About two months ago I became a vegetarian, having lived with a traditional meat diet throughout my life. I’ve also worked with and consumed meat as a professional chef. Having occasionally flirted with the idea of quitting meat, I finally laid down my steak knife and embraced a greener and cleaner lifestyle.
I’m a staunch believer in the Socratic method. If someone presents me with an argument that is better than my own, then I am duty-bound as an autonomous, rational individual to adopt their ideas until better ones come along. All the pieces were in place when I was presented with a strong case for changing my diet. I was faced with a choice to either abandon my devotion to liberal thought and clinging to meat or ‘stick to my guns’ and make the switch. I haven’t knowingly eaten meat since that night. I’m still fine-tuning my diet, listening to my body to see what it needs, but so far I haven’t craved carne.
I can’t remember the last time in my life when my body felt so well; it’s responsive, I have more expendable energy, and pains that I thought would be with me to my grave have simply evaporated. To celebrate my vegetarian birthday, I’ve written a pie recipe. I’m still eating eggs and dairy from time to time, so there are those who might criticize me for this inclusion in my recipe; however, I see my lifestyle change as the beginning of a journey, more so than a destination, and this is what I can manage at this point in my life. As my friend once encouraged, I currently avoid all food with a face.
For a very long time, sweet potato pie has been one of my favourite recipes from the southern United States (it’s safe to say that I have many favourites from this glorious pie tradition). I think of it as an upgraded version of pumpkin pie. Like most pies, there is a cornucopia of possible variations; including pecans, bourbon and maple syrup, each of which add a different dimension to the recipe. As this is a birthday of sorts, I thought that chocolate would be most fitting. In my first attempt at this recipe, I added melted chocolate as well as cocoa powder, but it became a little too heavy and stodgy. In this version, I’ve left out the melted chocolate. It’s a tart that will go well with both coffee and tea, and is complimented by thick yoghurt or whipped cream. You might also substitute honey for the sugar. I’ve built the recipe in such a way so that you can adjust the flavour to suit your tastes prior to adding in the eggs, which allows for plenty of opportunity to play with the flavour of the filling.
I haven’t included a shortcrust recipe, as most people already have one in their culinary ‘tool-kit’. For those who haven’t made much shortcrust pastry, the general rule is ‘half fat to flour’ (i.e. 300g flour, 150g butter). Salt is about 1.5% of the total weight of the flour in grams. I also like to use about two-thirds white flour and one-third whole wheat or rye flour, which adds much more flavour to the crust.
Chocolate Sweet Potato Pie
45g butter (softened)
500–600g sweet potato (around 2 large or 4 small potatoes)
40g cocoa powder
75g dark muscovado sugar
25g white sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¾ cup (165g) buttermilk
3 eggs, beaten
1 sweet-crust pastry tart shell, baked blind
1. ‘Blind bake’ your pie crust in a 28cm tart form.
2. Wrap each sweet potato in aluminium foil and bake at 190°C for about one hour, until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from oven and allow to cool to a manageable temperature (I usually do this the day before). Unwrap the sweet potatoes, peel off the outer skin with your fingers, and place into a large mixing bowl. Break up and thoroughly mash the potatoes with a fork until mostly smooth. Add softened butter and work through with a spatula until combined.
3. Add the sugars, salt, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg and buttermilk, and stir to combine. If you find that it is not yet smooth enough, use a stick-blender or food processor to create a silky consistency.
4. At this point, you can taste the mix to see if it suits and adjust accordingly. If you are happy with the balance then whisk in the eggs. Pour the mix into the baked tart shell, smooth the surface and bake for about 30 minutes at 160°C . The centre of the tart should begin to rise when ready to remove; the filling should be springy to the touch, and there may be some cracking around the edges. Cool completely (…or not!) before eating.
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