Why I’m Making Sweet Potato Cornbread for Kwanzaa This Year

published Dec 26, 2021
personal essay
Sweet Potato Cornbread with Maple Butter Recipe

To make sweet potato cornbread even more irresistible, pair it with homemade maple butter.

Serves8 to 12

Prep15 minutes

Cook38 minutes to 48 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Sweet potato cornbread slice
Credit: April Wright
Sweet potato cornbread

Kwanzaa isn’t Kwanzaa without food. At our Kwanzaa table, we enjoy reveling in Southern dishes as well as foods from all over the African diaspora. I love creating culturally inspired dishes to celebrate the holiday. This year, I’m making sweet potato cornbread with maple butter. 

Sweet potatoes have been a staple in African communities since the 16th century. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get hold of West African yams, so sweet potatoes were the next best thing. This sweet potato cornbread holds a special place in my heart. It represents not only the struggles and accomplishments of African Americans, but also honors the ingredients, preparation, and the history of how African slaves, despite their dire situation, were still able to turn scraps of food into the most delicious, satisfying dishes. 

Corn, although not indigenous to Africa, has been grown there since the 1500s. It was brought to the Americas through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This cornbread symbolizes the muhindi (ears of corn) that is placed on the Kwanzaa table. In our home, during our ritual, the cornbread represents children and the children of our community and hope for a better future. 

Sweet Potato Cornbread with Maple Butter Recipe

To make sweet potato cornbread even more irresistible, pair it with homemade maple butter.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 38 minutes to 48 minutes

Serves 8 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the sweet potato cornbread:

  • 10 tablespoons

    unsalted butter, divided

  • 1 1/2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup

    stone-ground yellow cornmeal

  • 1 tablespoon

    plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 cup

    plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 1 cup

    cold or room-temperature mashed, cooked sweet potatoes

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 1/2 cup

    whole milk

  • 1/2 cup

    sour cream

  • 1 tablespoon

    maple syrup

For the maple butter:

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 3 tablespoons

    maple syrup, plus more as needed

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • Pinch of kosher salt, plus more as needed

Instructions

  1. Place 1 stick unsalted butter for the maple butter on the counter and let sit at room temperature until softened. Meanwhile, make the cornbread.

Make the cornbread:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 375ºF.

  2. Place 2 tablespoons of the unsalted butter into a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Place the skillet in the oven and let heat for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, make the batter.

  3. Place 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

  4. Place the remaining 8 tablespoons unsalted butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until melted, about 1 minute. (Alternatively, melt the butter on the stovetop and pour into a medium bowl). Add 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 cup mashed, cooked sweet potatoes, 4 large eggs, 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and whisk until smooth and combined. Pour into the flour mixture and whisk just until combined. Do not over mix.

  5. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Tilt the skillet in a circular motion so that the melted butter coats the bottom and goes at least halfway up the sides. Pour the batter into the skillet and smooth the top.

  6. Return the skillet to the oven and bake until golden-brown, puffy, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. A few minutes before the cornbread is ready, make the maple butter.

For the maple butter:

  1. Place the softened 1 stick unsalted butter, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a pinch of kosher salt in a medium bowl. Beat on low speed with an electric hand mixer until combined. Increase the speed to high and continue mixing until pale and fluffy. Taste and add more maple syrup and kosher salt as needed.

  2. Slice the hot or warm cornbread into squares or wedges and serve with the maple butter.

Recipe Notes

Cooking sweet potatoes: Here are two ways to cook whole sweet potatoes. Once cooked, scoop the flesh out and mash until mostly smooth. You’ll need a sweet potato that weighs at least 12 ounces to get 1 cup mashed.

  • Bake: Prick a 12-ounce or larger sweet potato 4 to 5 times with a fork. Place on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 425ºF until cooked through and easily pierced with a knife or fork to the center, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  • Microwave: Prick a 12-ounce or larger sweet potato 4 to 5 times with a fork. Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on 100% power for 5 minutes. (If your microwave doesn’t have a turntable, flip the potato after 3 minutes.) Check the potato: If it can’t be easily pierced with a knife or fork to the center, continue microwaving in 1-minute increments until cooked through.

Storage: Leftover cornbread can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Leftover maple butter can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.