Carla Hall’s grandmother served candied sweet potatoes for holiday meals. “I always have sweet potatoes the way my grandmother used to make them,” she says. Black pepper and ginger give the tubers a sweet-and-savory appeal, but they now figure into more than just the classic side on the celebrity chef’s holiday table.
For the recipes she gifted our readers, she says that she wanted to build on her grandmother’s holiday tradition but use those flavors in new ways. Of the sweet potato tarte tatin, she says: “The peach cobbler that my grandmother would make is a recipe that’s really big and prominent in Black culture. I wanted to do something with peaches and crust. I’m taking the idea of using the crust that we would usually use for cobbler and adding sweet potatoes.”
Hall’s grandmother was the center of her family’s celebrations growing up, ranging from Sunday suppers to Christmas, but some of the credit has to go to her grandfather, the town doctor in Lebanon, Tennessee, just east of Nashville. “Sometimes he wouldn’t get paid in cash. People would barter,” Hall explains. This was the source of holiday delights like Christmas ham.
One might think that today Hall’s family would leave the cooking to her, but she and her sister, who also lives in the DC area, alternate hosting events, usually for around 10 people. “Everybody will come to our house, and we delegate the meal,” she says. “It’s almost like a potluck, but it’s organized.” Hall is happy to share her recipes with the family so that the sides, including macaroni and cheese, chow chow and drunken mushrooms with red wine and tarragon, are just right. But for those looking for a reminder of grandma’s kitchen, there’s nothing quite like the sweet potatoes, whether served candied, as rolls or as dessert.
chef and television personality
Sweet Potato Tarte Tatin
Servings: 6 to 8
Start to finish: 1 hour, 40 minutes
2 whole sweet potatoes
1 store-bought pie crust for 9-inch pie
1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 375°F. Pierce each sweet potato with a fork 5 to 6 times. Place potatoes on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave 5 to 7 minutes, rotating potatoes halfway through. The sweet potatoes should still be a little firm but slightly softened. Let potatoes stand until cool enough to handle, and peel and slice into ¼-inch slices.
Place pie crust on a lightly floured surface, and roll into a 12-inch circle. Set aside.
Heat a 10-inch nonstick, oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add granulated sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, until sugar melts and there are no visible grains left. Add butter; stir until completely melted and combined. Stir in orange zest, cinnamon and salt. Remove skillet from heat.
Arrange sweet potato slices in a spiral pattern on top of butter mixture in the skillet. Place pie crust on top of sweet potatoes, tucking sides in around edges of potatoes inside skillet. Bake in preheated oven until pastry is golden and you can hear the sweet potatoes bubbling inside, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove skillet from oven, and let cool 15 to 20 minutes. Invert tarte tatin onto a plate, and serve.
Sweet Potato Rolls
Start to finish: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Sweet Potato Rolls
11/4 cups warm whole milk
1 packet active dry yeast (21/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup sweet potato puree
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, at room temperature, plus 6 tablespoons, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, beaten, at room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Flaky sea salt, to taste
MAKE THE SWEET POTATO ROLLS: Grease 4 baking sheets with vegetable oil, and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine warm milk and yeast; let stand until yeast dissolves. Add sweet potato puree, unsalted and melted butter, sugar and egg. Beat on medium speed until incorporated.
With the mixer running on low speed, add salt. Gradually add flour, mixing until dough is smooth. Continue to mix until dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes more.
Divide dough into 30 equal portions. Shape each dough portion into a ball, and place onto prepared baking sheets.
Cover rolls with damp kitchen towels, and keep in a warm place until the rolls have doubled in size, about 1 hour.
MEANWHILE, MAKE THE MAPLE BUTTER: In a medium bowl, combine butter and maple syrup. Season with salt to taste. Set aside until ready to serve.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Uncover rolls, and brush with egg wash. Working in batches, bake rolls in preheated oven until golden brown, about 12 minutes, tenting with foil if rolls brown too quickly. Remove sweet potato rolls from oven, and allow to cool slightly. Serve with maple butter.
This story originally appeared in our December print issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.