Ahhh, this week (and the next) brings my favorite moments of the year. While some folks are gearing up for football championships and others preparing for a haunted Halloween, I am busy patiently waiting for the postman. Nothing makes me giddier than finding our mailbox stuffed to the brim with Thanksgiving editions of all my favorite food mags. I jump up and down and squeal with glee. Oh the delicious possibilities!
I am a self-declared magazine junkie, but I've become pretty rigid about purging them on a regular basis. (The invention of Pinterest is the greatest gift to paper hoarders like me. I dogear all the recipes that look amazing, 'Pin' them to the appropriate board, and happily recycle the aftermath. It's a type-A personality's dream!) This blissful discarding of magazines, however, does not include the November issues, which happily live in my guest room—all 500 of them.
I pull them out every year around this time to start sparking entertaining inspiration for fall. Here's the thing, though. I prefer—or more like demand—to eat the exact same Thanksgiving menu each and every year. So while I love ogling all of the Turkey Day food porn, I never actually roll out any new recipes, which seems like a total shame.
It got me to thinking. Why should all those stunning sides and delicious desserts be exiled to one day of the year, when there are plenty of other reasons to gather, celebrate, and be thankful for our blessings. Something needed to be done, so I decided to dust to off the fine china and dedicate the next month to expanding my holiday cooking arsenal. (Nobody ever said you can't eat cornbread dressing on a school night, anyway, right!)
My first experiment? I created this sweet potato bread pudding, topped with a crunchy streusel and drizzled with a sinful sauce. This hearty dessert encompasses all of the flavors of your grandma's famous sweet potato casserole, but on crack. It's light and rich, simple yet complex, all at the same time. It was absolutely incredible and definitely worthy of any Thanksgiving sideboard. But on an average sleepy Sunday? Oh man, it really shined.
So why wait until next month to debut this showstopper? The time is now!
Sweet Potato Bread Pudding
For the pecan streusel:
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon flour
For the bread pudding:
3 sweet potatoes
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups whole or 2% milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon good-quality vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (16-ounce) loaf Challah bread, cut into1-inch cubes
For the whiskey sauce:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon whiskey, or to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
For the pecan streusel, combine the pecans, brown sugar, butter, and flour in the bowl of a mini food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Set aside.
For the bread pudding, preheat oven to 400°F. Place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and cook until tender all the way through, approximately one hour. Cool, and peel, discarding the skins. Mash with a potato masher or fork. (This step can be done up to two days in advance.)
In a large bowl, whisk 1 1/2 cups mashed sweet potato, eggs, milk, cream, brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon until well combined. Pour over the bread cubes and toss to coat every piece. Set aside for about 30 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F. Evenly press the bread mixture into a large, buttered casserole dish and top with the pecan streusel. Cover with aluminum foil. Place the casserole dish inside of a large roasting pan and transfer to the oven. Carefully pour enough hot water into the roasting pan so it comes about three quarters up the sides of the dish.
Bake for 40 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and continue cooking until the streusel is bubbly and light golden brown, about 10 more minutes. Remove roasting pan from the oven, and then very carefully lift the casserole dish out of the water (I use a very large metal cake spatula and oven mitts).
Allow to cool for a few minutes before slicing. Serve with plenty of whiskey sauce.
For the whiskey sauce, add butter and sugar in a double boiler (or a heat safe bowl set over simmering water) and cook, whisking frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes. Whisk in the egg, stirring vigorously to prevent egg from curdling. Stir in bourbon and cream. Serve warm over the bread pudding.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)