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Archive for Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Large-scale meal deserves spirited desserts

November 23, 2005

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As far as I can tell, there are two schools of thought on the issue of Thanksgiving dinner dessert. In one camp are the prudent folk, the models of self-restraint, who believe serving dessert after an ample holiday meal is overkill.

God forbid that one of these people should be in charge of the Thanksgiving menu where any of us eat.

I land firmly in the opposite camp, which believes that a holiday meal should be a celebration of food in all its many forms, from hors d' oeuvres to something sweet as a finishing touch. While I might ask that my wedge of pie be sliced thin, I still want my pie after Thanksgiving dinner. To do otherwise would betray the spirit of the moment - Thanksgiving is, after all, a celebration of bounty - and may even be considered rude or unethical in some cultures.

Put another way, participating in a holiday meal only to pass up dessert is like trying to swim laps without getting your hair wet. The compromise spoils your fun and probably doesn't work anyway.

If the Thanksgiving dinner is at your house, you are lord of the menu, and this becomes a non-issue. However, if you are invited to someone else's table, the easiest way to ensure the availability of an appropriate end to the meal is to supply the dessert yourself. In this role, you can even offer seconds.

The following sweet potato pie recipe appeared in this month's Gourmet. The gingersnap crust and dash of rum set this one apart. If you have sweet potatoes on hand for a casserole, you might consider using this as an excuse for redirecting them toward the end of the meal.

Sweet-potato pie with gingersnap pecan crust

For crust:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for buttering pie plate

flour for dusting

1 cup finely crushed gingersnap cookies (20 2-inch cookies)

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (2 ounces)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

For filling:

2 pounds sweet potatoes (4 medium)

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon dark rum

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast the chopped pecans in a shallow baking pan until golden, 5 to 10 minutes.

Butter and flour a 10-inch glass or ceramic pie plate. Knock out excess flour. Toss together all crust ingredients in a bowl with a fork until crumbs are moistened, then press evenly over bottom and sides of pie plate. Bake crust 6 minutes at 350 degrees, then cool on a rack.

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Prick each sweet potato once with a fork. Roast in a foil-lined shallow baking pan until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Halve potatoes lengthwise and cool.

While potatoes cool, cook sugar in a dry 8-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, undisturbed, until it begins to melt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a fork, until sugar melts into a deep golden caramel. Remove from heat. Carefully pour water down side of skillet (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously), then return to heat and simmer, stirring until hardened caramel is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.

When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel, then cut away any eyes or dark spots. Puree potatoes in a food processor until smooth, then add eggs, cinnamon and salt and blend until smooth. Add milk, caramel, rum and vanilla, and blend until combined well.

Pour filling into crust. Bake until filling 2 inches from edge is slightly puffed and center trembles slightly when gently shaken, 40 to 50 minutes (top may crack; filling will continue to set as it cools). If the crust begins to brown too much before filling is done, crimp a ring of foil over it. Cool pie on rack about 1 hour.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

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