Don’t let the demure looks or unassuming name of this old-fashioned Sweet Potato Pie fool you. This dessert is deeply spiced, spiked with bourbon, silky smooth, and topped off with homemade whipped cream.
It might be one of the great losses of our time that pumpkin pie is the one that stole the Thanksgiving spotlight.
While some pumpkin recipes are dynamic and delish (like this Pumpkin Pecan Pie), most traditional, back-of-the-can pumpkin pie recipes are rather meh.
Their spice level is weak, and their texture always seems a little too (what’s the word I want?) damp.
Sweet potato pie, on the other hand, is exquisite.
Serve it on Turkey Day instead!
I’m going to go ahead and put this out there: sweet potato pie is better than pumpkin pie.
THERE. I said it.
Compared to pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie:
- Is declaratively more interesting—canned pumpkin is bland; sweet potatoes are more complex.
- Has a superior texture; it’s rich and silky, not spongy.
- Is all-around more food-coma worthy.
An old-fashioned sweet potato pie tastes like wonderful warm spices, cozy notes of vanilla, and, of course, sweet potatoes.
Its texture is firm, yet luscious (and never damp).
To summarize, sweet potato pie is definitively autumn on a plate.
Sweet Potato Pie History
As far back as the 16th century, sweet potatoes were being shipped from South America (where they originated) to Western Europe and Africa. In Europe, sweet potatoes became increasingly popular, and locals created a dish known as “sweet potato tarts.” When colonists came to America, they continued to make this dish.
Over time, the sweet potato tart garnered the most fans in Southern states (just like this Buttermilk Pie) because they were easier to grow than pumpkins (pumpkin pie became the preferred pie of the American North).
As stoves became more attainable to households around the nation, and processed ingredients like sugar became more accessible, the idea of making formal desserts (like pie) quickly spread, leading to the sweet potato pie that we know today.
So, while pumpkin pie may be the one that’s often considered traditional for Thanksgiving (or at least it is in my family), my theory that sweet potato pie deserves serious consideration for the T-Day spotlight does have some historical backing when you look at the origin of sweet potato pie.
5 Star Review
“We loved this even more than pumpkin pie! It’s so silky and the spices are perfect! This will be a tradition for us now on.”— Maggie —
I first baked southern sweet potato pie for a Friendsgiving years ago, when Ben was in law school.
A few of his classmates still bring it up when they see me.
That particular recipe was a spin on one called “grandma’s old-fashioned sweet potato pie.”
I originally clipped it from a Mississippi magazine, and I’ve been fine-tuning it ever since.
Today’s version is a combination of that original recipe, one from Joy’s cookbook, and what I’ve garnered from experimentation.
Here’s what I love about this sweet potato pie recipe:
- It ditches canned sweet potatoes and takes advantage of the natural sweetness and smooth texture of fresh sweet potatoes (like these Sweet Potato Brownies).
- For greater control over sweetness and sugar content, it calls for evaporated milk rather than sweetened condensed milk.
- And I finish it with a thing of dessert beauty: real-deal whipped cream (that would also be delish on this Pecan Pie Cobbler).
How to Make Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie
I feel people often eat pumpkin pie out of obligation.
Sweet potato pie, on the other hand, is the dessert your friends and family will sneak seconds of and still be talking about long after the holiday season comes to an end.
- Pie Crust. A buttery, flaky, and perfectly golden pie crust is an essential part of a delicious pie. (This Darn Good Whole Wheat Pie Crust is my go-to recipe; it uses a combo of butter for flavor and shortening for flakiness.)
Do yourself an enormous service: Make the pie dough ahead and pop it into your freezer ASAP. Making homemade pie is far less trouble when the crust is ready to go.
- Sweet Potatoes. Give this pie undeniable autumn flavor right from the start. Their natural sweetness is well suited to desserts, and they make the pie filling rich and velvety. Plus, they’re packed with nutrition!
- Spices. This pie is marvelously spiced and anything but bland, but it won’t punch you in the face with too much cinnamon or nutmeg (a good thing). In fact, this sweet potato pie is made without nutmeg entirely! Instead, I used a blend of cinnamon, allspice, and ginger— the perfect sweet potato spice trifecta.
- Evaporated Milk. For an extra creamy texture, this recipe includes evaporated milk.
- Bourbon. Anytime I have the option to add bourbon to a holiday recipe, I go for it. (These Glazed Sweet Potatoes are proof.) Bourbon’s smooth, buttery flavor is meant to be with sweet potato pie. If you prefer to make your pie without bourbon, simply use extra vanilla extract. (Love bourbon? Try these Bourbon Balls next!)
- Pure Vanilla Extract. For the best-ever old-fashioned sweet potato pie, use the real deal—it’s worth it.
- Cut the sweet potatoes into chunks. Simmer until tender.
- Mash, keeping 2 cups.
- Add the brown sugar, spices, salt, butter, and half of the evaporated milk.
- Mash to combine and cook on the stove until dark and fragrant.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining wet ingredients.
- Whisk the wet ingredients into the sweet potato filling.
- To make the pie super smooth, use an immersion blender to puree the filling (you can do this now, or earlier in the recipe).
- Bake sweet potato pie for 10 minutes at 375 degrees F, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees F and continue baking until cooked through; about 50 minutes. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream. ENJOY!
How to Know if Sweet Potato Pie is Done
- When your pie is finished, it should wiggle slightly in the center (a little like Jell-O). If it swooshes or moves like a wave, your pie needs more time.
- If the crust begins to brown more quickly than you would like, shield it with a pie crust shield, then keep on baking until the pie’s center is set.
- I find sweet potato pie rarely cracks (unlike pumpkin). And if it does? That’s what the whipped cream is for!
When whipping cream, put your mixing bowl and the beaters from your electric mixer in your freezer or refrigerator first; the colder they are, the fluffier the cream.
How to Store and Freeze
- To Store. Sweet potato pie should be kept in the fridge, tightly covered, and can last about 5 days. Let come to room temperature prior to serving.
- To Freeze. Yes, sweet potato pie can be frozen! To freeze, tightly wrap your cooked and cooled pie in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and store in a freezer-safe storage container or ziptop bag for up to 3 months. Let the pie thaw for at least 12 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
While they may not be as pretty as your grandmother’s pie pan, I like to bake pies that I intend to freeze in disposable aluminum pie pans. This leaves your “pretty” pie dish available for other recipes you may need it for (like this Sweet Potato Quiche).
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Immersion Blender. No more messy transfer to the blender.
- Pie Crust Shield. Protects your sweet potato pie crust from over-browning and burning.
- Ceramic Pie Dish. This would look beautiful served on a table!
Frequently Asked Questions
In case you were wondering (I hope that you were): yes, yes, this sweet potato pie is fantastic leftover at breakfast…if you have any leftovers!
Certainly! This is an extra level of effort that I don’t feel is needed since cooking the mashed sweet potatoes on the stove achieves a similar effect to the oven, but you can use 2 cups of mashed baked sweet potato flesh (see this Air Fryer Sweet Potato for an easy recipe).
Yes. In times of desperation, you can use canned yams for this sweet potato recipe. Note that the flavor and texture will be different (and not nearly as good). Also, canned yams almost always come sweetened, so you may want to adjust the sweetness of the filling to taste by reducing the white and/or brown sugar significantly.
While pie crust is not gluten free, the filling for sweet potato pie is gluten free. To make entirely gluten free, swap with your favorite store-bought gluten free pie crust or homemade recipe.
A few things can make sweet potato pie runny. Your pie may be simply underbaked. To fix it, pop it back into the oven and bake until the filling is fully set (note, you cannot do this once the pie has already cooled). Another possibility (that’s not so easy to remedy) is that you mismeasured the liquid ingredients, or you didn’t fully drain the sweet potatoes after boiling them.
Sweet Potato Pie
For the Filling:
- 1 9-inch pie crust Store-bought or your favorite recipe (try my Whole Wheat Pie Crust)
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar packed
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (about 1/2 stick)
- 1 1/4 cups 2% evaporated milk, divided (about 10 ounces)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon bourbon or 2 additional teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes optional, for serving
For the Whipped Cream:
- 1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.
- To prepare the filling, scrub and peel the sweet potatoes. Then, dice into large, 3-inch chunks. Place chunks in a large pot and cover with cool water. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Let simmer until the potatoes are tender and pierce easily with a thin knife, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes into a colander, transfer back into the pot, and mash. Measure out 2 cups, which is the amount that you need for the pie, and reserve any extra for another recipe.
- To the same pot, add the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, butter, and 5 ounces (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) of evaporated milk. Place the pot on the stove and cook on low for about 5 minutes, mashing the potatoes further as they cook.
- To make the silkiest possible pie, use an immersion blender to puree until totally smooth; you may also transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor. Once the mixture is smooth and smells very fragrant, remove from the heat and let cool in the pot.
- While the sweet potato mixture cools, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) of evaporated milk, granulated sugar, eggs, bourbon, and vanilla extract, in a separate bowl until totally smooth.
- Carefully pour the egg mixture into the warm sweet potato mixture and stir until evenly and smoothly combined.
- Remove the crust from the refrigerator, pour the prepared filling into the pie crust, and then gently place the pie dish on a baking sheet. Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 375 degrees F, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees F and continue baking until cooked through; about 50 minutes. Check the pie periodically. If the crust is browning more quickly than you would like, shield it, then continue baking as directed. When the pie is ready, remove, and let cool completely.*
- Finally, prepare the whipped cream. Place the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.** Begin beating on low, then slowly increase the speed to high, beating just until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla. Beat on high, scraping down the sides of the mixer a few times, until a loose whipped cream forms. The cream should be harder than soft peaks but not as stiff as hard peaks. Serve the pie at room temperature, with whipped cream.
- *TIP: To test a sweet potato pie for doneness, lightly wiggle the baking sheet. If the center of the pie has a pronounced, wavy jiggle, it needs additional time in the oven. If the center of the pie has a lighter, more structured jiggle, it’s done. Remove from the oven, place the pie dish on a wire rack, and let cool.
- **TIP: When whipping cream, put your mixing bowl and beaters in your freezer or refrigerator first; the colder they are, the fluffier the cream.
- TO STORE: Gently cover your pie and store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Let come to room temperature prior to serving.
- TO FREEZE: Bake your pie as directed in a disposable aluminum pie pan (leaving your pie dish available for other recipes). Tightly wrap your cooked and cooled pie in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and store in a freezer-safe storage container or ziptop bag for up to 3 months. Let the pie thaw for at least 12 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
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