It’s been a while since we had a bunch of good-sized sweet potatoes in the house, so we knew we wanted to have them for dinner one night. But how? Well, we also had some half-and-half that was getting close to circling the drain (literally and figuratively), so we thought maybe we could work that in, too. That led to the idea of sweet potato custards. However, we also thought we might like to have a crust for the texture contrast. It led us to thinking about a recipe we lost in The Great Scratchin’ Central Computer Crash of 2015, a blue-cheese cheesecake with a walnut crust. Mmm. Just thinking about it makes us want to backtrack through all the cookbooks we’ve gone through.
Now, we don’t really have a recipe for Sweet Potato Custard (well, Sweet Potato Pie is really a custard), nor a recipe for a walnut crust — long lost on the devastated hard drive — but, we can wing it, and let’s see how it turns out, shall we? Feel free to wing it right along with us; that way, we both suffer or rejoice.
We give you a whole variety of dairy to choose from, but, remember, the richer the dairy product, the richer the custard. For eggs, we really like using eggs from free-range hens. They just plain taste better.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F. That temperature is just a suggestion for baking the sweet potato. If you’re baking something else at a different temperature and have room, just pop in the sweet potato and don’t worry to much about having the oven set to 350°F.
Bake sweet potato. We like to rub the skin of the sweet potato with a bit of oil, so we place it on a piece of foil, drizzle on just a bit of oil, spread it around to coat, and wrap up the potato in the foil. Once oiled and wrapped, place in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until very soft.
Cool and peel. Let the potato cool until you can handle it easily, then pull off the skin. If needed, let the potato cool a bit more so you don’t cook the eggs in the next step.
Make custard. Place the sweet potato, half-and-half, eggs, nutmeg, curry powder, salt, and pepper in a blender and process until very smooth.
Lower oven to 300°F. For the custard, we need a cooler oven so it stays smooth and creamy.
Butter ramekins. Lightly butter four to six ramekins or custard cups. Now, when it comes to baking, we’re going to be using a water bath, so find another pan in which they’ll fit. We used a 9×13 inch roasting pan.
Toast walnuts. Place the walnuts in a small skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring often to prevent burning, until toasted, about 10 minutes. Remove from the skillet to stop the toasting and let cool.
Chop nuts. Once cool, chop the nuts very finely. We thought about using a food processor, but that would just mean another thing we’d have to clean, all for a handful of nuts. We just used a chef’s knife, instead.
Freeze. Mainly we want to make sure that nuts are completely cool so we don’t melt the butter when we add it. So, place the chopped nuts in a bowl and set them in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
Make crust. Once the nuts are completely cool, add the flour, salt, and butter, and, working quickly with your fingertips, rub in the butter until everything sticks together.
Press into cups. Pinch off a bit of dough and press into the bottom of each of the custard cups, then place the custard cups in your baking pan.
Fill cups. Pour the custard into the cups, trying to divide the mixture evenly.
Add boiling water. Bring about two quarts of water to a boil. Place the baking pan on the oven rack — it’s easier than trying to transfer a pan full of boiling water to the oven — and pour in boiling water until it comes about 2/3rds of the way up the sides of the custard cups. Carefully slide the rack back into the oven.
Bake. Let the custards bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until set and a sharp knife inserted into the center of the custards comes out clean. Remove from the water bath and let cool for 10 minutes.
Unmold. Carefully run a sharp knife around the edges of the custard cups and invert to allow the custards to slide out.
We just made these up and they were delicious. Full of sweet potato flavor, and super smooth and creamy. At first we thought they’d taste something like a sweet potato pie, and we worried about that for a bit, so we made sure to use only savory ingredients, avoiding anything else that’s sweet. It was the right decision, as these turned out light, but were substantial enough to use as a main, provided you serve at least two per person. Single custards would make for a great side dish, though. These are definitely a five-star dish.