I have been trying to do something cool with Heidi Swanson’s Vanilla Mashed Sweet Potatoes since I first read the recipe three years ago. My first attempt, chronicled in a letter to Heidi, was so spectacularly unsuccessful that I have been a little hesitant to attempt to remix it. Last week, however, I got the hankerin’ for pumpkin or zucchini bread. But canned pumpkin is difficult to locate in this country and zucchini is tremendously out of season, so I was left with something of a connundrum. I did have sweet potatoes, however, and 20 gorgeous, glorious vanilla beans ordered off eBay… With the fresh double cream I had picked up for tomato soup and utterly perfect oranges (fragrant spheres of stored sunshine), I had the makings of a great puree. So I threw caution to the wind and remixed a pumpkin bread recipe to use the sweet potato puree.
A note on the science in this recipe. I was attempting to make it healthy. One can substitute up to half the oil in a quick bread or brownie recipe with applesauce. I had about a half cup of some beautiful rose pink applesauce (made last week from some aging gala apples) just languishing in the fridge, begging to find a good purpose. What better purpose, I thought, than a quick bread? The pumpkin bread recipe called for a cup of oil; half of that was replaced with the half cup of applesauce. But the sweet potato puree included half a cup of double cream. I investigated the fat content of double cream and discovered that it was 48% fat, so approximately 1/4 cup of the cream used in the sweet potato puree was fat. Therefore, I didn’t need all of the remaining half cup of oil–I only needed half of it.
I also drastically reduced the sugar–the recipe I found called for 3 cups. I felt this was ludcrious on a number of levels, not the least of which because I was using sweet potatoes, which are higher in sugar than pumpkins. I used 1 cup of brown sugar, which was sufficient for a mildly sweet bread. You can add more if you’re going for something more cake-like. Future variations will use Grade B maple syrup instead of sugar. (I am pretty sure I can drop the orange juice from the recipe all together with little impact, and replace the sugar with maple syrup. If you get a wild hair, try that and let me know.)
Sweet Potato Puree
1 pound sweet potatoes, cleaned and left a bit damp (peels on)
1/2 cup heavy cream (aka double cream)
1 or 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and seeds scraped (I used one–two would be even better, I swear.)
1 medium orange’s worth of orange zest (a palmful, you know)
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable
2/3 cup orange juice
1 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1. Cook the sweet potatoes until very tender, even squishy. I did this by stabbing them a couple of times and tossing them in the microwave. You could just as easily bake them, but my oven was already occupied with squash.
2. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, combine the seeds from the vanilla bean, the orange zest, and the vanilla bean with the heavy cream in a relatively heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. When the cream has simmered sufficiently, take it off the heat and remove the vanilla bean pod.
4. Add the cream to a blender or a food processor with the squishy sweet potatoes and puree until smooth.
Now, at this point you could stop, add a pinch of salt to the sweet potato puree, and go to town with a spoon. It is a mightily fine invention in that state. But, if you’re heading breadward, read on.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 176 C and prepare a couple of pans. The original recipe says “Grease and flour three 7 by 3 inch loaf pans”, but I didn’t have those. Instead, I lined a large casserole dish and a medium casserole dish with parchment (aka greaseproof) paper. It does not have an incredible amount of rise, but it does puff somewhat
6. Combine the sweet potato puree, eggs, applesauce, oil, sugar, and orange juice in a bowl. In another container, combine the salt, baking soda, and whole wheat flour. (Be sure to get the baking soda evenly distributed. I didn’t, which made for a couple of unpleasant bites.)
7. Combine the wet and the dry ingredients and stir until they’re just combined. The more you stir it together, the more gluten you will create, and the more gluten you create, the chewier your bread will be.
8. Pour into the prepared baking receptacles and bake until a toothpick (or butter knife) comes out of the center clean.