Cook's Country (November 2011)
First, we fell for "spatchcock."
This year, we couldn't resist "sonker."
What is it with us and the funny Thanksgiving words?
We just had to make Carolina Sweet Potato Sonker.
As Cook's Country shares in their feature, the origin of the sonker is uncertain, but a small town in North Carolina is keeping the dish on the culinary radar with a yearly festival celebrating the dessert. (Sadly, there's little information online about the annual Lowgap Sonker Festival.)
There are variations on this dish -- which you can read about in the magazine -- but sweet potato is reportedly the most popular variety. They don't all look like the one we made. Here's a much different take on the dish that we found on Flickr. This version looks more akin to pudding:
(This image: Bisse on Flickr)
There are things we love about this recipe. First, and this may be sacrilege to some of you, but sometimes a frozen pie crust -- which the recipe suggests -- is just what you need. Especially in the run-up to a big meal (and when we were already making a pie crust for another dessert that we'll be sharing next week), it was really nice to roll out a frozen crust and work with it. We don't always advocate for frozen, but sometimes, a boy needs a shortcut.
And it's beautiful. The lattice crust sits on top of the layered sweet potatoes, which actually reminded us so much of this Vegetable Gratin recipe that we love.
But there are other things that we found lacking. Chiefly, for a dessert, our sonker wasn't very sweet. The recipe calls for 1 cup of brown sugar for 4 pounds of sweet potatoes, which sounds substantial to us. We suspect that the level of sweetness of our potatoes themselves was the culprit. The final product -- though beautiful -- almost fell more in the savory category than the sweet. Especially up against other achingly sweet desserts (we're looking at you, Chocolate Caramel Cake), it seemed out of place.
Our other issue is that the accompanying dip didn't help. We ended up making it twice. The first time, it came out gloopy. The second time, it was thin. We're not sure where it all went wrong.
So, sonker. We like the idea, and we love the name. We just wanted to love the dish, too.
- 2 (15-ounce) boxes Pillsbury Just Unroll! Pie Crust
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 cups apple cider
- 4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced ¼ inch thick
- 1 cup (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 cups whole milk
- ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1. For the sonker: Working on lightly floured counter, unroll 2 dough rounds. Brush half of 1 round with egg and overlap with second round. Roll out dough to 17 by 13-inch rectangle and fit into 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat shaping and rolling with remaining 2 dough rounds; reserve beaten egg. Trim dough into rectangle and cut into ten 1-inch strips. Transfer dough strips to parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring cider to boil in Dutch oven. Place steamer basket in Dutch oven and fill with sweet potatoes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, until potatoes are nearly tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove and reserve sweet potatoes, leaving cider in pot.
3. Cook cider over high heat until reduced to ½ cup, about 5 minutes. Combine drained sweet potatoes, brown sugar, reduced cider, butter, flour, lemon juice, vanilla, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, allspice, and salt in large bowl. Spread out sweet potato mixture on rimmed baking sheet and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
4. Scrape cooled sweet potato mixture into dough-lined dish and press into even layer. Brush edges of dough with reserved egg. With long side of dish facing you, lay 4 dough strips lengthwise over sweet potato mixture. Weave remaining 6 strips into lattice pattern. Press dough strips into bottom crust and trim excess. Fold dough sides inward under lip of baking dish and crimp with fork.
5. Combine granulated sugar and remaining ¼ teaspoon cinnamon in bowl. Brush dough with reserved egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake until deep golden brown, 55 to 60 minutes, rotating dish halfway through baking. Let sonker cool on wire rack for at least 1½ hours before serving. (Sonker can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
6. For the custard dip: Meanwhile, bring milk, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, whisking frequently, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Off heat, add vanilla. Transfer to bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Serve with sonker.