Mmmm, sweet potato. Such a great tuber. I remember the first time I baked with sweet potatoes- years ago my dad asked for a new kind of pie for Thanksgiving: Sweet potato pecan. It’s become a Thanksgiving staple. But the first time I made it, I was at the market with my mom, looking for them in the produce section, and I couldn’t find them!
I asked my mom for help, and she said “Oh, those things labelled as yams are sweet potatoes.” So for a while I thought that sweet potatoes were actually yams. But no, sweet potatoes were not actually yams. They’re a completely different plant (Seriously. They have different scientific names and everything). I find this unnecessarily confusing- why would they call them yams when there are other- completely different- plants named yams?
So I did some research: Back in the day, when orange sweet potatoes were introduced to the southern United States, the tradesmen wanted to call them something different than “sweet potato.” They didn’t want people to be confused about orange sweet potatoes and white sweet potatoes. So they decided to use the name “yams” instead. You can read more about it in detail here– they have more information about the difference between sweet potatoes and real yams. I still think this is silly and refuse to refer to sweet potatoes as yams on principle.
Meanwhile, this cake reminds me of Thanksgiving, because it’s basically the sweet potato pecan pie in cake form. It’s basically got the same spices, and obviously has the same main ingredient. So of course I thought it would be appropriate for a Memorial Day barbeque!
I assume Missy G refers to Melissa Gray. I’m not sure why she titles it such, but that’s cool. Apparently MG is the daughter of the sweet potato king of Gloucester County, Virginia, and always has tons of sweet potatoes from her dad. So she made this cake and had tons of problems with it dropping, until she figured out that she should bake the sweet potato instead of boil it (her mom gave her the suggestion- isn’t that how it always happens? Mom knows best). Boiling (in the microwave…) is my method of cooking sweet potatoes, but I baked them for this. According to MG’s mom, baking is how they tell you to do it for pies, but I have never seen that suggestion. I wonder how my sweet potato pecan pie would turn out if I bake the sweet potato! That’s certainly something new to try.
I had originally planned my day around MG’s suggestion of starting to bake the sweet potato 2 hours before you mix the cake. But I woke up early, and decided to start then. Which was a good idea, because the sweet potato took forever to bake! If I’d only given myself the time allotted, I would have been very late to the barbeque.
I baked more sweet potatoes than necessary, but not all of them cooked. I was in a hurry as time went by and just went with what I had ready at the time, so I somehow ended up with 1/4 of a cup less than I needed. I expressly remember measuring out more than I needed, but oh well.
Also, MG says you should mash the potato with a potato masher, but I go the easy route and use a food processor. I like my mashed potatoes really mashed- almost creamy. I don’t want chunks of just mashed potato in my baked goods- I want it to blend. Food processors mash and smooth it out very easily, whereas mashing wont give you as smooth results (and will also hurt your arm).
The rest of the cake was standard pound cake. The ratio, again, was not quite 1:1:1:1, but it still produced a delicious cake. I actually had to change a bit of the recipe around because I didn’t have everything in my kitchen (I was not well prepared for this one):
1. The recipe calls for a Granny Smith apple, but I had to skip that because I discovered that the one I had was pretty old and not good. I would never think to add a granny smith apple to this cake, but MG puts it in to “punch it up.”
2. I used skim milk- the recipe just says “milk,” but I’m pretty sure MG was asking for a milk with a little more fat content. But it turned out fine, so no worries.
3. I used maple syrup instead of maple flavoring. To be honest, I read “maple” and automatically went for the syrup. I’ve never used maple flavoring before and it just didn’t come to mind. I realized later, when rereading the recipe, that I’d made that mistake. I decided to look it up to see if the substitution would be ok, and I’m pretty sure MG is talking about maple extract. Everywhere I looked said that maple syrup is NOT an ok substitute for extract. Oops. But that’s ok, because, again, the cake turned out well anyway.
So those were a few mishaps that possibly changed the integrity of the recipe, but somehow everything worked out.
I have to say, this is probably the prettiest cake I’ve ever made. It’s beautiful! The crumbled pecan-brown sugar-butter topping was fantastic, and I dont think the cake was lacking due to the missing apples or maple extract. My friends seemed to like it, too- Emma (who may be doing a guest-post here sometime soon) even told me that it was her favorite of my cakes!
The cake wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet potato-y, which was nice. Honestly, I’m not the biggest sweet potato fan, so it was nice that the flavor wasn’t overpowering. It was a heavy cake, but it wasn’t so dense that I didn’t want to eat it. I would like to try it with the granny smith apples and the maple syrup, to see how different it would be. I honestly can’t imagine what the tang of granny smiths would do to the flavor.
Our Memorial Day barbeque was a blast- we grilled food, drank beer and sat outside enjoying the wonderful sunshine. When it got dark, we brought out the portable fire pit and sat around the fire roasting marshmallows (though I just threw them in the fire to watch them expand like pillow basalts). It was a great time.
There was only a bit of cake left, but I saved it for my parents (who insisted on trying some). My mom liked it. I was hoping my dad would like it too, because it’s basically his favorite pie in cake form, but he he didn’t like it- he said it was too dry! This seems to be my dad’s adjective of choice when it comes to my cakes (he said that about the key lime cake, too). Maybe they sit out too much before he gets to try them, but I made this cake and he ate it less than 24 hours later! Sorry, Dad. I’ll just have to make you a cake sometime soon (and make sure it’s not dry).