Sweet potato pie is an iconic African-American soul food dessert and a staple of Southern cuisine cherished during holidays and family gatherings. This dessert represents more than just food. It embodies tradition, evokes nostalgia, and may be single-handedly responsible for generations of warm memories – especially in the Black community.
Yes, and there’s a legacy and ancestral history to this Black folks’ sweet potato pie recipe. A rich tapestry where each ingredient threads a narrative of Black folks’ stories, resilience, and joy within a culinary masterpiece specific to Black folks’ kitchens.
What is the difference between pumpkin and sweet potato pies?
The ingredients in each pie’s filling are not the same. One of the differences is that pumpkin pies are traditionally a bit bland, made with sugar and just a few spices. Sweet potato pies are elevated with soulful flavor combinations like cinnamon, brown sugar, sweet vanilla, cloves, and nutmeg. I explain more in my post about the difference between pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie.
So, knowing what mistakes to avoid when making sweet potato pie is integral to the legacy of this classic Southern dish.
- Using fresh, high-quality sweet potatoes will be critical for flavor and texture.
- And the right combination of pie spices enhances the filling without dominating the sweet potato flavor.
But no worries. I’ve gotchu! The above tips are the first of a few simple steps I’ll share to help you avoid making mistakes when making sweet potato pie.
What kind of sweet potatoes should you use for pie?
The foundation of any stellar sweet potato pie starts with selecting fresh, high-quality sweet potatoes. The choice of these root vegetables is essential, as they impart a natural sweetness and creamy texture that is the hallmark of this beloved Southern soul food dessert.
Ideally, choose Beauregard, Jewel, or Garnet sweet potatoes because they have juicy orange flesh and are perfect for mashing, pressure-cooking, roasting, and baking. Choose Stokes purple sweet potatoes if you’re preparing a purple sweet potato pie.
What does sweet potato pie contain?
More than just a treat, a Black folk’s sweet potato pie recipe, and its ingredients profoundly connect to Black history and cultural identity.
Making the correct type of sweet potato choices when selecting, preparing, and cooking will significantly impact the final taste and texture of the pie. And using the correct Black folks’ sweet potato pie ingredients will impact the pie’s smoothness, sweetness, and richness.
True to soul food cooking, the flavor in this recipe depends on the pie’s seasonings, spices, and ingredients – and even a secret ingredient (shhh!).
Black folks’ sweet potato pie ingredients
Sweet Potatoes – The star of the show, sweet potatoes are rich in flavor and yield a naturally creamy texture when baked. Their inherent sweetness is the base for this indulgent dessert.
Sugar – A combination of granulated and brown sugar typically sweetens the pie. Brown sugar adds a caramel-like depth, enhancing the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes.
Butter – Unsalted butter is melted into the filling, giving the pie a luxurious, velvety consistency while contributing to its rich flavor.
Eggs – Essential for structure, eggs bind the ingredients together and help create a smooth and firm filling once the pie is cooked.
Evaporated milk – This concentrated milk adds creaminess without watering down the filling, complimenting the smooth texture of sweet potato purée. (Or make this recipe with a condensed milk substitute HERE!)
Vanilla extract – A splash of vanilla extract infuses the pie with its sweet, aromatic essence, enhancing the overall flavor profile.
Salt – Just a pinch is enough to balance the sweetness and elevate the flavors within the pie.
The pie’s significance at communal tables transcends mere taste, embodying a legacy of resilience and the shared joy of soul food. It represents the warmth of home, the richness of tradition, and the inherited wisdom from ancestors who stirred love, hope, and endurance into every pie they made.
Sweet potato pie is not simply a dessert. It’s a cherished heirloom that narrates stories of past celebrations and communal bonds and is a testament to the persistent spirit of a people.
Sweet potato pie crust
The foundation to any memorable sweet potato pie lies in its crust—a delicate balance of flakiness and buttery richness that sets the stage for the luscious filling. Because the pie crust is not merely a container but a crucial element that absorbs the flavors and spices of the filling. Creating a harmonious blend with every bite, paying homage to the culinary traditions that make sweet potato pie a timeless classic in African-American cuisine and Southern homes alike.
Are there any acceptable ingredients substitutes?
To avoid any disastrous mistakes when making sweet potato pie, if you’re out of an ingredient, you can use the following swaps:
- Can you use sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk in pie? Yes, you can use sweetened condensed milk as a substitute for evaporated milk in sweet potato pie. Here’s my sweet potato pie recipe with condensed milk. While I’ve found evaporated milk to be the smoothest and the perfect flavor additive for this Southern desserts recipe, sweetened condensed milk can substitute. Likewise, heavy cream.
- Would regular milk work as a substitute for the evaporated milk? Because regular milk contains significantly more water, it’s not a recommended substitute in sweet potato pie.
- Can you use granulated sugar? For this delicious sweet potato pie recipe, light brown sugar or dark brown sugar is best. But granulated sugar can also work in a pinch.
- Can you use canned sweet potatoes? Nothing beats fresh potatoes for this incredible Black folks’ homemade sweet potato pie recipe, but you could use canned sweet potato.
- If you do not prepare the pie crust from scratch, can you use a frozen pie crust? Yes, you can absolutely use a frozen pie crust, pie shell, or store-bought pie dough. Even a frozen pie crust already nestled in an aluminum foil pan. Thaw, add your filling, and bake the pie on the oven rack or a baking sheet.
What are mistakes to avoid when making sweet potato pie?
- Choosing sweet potatoes – Choose Garnet, Jewel, or Beauregard sweet potatoes because they have a sweeter orange flesh perfect for roasting, cooking, and baking. (Or choose Stokes purple sweet potatoes for a purple sweet potato pie!)
- Cooking the potatoes – Roasting, baking, or pressure cooking the sweet potatoes is recommended over boiling or steaming, as the intense heat breaks down the starches into sugars, resulting in a sweeter and more flavorful pie filling.
- Selecting spices – Selecting the right combination of spices enhances the pie without dominating the sweet potato flavor. For a Black folks’ sweet potato pie, never pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon and nutmeg are non-negotiable.
- Measuring – Use measuring spoons for accuracy to avoid mistakes, rather than estimating by eye.
- Pie filling – While many recipes call for adding flour for thickening, you don’t want to do this for a soul food sweet potato pie filling. It could compromise the unique Southern soul food flavors. Instead, ensure your sweet potato mixture is smooth and free of lumps. A velvety filling that has some texture and is not just a thin, runny purée.
- Baking – Unlike some pie recipes, there is no need to preheat your empty pie crust for this recipe. Doing this can cause your pie crust edges to burn. Instead, use a pie crust shield.
- Cooling – It’s best to let the pie cool and set it for at least 2-4 hours up to a whole day, making it easy to slice.
- Slicing – Slicing can be even simpler if you run your sharp knife on a chilled sweet potato pie. A perfect uniform slice will be in your hands if you refrigerate your sweet pie for an hour before cutting it.
Mistakes to avoid when making sweet potato pie FAQs
What is the best way to cook sweet potatoes for sweet potato pie?
Roasting or pressure cooking the sweet potatoes is recommended over boiling or steaming. Learn more in my post about the best way to cook sweet potatoes for sweet potato pie HERE.
How do you know when sweet potato pie is done baking?
A good indicator of when this pie recipe is done is when you can see the center of the pie filling puffing in the oven.
Sweet potato pie baking tips
- Oven temperature is a pillar of pie baking, which, if underestimated, may lead to a pie that’s either too soft or frustratingly hard. Precise temperature ensures the filling sets beautifully, and the crust achieves that irresistible, golden-brown hue.
- The placement of the pie within the oven influences how the heat circulates and cooks the pie. Typically, the center rack offers the most consistent cooking environment, shielding your creation from the intense heat at the bottom or the top of your oven, which can be detrimental to your crust and filling.
- Underbaking: Mistakes to avoid when making sweet potato pie include underbaking, where the filling may not set properly, leading to a runny or overly soft texture unfit for slicing.
- Overbaking: Conversely, overbaking threatens the pie with a tough crust and dry, crumbly filling, stripping away the creaminess that characterizes a well-made sweet potato pie. By vigilantly monitoring your pie and adhering to the recipe’s recommended time and temperature, you’re well on your way to presenting a dessert that not only tastes delightful but manifests the perfect texture as well.
How do you get the strings out of sweet potatoes?
A blender, hand-held mixer, or electric stand mixer will round up and collect the strings on its mixer or blade, or it will dissolve them. Read more about how to get strings out of sweet potatoes in my guide HERE.
Why is your sweet potato pie runny?
The center of a sweet potato pie should be firm and not runny or jiggly when you remove the pie from the oven.
Pay close attention to the texture of your purée, ensuring it’s smooth and free of lumps for that velvety filling that’s both comforting and luxurious.
If your sweet potato pie turns out runny after baking – don’t fret! Instead, put it back in the oven for five-minute intervals until the filling is puffed and firm in the center.
How long should a sweet potato pie sit before serving?
It’s best to let the pie cool and set it for a few hours up to a whole day, making it easy to slice.
Did you enjoy this guide about mistakes to avoid when making sweet potato pie?
The foundation of any stellar sweet potato pie starts with selecting fresh, high-quality sweet potatoes, plus the right combination of spices to enhance the pie without dominating the sweet, soulful flavor. Then, proper baking. Knowing what mistakes to avoid when making sweet potato pie is integral to the legacy of this classic Southern soul food dessert.
Have you had it?
Would you make it?
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- Instant Pot electric pressure cooker
- Instant Pot Omni Plus oven (optional)
- Instant Pot Ace Plus blender or an electric mixer
- 1 ½ pound sweet potatoes washed and scrubbed (equals about 3 cups when softened and peeled)
- 12 oz evaporated milk 1 can
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 5 tablespoons butter unsalted butter, melted (or vegan butter)
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ginger minced
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Grease a 9-inch pie pan and set it aside.
- See my recipe HERE for homemade almond flour pie crust, or you can use a store-bought pie crust, dough, or pie shell that may or may not come with its own pie pan.
- Pro tip: Use an Instant Pot pressure cooker to soften and peel the sweet potatoes quickly and almost effortlessly!
- Open the Instant Pot lid and fill the stainless-steel inner pot with water to the ½ mark.
- Add the scrubbed sweet potatoes to the pot of water.
- Close the Instant Pot lid (make sure the valve is up – in the position for sealing) and pressure cook on high for 12 minutes to loosen the potato skin.
- When the cooking time is finished, allow a natural pressure release for at least 12 minutes.
- To open the Instant Pot lid, move the valve to ‘venting’ and manually release any remaining pressure, if applicable.
- Pour the water and sweet potatoes into a colander in the sink to drain the hot water from the potatoes.
- Once the sweet potatoes are cool to the touch, peel and discard the skin.
- Gather 3 cups of sweet potato flesh.
- Add to either the Instant Pot Ace blender or an electric mixer the sweet potato flesh, evaporated milk, brown sugar, egg, melted butter, vanilla extract, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, ground cloves, and salt.
- Pulse or mix until the ingredients are combined and smooth.
- Pour the sweet potato mixture into the pie crust.
- Bake the sweet potato pie at 350 degrees F: in a conventional oven for 28-30 minutes, in the Instant Pot Omni Plus oven for 24-26 minutes, or until the pie is puffed and firm in the center. (Remember that cooking appliance times and oven temperatures will vary.)
- Allow the sweet potato pie to cool for at least 2-4 hours before garnishing or slicing.
- Garnish with whipped cream and cinnamon sprinkled on top.
- Serve this Black folks’ sweet potato pie recipe warm and enjoy!
- Unlike some pie recipes, there is no need to pre-heat your empty pie crust for this Black folks’ sweet potato pie recipe. Doing this can cause your pie crust edges to burn.
- A good indicator of when this pie recipe is done is when you can see the center of the pie filling puffing in the oven.
- You’ll probably have leftover sweet potato mix, depending on how deep-dish your pie pan is. You can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Or you can pour it into a Ziplock bag and freeze it for up to 3 months.
- You could also make mini-Black folks sweet potato pies with any leftover pie filling.
- And don’t forget to use any leftover pie dough for the easiest Southern dessert ever – pie crust cookies!
- It’s best to let the pie cool and set for a few hours up to a whole day before slicing.