This is a real Deep South sweet-potato dish. To Yankees it may seem more like a dessert, but the sweetness is a good foil to a salty ham or a pork roast, and the dish is traditional at the holiday table. It is also always welcome at a covered-dish supper. You can, of course, cut the ingredients in half and bake in a 9-by-9-inch pan if you want a smaller amount. There are many versions, but I prefer this one, with a pecan topping (you could use almonds or black walnuts instead). The potatoes are baked first, then peeled and blended with eggs and milk until they are smooth and pourable, then baked again with the topping; if you are using very starchy sweet potatoes, you may have to add more milk.
Yield: Makes enough to serve 12
5 pounds small sweet potatoes (about 10 potatoes)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1¾ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups milk, heated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Wash the sweet potatoes, and put them on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 1–1½ hours, until they are very tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool briefly, then peel. Put the peeled sweet potatoes into the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with beaters or a whip attachment. Mix the hot sweet potatoes on low speed to begin mashing them. Add the butter, and mix until it is absorbed. Add the salt, nutmeg, honey, and both sugars, and mix until they are thoroughly blended. Add the lightly beaten eggs and vanilla, and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low, and slowly add the heated milk. When the milk is incorporated, taste carefully for seasoning, and add more salt or nutmeg as needed. Thoroughly butter a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish with the softened butter, and pour the sweet-potato mixture into it.
Raise the oven temperature to 375°F.
Make the topping: Put the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt into a mixing bowl and mix well. Use your fingers to work the chilled butter into the mixture until it resembles oatmeal with some pea-size pieces of butter in it. Stir in the pecan pieces, and mix well. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the sweet potatoes, and bake in the 375°F oven for 30°45 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and crisp and the sweet potatoes are set but still slightly loose in the center. Serve hot.