On one of the recent trips to my favorite soul food restaurant, MacArthur’s, as I sunk my teeth into the crunchy fried catfish, I heard the lady in the next booth lament to her friends that she had lost the recipe for, “the best d–n sweet potato pie” she’d ever had in her whole life. Further eavesdropping revealed that said sweet potato pie was none other than the one by Chef Leah Chase of the famous Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans, one of whose fans is the President himself.
I thought of telling that lady and her group that I knew the recipe by heart. But since fried catfish was my priority at that point, I waited. By the time I was done with my meal, wiped the grease off my hands, and poked my head into the next booth, those ladies had left.
This is my moderately adapted version of the sweet potato pie recipe belonging to Chef Chase from the book, In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs. I have made sweet potato pies this way ever since I saw Leah Chase on Julia’s PBS show several years ago. It’s a no-frills recipe which is very delicious. What makes it unique is the finely-chopped pecans that are mixed into the crust and the fact that the sweet potatoes are mashed by hand resulting in a filling that has more body and is more — to use a word so abhorred by sophisticated food writers — toothsome.
No bourbon, crème fraîche, or any of the fancy add-ins. Just a solidly excellent down home sweet potato pie.
The Best Sweet Potato Pie Adapted from Leah Chase’s Recipe
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely-chopped pecans
1/2 cup cold butter (the original recipe calls for vegetable shortening)
1/4 cups ice-cold water, or as needed
In a food processor, pulse together all the dry ingredients and the butter into short bursts until the mixture forms pea-sized lumps. Add the water through the feed chute as you pulse until the mixture forms a stiff dough and pulls away from the sides of the food processor bowl. Form the dough into a 6-inch disk and wrap it in plastic; chill for one hour. The dough can be made in advance. It can be kept refrigerated for several days and even frozen.
2 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs total), peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon melted butter
Pecan halves for decoration