Welcome to a new series here on Joy the Baker called Cliff Notes, authored by, my favorite baker and my favorite Cliff – MY DAD! Dad is the inspiration behind the classics here on the blog. You know him and love him for his Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Buttermilk Pancakes and he’s also author of, casually, the best Sweet Potato Pie on the planet. Let’s here how this famous pie came to be from the man, the myth, the legend himself – Clifford Wilson. xo Joy
Greetings all! It’s me, Dad. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you wonderful people, and it’s been a blast sharing my passion for baking with you. Since eating is essential, it’s a heck of a lot more fun eating foods that inspire the taste buds and light of your life. In my case, however, I’m not too picky. I can savor a Big Mac as enjoyably as a medium rare rib-eye with Béarnaise sauce and roasted asparagus. Oh, and don’t forget the baked potato, loaded, all while imbibing a Merlot. But I digress
When Joy took my Sweet Potato Pie recipe and ran with it, I was delighted! It was a recipe I had worked on for many years until, at last, it turned out to be what it is today! The spark of the idea came from Mrs. Miller, one of the cooks at my junior high school when I was thirteen years old—and it wasn’t even pie related! So how does that work? Keep in mind, at that age, I didn’t have the slightest interest in cooking. The only time I went in the kitchen was to bug my mother about when dinner would be ready. “Set the table, boy, and quit pestering me!” was Mother’s predictable response. But Mrs. Miller made the best cinnamon rolls I ever ate—piping hot, fresh out of the oven for our nutrition break after second period. Oh, my goodness, they melted in my mouth! That cinnamony, buttery flavor was off the hook! But there was another seasoning—a warm, inviting flavor—that I couldn’t put my finger on, but wow! One day after nutrition, I knocked on the backdoor of the hash house (the hash house was a mini kitchen next to the school cafeteria where the nutrition period pastries were made and served). Mrs. Miller, a middle-aged woman wearing a white uniform opened the door and looked at me like, What does this knucklehead want? I said, “Could you tell me the secret spice in your cinnamon rolls that makes them so good?” Her expression softened, and she smiled, as if thinking, This kid gets it! He tasted it! She let me in and introduced me to some of the other cooks, and then pointed to the counter. There sat a tin of that secret spice. Coriander. (Coriander is the seed of Cilantro. While cilantro is an herb used in soups, salads and guacamole, as well as a garnish, coriander, when ground, becomes a soothing spice with nutty undertones and citrus/orange notes. It’s utterly awesome!) Thanks Mrs. Miller!
Fast-forward twelve years. I’m a young man working at the central post office in downtown Los Angeles. Long hours and hard work. Working 10-hour days, six days a week, one’s fellow employees become like family. One of my buddies loved to bake pies; his specialty was sweet potato pie, and his goal was to make all the overtime he could for two years, save his money, and then quit the post office and open a bakery with his brother. He made tart-sized pies to give away at work so he’d have a customer base when he started his bakery. I thought they were pretty good (remember, I’m not too picky) but when I brought his sweet potato pie to my mother, she critiqued it like a bad movie. “What’d he do, mash up candied yams out of a can and put them in a store-bought pie crust?” Mother said, pushing the slice away. Ouch! “This is unacceptable!” she continued. After all, my mother was an expert on sweet potato pies, coming from Tennessee, raised dirt-poor where she and her sisters harvested their own yams. “The sugar shouldn’t drown out the flavor of the yam! And I want to taste the butter, the cream, and the eggs. The crust should be flaky and buttery, and the spices in the filling should be warm and inviting.” When Mother told me that, I instantly thought of Mrs. Miller’s secret spice for her cinnamon rolls. Coriander!
I didn’t have the heart to tell my friend that my mother disliked his pie. He eventually opened his bakery. However, sadly, it closed after four years. From that point on, I decided to develop a sweet potato pie of my own! One that my mother would have approved of. Mother never got a chance to taste my finished product, but I know she would’ve loved it! I think Mrs. Miller would’ve loved it too!
Sweet potato pie is an excellent alternative to pumpkin pie. Serve it with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Take a cold slice and zap it in the microwave for 20 seconds. It’s amazing how the texture becomes more tender and the flavors pop when the pie is slightly warm. Sweet potato pie is a tradition in the Wilson household during the holiday season. But honestly, I make it for birthday parties, barbecues, and family gatherings all year round. Enjoy!
Find the Sweet Potato Pie recipe here! And Joy has adapted the recipe to make a Gluten, Dairy and Refined Sugar Free Sweet Potato Pie that’s great!