom cabinet or dark corner of your pantry (or in a box in that back corner of the pantry) will do great.
Is it better to boil or roast sweet potatoes for pie?
When making a pie, especially a custard pie, you want as little water involved as possible so the custard sets perfectly.
You know how yummy a baked sweet potato is, especially with some cinnamon and butter? Baking caramelizes the sugars in the sweet potato flesh and reduces the amount of water in them, so all that flavor concentrates
While boiled sweet potatoes can get waterlogged and doesn't give us that delicious deep caramelized flavor we love in a baked sweet potato.
Full ingredients, measurements, and printable instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
For the homemade pie crust
This is my all time favorite pie crust recipe - a mix of butter and leaf lard for the ultimate flaky, buttery crust!
- All-Purpose Flour.
- Ice Cold Unsalted Butter and Leaf Lard - I promise you, this crust is basically foolproof. It's flaky, crisp, and tender....all because of the butter and leaf lard.
- Kosher Salt - I keep telling y'all to throw out that table salt and get cheffy with it, honey! Kosher salt will change the way you season and cook food!
- Ice Water - I want you to keep this in mind the entire time you're making this pie from beginning to oven: don't melt that fat until it's in the oven. The ice water keeps the pie crust cold while you're working it and making it come together.
For the Sweet Potato Filling
- Fresh Sweet Potatoes - I prefer Jewel or Garnet varieties, they're sweet and have a beautiful color. Do not use purple or white sweet potatoes, they're drier and starchier than your classic orange flesh ones.
- Eggs - This is a custard pie, it needs eggs to bind together and set. If you end up with a soupy pie, try to remember...did you add the eggs?
- Ground Ginger, Ground Cinnamon, Ground Nutmeg, Ground Cloves - You want your pie to be nice and flavorful. I also like adding a little black pepper. Don't knock it 'til you try it!
- Evaporated Milk - A must have, cannot use regular milk, cannot use heavy cream. Its reduced water content makes for a richer pie that is sure to set perfectly.
- Vanilla Extract - Gotta use the good vanilla, as Ina Garten would say.
- Brown Sugar and Granulated White Sugar.
How to Make the Best Sweet Potato Pie
Pie Crust Recipe
Sure you can buy a store-bought pie crust, but homemade is always going to be infinitely better!
Step 1 | Blitz the salt and flour together in a food processor.
Step 2 | Use a food processor to cut the very cold fats into the flour and salt. We're looking for pea-sized clumps.
Step 3 | Move the dough into a mixing bowl. Carefully pour in a tablespoon of your ice cold water or vodka at a time, until the dough looks like a coarse meal and you're able to press the dough into a ball. It should feel slightly tacky, but it shouldn't be dry and powdery or wet and sticky. Split the dough into two and flatten them into disks.
Wrap the pie dough disks in plastic wrap and put into the fridge to keep those fats cold. This is great to make ahead up to three days beforehand.
Make the Sweet Potato Pie Filling
Step 1 | Place the sweet potatoes onto a baking sheet and bake the sweet potatoes until fork tender, then use a potato ricer to press the sweet potatoes into a large bowl.
Step 2 | Mix all the spices, sugar, eggs, butter and evaporated milk into the mashed sweet potatoes. Set the sweet potato mixture aside.
Step 1 | Roll out the pie crust with your rolling pin on a floured surface until it's about 12 inches across and ⅛th inch thick. Do this with both crusts. Use your leaf cutters to cut many little leaves out of one of the pie crust.
Step 2 | Lay the first unbaked pie crust into the pie plate trim the edges. Use the excess to fill any thin spots, tears, or holes.
Step 3 | Pour the sweet potato pie filling into the unbaked pie crust, decorate the top with the pie crust leaves, and bake for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. The pie is done when the center of the pie jiggles a little bit but the rest should be set.
Step 4 | When you pull the pie from the oven, let it cool on the wire rack before serving. Top with a dollop of whipped cream!
Variations and Substitutions
- Use a store-bought pie crust or pie shell if you just aren't a fan of making your own.
- Pumpkin pie spice can be used in a pinch, but make sure it isn't a very clove-heavy mix. Sweet potato has a lot of flavor on its own so it doesn't need a lot of spice like pumpkin pie does.
- No potato ricer? Use an electric hand mixer or immersion blender to break apart the stringy potato flesh.
- Keep that pie crust cold! After you roll it out, put it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to keep those fats cold. Anytime that the crust has been messed with, touched on with hands, or sat out on the counter for a little while, you need to get those fats back to being cold and solid. The secret to a flaky, crisp crust is all in keeping that butter and leaf lard cold!
- Always roast your sweet potatoes. Boiling will give you soupy, waterlogged filling and flavor. Roasting them caramelizes the natural sugars in the potatoes and deepens the flavor while losing some of the moisture so you will have thicker pie filling.
- For clean, smooth pie slices, use a sharp knife and carefully wipe it down with a damp towel or paper towel dipped in hot water. Make sure to cut through the entire crust a couple of times before lifting with a cake lifter, otherwise you'll be missing some pieces.
- A few cracks are okay, honestly they don't make for a bad pie at all... but if you want to avoid them: Bake the pie until it wiggles a little in the middle but the edges are set.
- Is the crust getting a little too golden brown too quickly? Use a pie crust protector (or aluminum foil) to gently wrap around the crust until the pie is done baking.
Why didn't my sweet potato pie set?
There are three reasons why your sweet potato pie is loose or not set:
- You waterlogged the sweet potatoes by boiling them instead of baking them.
- You did not bake it long enough or at the wrong temperature. Because this is a custard-based pie, it must bake long enough for the custard to set at the correct temperature. Keep a handy oven thermometer in your oven so you can tell the actual temperature.
- You did not let the pie cool down and fully set. When you pull the pie out of the oven, she'll be a little jiggly in the center. She will not be ready to cut while hot, or even cooled down for 5-20 minutes. Let your pie cool for at least 2-4 hours so it is fully set and ready for a picture-perfect slice, you can even do it overnight for a foolproof set if you're making it ahead of time.
So follow this recipe precisely, you'll have a beautiful Thanksgiving-worthy pie every time.
How to Store, Freeze, and Thaw Sweet Potato Pie
- Store: Let your sweet potato pie cool to room temperature, then wrapping it up in plastic wrap and keeping in the fridge. It is a custard pie (dairy and eggs) and therefore needs to be refrigerated for up to 3 days. So this pie can be baked a few days ahead of Thanksgiving or any other holiday or special occasion and just warm it up in a low oven.
- Freeze: You also can freeze your baked pie in a freezer-safe container by wrapping it in many layers of both plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and it'll stay good for 3 months.
- To thaw: Leave the pie on the counter to defrost.
- To warm up: Bake at 200 degrees F until warm, about 10-15 minutes.
It has a naturally sweet, rich, and caramelized flavor, especially since we are roasting the potatoes in the oven. With that caramelized sweetness, we have all those nice warm fall spices.
The sweet potato pie is creamy and the texture is lighter than a pumpkin pie, and it goes so well with a dollop of whipped cream!
Canned sweet potatoes are too watery to use without the risk of a runny, mushy pie. Fresh are the way to go!
Grandma's old fashioned sweet potato pie can be baked and kept in the fridge for up to 2 days before you need it. It's excellent to make ahead for Thanksgiving.
You can also make the pie crust up to 3 days ahead of time, and make the filling and bake your sweet potato pie the day before, letting it chill and set overnight. So easy!
Sweet potato pie is a cultural tradition for African Americans. When their human traffickers in the Southern United States wanted to keep up with the European trend of squash pies and desserts they used sweet potato, which was easily grown and abundant in the South.
So the pies were made using sweet potato and those recipes from the black chefs were passed on generationally, thus becoming a holiday tradition.
More Sweet Potato Recipes
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Flaky Butter and Leaf Lard Pie Crust
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, + more for work surface
- 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- ½ cup leaf-lard or vegetable shortening, chilled
- ½ cup ice water*
Sweet Potato Pie Filling
- 6 medium sweet potatoes, (3.5 cups mashed)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ cup (6 oz) evaporated milk
- Whipped cream, for serving
To Make Pie Crust
- In a large bowl or food processor, whisk together kosher salt and all-purpose flour. Add the eight tablespoons of butter and the leaf-lard or shortening.
- With a pastry cutter or the food processor on 'pulse', cut the fats and flour together until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Most of the fat should be the size of sweet peas or beans, and larger sized bits of fat are encouraged.
- Using a tablespoon measuring spoon, pour one tablespoon of ice water at a time in and stir with a large rubber spatula or spoon. Stir after each addition of water. Stop adding water when the dough begins to clump together.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. It should be slightly, slightly tacky and come together easily. Form the dough into a ball, then divide it into two halves. Flatten each half into 1 inch thick discs. Wrap each dough disc tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour (but they can stay in the fridge for up to 3 days).
To Make Sweet Potato Pie Filling
- 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 slightly. Peel the skin off of the potatoes and rice them, with a potato ricer, into a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until creamy and homogenous. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and salt to the creamed butter and sugar. Stir in evaporated milk, then pour the mixture into the riced sweet potatoes in the large bowl. Whisk together or stir with rubber baking spatula until well incorporated and creamy.
To Assemble Pie
- Remove one pie crust disk from the fridge, unwrap it, and place it on a work surface. Roll out the disk from the center outward, lifting crust slightly and rotating it 90 degrees after every few rolls. Lift and dust underside with flour every so often to prevent the pie crust from sticking. Roll dough out to be about 11 to 12 inches, and about ⅛" thick.
- Repeat with the other pie crust, then use pie crust cutters to create leaf shapes.
- With your rolling pin, roll the flattened pie crust off the work surface to loosely wrap around the pin and carefully it roll out into the pie dish. Trim the edges to ½ inch beyond the lip of your pie dish, then turn the edge under to create the rim. Press the rim against the pan to form an even edge. Use scraps to fill in any tears, thin spots, or holes in the pie crust.
- Refrigerate the pie crust for 15 minutes to chill the fats again.
- Pour the pie filling into your unbaked pie crust at 350 degrees F. Arrange the pie crust cut outs over the pie filling. Bake the sweet potato pie on the bottom rack of your oven for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the center of pie is still slightly jiggly and the edges are set. Cool for 2 hours, then refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
*If it's winter or your home is in a place that is particularly dry, you may need a couple more tablespoons of ice water.
Freezing, Storing, and Rewarming Instructions
Store your southern sweet potato pie by letting it cool to room temperature, then wrapping it up in plastic wrap and keeping in the fridge. It is a custard pie (dairy and eggs) and therefore needs to be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
So this pie can be baked a few days ahead of Thanksgiving or any other holiday or special occasion and just warm it up in a low oven.
You also can freeze your baked pie by wrapping it in many layers of both plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and it'll stay good for 3 months.
To thaw: Leave the pie on the counter to defrost.
To warm up: Bake at 200 degrees F until warm, about 15 minutes.
Tips for the Best Sweet Potato Pie
Keep that pie crust cold! After you roll it out, put it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to keep those fats cold. Anytime that the crust has been messed with, touched on with hands, or sat out on the counter for a little while, you need to get those fats back to being cold and solid. The secret to a flaky, crisp crust is all in keeping that butter and leaf lard cold!
Always roast your sweet potatoes. Boiling will give you soupy, waterlogged filling and flavor. Roasting them caramelizes the natural sugars in the potatoes and deepens the flavor while losing some of the moisture so you will have thicker pie filling.
For clean, smooth pie slices, use a sharp knife and carefully wipe it down with a damp towel or paper towel dipped in hot water. Make sure to cut through the entire crust a couple of times before lifting with a cake lifter, otherwise you'll be missing some pieces.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 491Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 93mgSodium: 274mgCarbohydrates: 64gFiber: 3gSugar: 30gProtein: 7g
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.