For several years now I’ve made the same sweet potato recipe for holiday dinners. It involves roasting peeled and cubed potatoes in the oven with butter and salt and pepper until tender, then tossing with apple cider that has been reduced until it thickens into a syrup, and finally topping with toasted almonds. I’ve lost the original recipe and don’t remember the source, so memory has served me for the last few years when making the dish.
This year I wanted to reduce the amount of sweetness in the dish, so instead of using the reduced apple cider, I made a quick syrup using a small amount of honey mixed with orange zest and an orange liqueur. The flavor was a really nice compliment to the sweet potatoes, but the cubed texture didn’t quite let the liquids blend well enough with the potatoes. Then I decided to mash the potatoes after the fact. The smoother texture was better, but the potatoes weren’t quite fluffy enough. What I needed was to find a good basic recipe for mashing sweet potatoes, and once again the trustworthy kitchen testers at Cook’s Illustrated magazine came to the rescue.
Using Julia Collin Davison’s “Mashed Sweet Potatoes” as a template, I cooked the tubers until tender, mixed in the syrup afterwards, riced everything directly into the casserole dish, and topped it off with toasted pecans. The dish can be made a day ahead of time and reheated, with the flavors becoming even more pronounced as it sits. Fragrant with the honey-zest-liqueur, the fluffy sweet potatoes work perfectly as part of a holiday feast. Even better, it’s one of the easiest things to make, and in a busy kitchen, that’s a nice little bonus for the cook.
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring…”1
…not even the cook. Merry Christmas to all!
Sweet Potatoes with Honey, Orange Zest, and Orange Liqueur
(recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Fall Entertaining 2008)
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, halved and sliced into 1/4″ pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
several grindings of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons raw honey
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Stir in heavy cream. Add the sliced sweet potatoes, stir to coat with the butter-cream mixture, and cover. Check every so often, adjusting heat if necessary, to make sure pan isn’t so hot that the butter-cream mixture burns on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 45 minutes until potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork.
While the potatoes are cooking on the stove, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Chop the pecans and toast for 10 minutes until very slightly darkened and fragrant. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Remove cooked potatoes from the heat. In a small saucepan, stir together honey, orange zest, and orange liqueur and heat until warm over low heat. Add mixture to potatoes in stockpot and stir to combine. Process potatoes using a potato ricer or a hand food mill into a large round casserole dish. Scrape any remaining liqueur mixture from the stockpot and stir into the potatoes. Top with toasted pecans and serve.
Serves 8 to 12 people
1 from the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore