Don’t let the demure looks or unassuming name of this old fashioned Sweet Potato Pie fool you. This pie is deeply spiced, silky smooth, and topped off with a homemade marshmallow whipped cream. If that idea alone doesn’t speak to your soul, then the toasted coconut flakes scattered over the top will.
It might be one of the great losses of our time that pumpkin pie is the one who stole the Thanksgiving spotlight. Where traditional, back-of-the-can pumpkin pie can be rather meh—its spice level is weak, and its texture always seems a little too (what’s the word I want?) damp—sweet potato pie is exquisite.
I’m going to go ahead and put this out there: sweet potato pie is declaratively more interesting, delicious, and food-coma worthy than pumpkin pie.
A sweet potato pie tastes like wonderful warm spices, cozy notes of vanilla, and, of course, sweet potatoes. Its texture is firm and luscious, and its flavor confidently autumn.
Unlike a canned sweet potato pie, this homemade version takes advantage of the natural sweetness and smooth texture of fresh sweet potatoes. It’s the dessert your friends will still be talking about long after the festivities have ended.
History of Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie
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 the American South (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.
How to Make Sweet Potato Pie from Scratch
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. It was a spin on one called “grandma old fashioned sweet potato pie recipe” that I clipped from a Mississippi magazine, and I’ve been fine-tuning it sense.
Today’s version is a combination of that original recipe, one from Joy cookbook’s, and what I garnered from experimentation.
- Pie Crust. A buttery, flaky, and perfectly golden pie crust is an essential part of a delicious pie. Do yourself an enormous service: Bake the crust ahead and pop it into your freezer ASAP. Making homemade pie feels like far less trouble when the crust is ready to go. I always make my Darn Good Whole Wheat Pie Crust, which turns out great every single time, even if you don’t have much pie crust experience.
- 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. While it is a dessert, sweet potato pie isn’t unhealthy (as far as pies go). The sweet potatoes add oodles of fiber and vitamins.
- 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 cinnamon, allspice, and ginger— for the perfect sweet potato spice trifecta.
- Evaporated Milk. For an extra creamy texture, this recipe includes evaporated milk. Note: While many sweet potato pie recipes call for condensed milk, the two are not the same. If you turn this into a condensed milk sweet potato pie recipe instead, it will not turn out; condensed milk is much thicker and sweeter. Double-check the can (it will be clearly labeled).
- I have not tried making this as a vegan sweet potato pie, but you could experiment with coconut milk or check out my Vegan Pumpkin Pie.
- Bourbon. Anytime I have the option to add bourbon to a holiday recipe, I go for it (reference: Glazed Sweet Potatoes with whiskey pecans). 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.
- Pure Vanilla Extract. Use the real deal for the best ever old fashioned sweet potato pie.
- Roll out the pie crust, and transfer it to a pie dish. Trim, fold, and crimp the edges. Cover and refrigerate. The pie crust can hang out in your refrigerator for a full day and in the freezer for months.
- Scrub and peel the sweet potatoes.
- Dice them into big chunks, and simmer them in water until they are tender.
- Measure out two cups of sweet potatoes.
- Add the ingredients for the filling.
- Cook on low, and continue to mash the potatoes. This toasts the spices and makes them all the more flavorful. Puree the filling.
- Whisk together the wet ingredients. Pour this mixture over the sweet potato mixture. Stir until smooth and combined.
- Pour the filling into the pie crust. Place the pie dish on a baking sheet, and bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes. Then, reduce the heat and bake at 325 degrees F for about 50 minutes.
- Toast the coconut.
- Make the marshmallow whipped cream.
- Serve at room temperature with all the fixin’s. ENJOY!
How to Know When 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!
Marshmallow Whipped Cream – The Ultimate Topping
Since I can’t let well enough alone, I topped off the pie with a fluffy cloud of marshmallow whipped cream. It’s creamy, puffy, not-too-sweet, and puts marshmallows where they belong: on dessert.
Fans of the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole: I don’t get it. Those who agree with me, check out this best-ever Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole that’s beloved by readers. You can top it with marshmallows if you must; just don’t tell me.
Homemade whipped cream was my favorite food as a baby (my grammy used to feed it to me to stop my fussing), and I never lost my adoration for it. For this pie, instead of lightly sweetening the cream with sugar, I used a dollop of another of my childhood standbys: marshmallow fluff.
The marshmallow flavor here is subtle—the star of this recipe is truly the sweet potato itself—but it is an absolute delight and truly tastes wonderful with the pie.
Last, since I’m a bit of a texture freak, I couldn’t resist adding a little crunch. Toasted coconut flakes put this pie squarely over the top.
How to Store and Freeze
- 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.
More Thanksgiving Desserts (Other Than Pumpkin Pie!)
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!
Final note: not sure if you were wondering (but I hope that you were): yes, yes this pie is fantastic leftover at breakfast…if you have any leftovers!
Sweet Potato Pie
For the Filling:
- 1 9- inch whole wheat pie crust or pie crust of choice
- 2 medium/large sweet potatoes
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ 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 Marshmallow Cream:
- 1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup marshmallow creme (also called marshmallow fluff) (about half a 7-ounce jar)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Prepare and roll out the pie crust. Transfer it to a standard 9-inch pie dish. Trim the edge until it is almost even with the edge of the pan. Fold the edges under and crimp with your fingers or a fork. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.
- Prepare the filling: Scrub and peel the sweet potatoes. Dice into large, 3-inch chunks.
- Place chunks in a large pot and cover with cool water. Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the water starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium. Let simmer until the potatoes are tender throughout and pierce easily with a thin knife, about 15 to 20 minutes. If the knife meets any resistance when you insert it, simmer the potatoes a few additional minutes, then retest.
- 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. If there’s any extra, remove it from the pot and save for another use or snacking.
- To the same pot, add the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, butter, and 5 ounces (½ cup plus 2 tablespoons) of the evaporated milk. Place the pot on the stove and cook on low, using a potato masher to mash the potatoes further as they cook. Simmer for about 5 minutes, continuing to stir and mash.
- To make the silkiest possible pie, use an immersion blender to puree until totally smooth; you can 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, in a medium mixing bowl whisk together the remaining ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) evaporated milk, granulated sugar, eggs, bourbon, and vanilla extract until very smoothly combined. Keep going until you really have things nicely blended. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the warm sweet potato mixture. With a spatula, stir until evenly and smoothly combined.
- Remove the crust from the refrigerator. Pour the prepared filling into the pie crust. Gently place the pie dish on a baking sheet and carefully set on the oven center rack. Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 375 degrees F. 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.
- Test the 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.
- Toast the coconut: Heat a wide skillet over medium-low heat. Once the pan is heated, add the coconut in an even layer. Continually stir and fold over the coconut in the pan so that it cooks evenly. Continue to fold and turn until the coconut is a light, toasty brown and your kitchen smells incredible, 6 to 8 minutes (the amount of time will vary depending upon the sugar content of the coconut). Watch the pan attentively to prevent burning, then remove coconut immediately to a plate once ready. Let cool.
- To make the marshmallow cream topping: Place the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl (TIP: put the bowl and beaters in your freezer or refrigerator first; the colder they are, the fluffier the cream.) Begin beating on low speed, then slowly increase the speed to high, beating just until soft peaks form. The whipped cream will be thickened slightly but will not stand up on its own when you dip a beater into it. Add the marshmallow creme and vanilla. Beat on high speed, 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 the marshmallow whipped cream dolloped generously on top, sprinkled with toasted coconut as desired.
- TO STORE: Gently cover your pie and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Let come to room temperature prior to serving.
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