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Bourbon Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole with a Pecan Crust

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Serves 8

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  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 101

This dish is nothing like the marshmallow-topped Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole of old. Sautéed apples, a crunchy pecan crust, and spicy mashed sweet potatoes make for a sophisticated update.

For more side dish recipes visit The Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner.

  • 3 to 3-1/4 lb. sweet potatoes (about 3 large)
  • 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter; more for the pan
  • 4 oz. toasted and very finely chopped pecans (1 cup)
  • 1-1/3 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Eight 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh ginger, unpeeled and crushed
  • 2 whole star anise
  • One 2- to 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. bourbon
  • 1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1-3/4 lb. Granny Smith apples (about 3 large), peeled, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
Bake the sweet potatoes

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and bake them on the sheet until completely tender when pierced with a fork, 55 to 60 minutes. Let rest until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, if not working ahead, reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.

Discard the skins and put the flesh in a medium mixing bowl. With a potato masher, work the sweet potatoes until they’re well mashed (they don’t have to be perfectly smooth).

Make the crumb topping

Melt 2 Tbs. of the butter and combine with the pecans, breadcrumbs, parsley, and two big pinches of salt in a small bowl.

Infuse the cream

Combine the heavy cream, ginger, star anise, and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Bring to a full boil (watch carefully so that it doesn’t boil over) and remove from the heat immediately. Let steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a liquid measuring cup, pressing down on the solids with a spatula to extract all of the liquid. Stir in 2 Tbs. of the bourbon, the vanilla extract, and 1/4 tsp. salt.

Cook the apples

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples, season with 1/4 tsp. salt, and toss well. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, 8 to 9 minutes. Lower the heat if the apples are getting too dark, but not so much that they soften without browning.

Turn off the heat, carefully add the remaining 2 tsp. bourbon and stir until it evaporates, a few seconds. Pour in 1/3 cup of the infused cream and stir until the apples have absorbed most of it, a few more seconds. Set the pan aside and let the apples cool for about 15 minutes, turning them occasionally to release steam.

Assemble the casserole

Butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish (9x13-inch works well). Add the remaining cream to the mashed sweet potatoes and mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt. Arrange the apples across the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the sweet potato mixture over the apples in an even layer. Top with the pecan-crumb mixture.

Bake the casserole at 375°F until the crumb topping is dark brown (it will be browner around the edges) and the casserole is heated through, about 25 minutes.

Make Ahead Tips

You can bake and mash the sweet potatoes and make the crumb topping a day ahead (cover both and refrigerate). Bring the potatoes and crumb topping to room temperature before assembling the dish. You can also assemble and refrigerate for up to 8 hours before baking. Return to room temperature before baking.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 430; Fat (g): fat g 28; Fat Calories (kcal): 250; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 12; Protein (g): protein g 5; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 11; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 40; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 4; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 170; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 60; Fiber (g): fiber g 7;

Photo: Scott Phillips

I've been looking at this recipe for 2 years and was afraid to make (too rich). Made it for thanksgiving yesterday and it was delicious! I baked the sweet potatoes the day before to make it easier. The flavors were a great combination & loved the crunch of the pecans (but did only use 1/2 cup). Dinner guests were impressed, as was my husband!

Awesome blending of flavors but not for fussy eaters. The Star Anise is distinctive and the bourbon is just the right amount. The apples are terrific as is the crust. Save it for people who can appreciate it. I loved it!

I've made this several years in a row for Thanksgiving and it always gets rave reviews. This year I used apple jack as we didn't have any bourbon. I think the reviewer that thought it was too "boozie" tasting probably didn't have it cooked down well enough.

This has become a staple at the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner table. One of my guest joked that he couldn't decide if it was a side dish or dessert! Simply decadent!

This has become a staple at the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner table. One of my guest joked that he couldn't decide if it was a side dish or dessert! Simply decadent!

Its funny, I thought I didn't like it as it was very boozy tasting, however, I did go back for seconds. My husband, however, loved it and wouldn't change a thing. Like another reviewer I might do the calvados as well. And I may have burned my pecans while toasting as the crust was a little bitter. I'm thinking I'll go for it and add to the Thanksgiving menu.

There was something about the flavors together that I just did not like. My husband loved it, though.

Just read but haven't tried this recipe yet, but it will be on our Christmas plates. If ingredients are all included as per directions, I'm sure results will be anything but bland ..... holiday menu experiments are all part of the fun!

Enjoyed by all! Not too sweet like some other sweet potato casseroles I have tried. Complemented our other dishes well (Pomegranate-balsamic-glazed carrots, green beans, and cranberry sauce).

Beautiful dish, but the taste was odd - this one got thumbs down from everyone at our Thanksgiving table. If I were to make it again - which is highly unlikely - I'd omit the star anise. It's a great ingredient in other dishes, but the flavor combination with sweet potatoes was not good. Next year - plain baked sweet potatoes for all.

This recipe was absolutely worth every second I spent in the kitchen preparing. My family loved the combination of flavors. This is a big step away from your traditional sweet potato pie. One thing I added to help enrich the flavor a little more was substitute a cinnamon pear balsamic I found at a specialty olive oil shop for the bourbon in the recipe. (Since it was Thanksgiving though, I went ahead and added a splash of bourbon along with it). Happy cooking!

Very good, worth the work. I like the contrast between the tartness of the apples and sweetness of the sweet potatoes. I love the flavor of the star anise.

I've made this twice so far and will be making it again many times. If I could give it 4 1/2 stars I would. Slightly finicky to make, but worth it. Like one of the other reviewers suggested, I added a bit of maple syrup to my apples (1-2TB). I didn't have any Bourbon so I subbed Calvados. And since I'm fond of sweet things, I added a very light sprinkling of brown sugar on top of the apple and sweet potato layers. The second time I made it, I didn't have pecans so skipped that part, but I like it better with the pecan mixture. I bet using sugared pecans (I'm thinking of the ones that Trader Joe's sells, even though we don't have that here in Canada) would be a yummy substitute for the regular pecans called for.

Thank you for having this and other recipes in my hands in time for Canadian Thanksgiving. This was the hit of our vegetable dishes!

While this is time consuming to prepare, the end result is worth it. It made a fantastic addition to our Thanksgiving dinner.

Made with rye instead of bourbon and courtland apples instead of Grannies. I took it to a friend's cottage in the fall. It was a big hit with a pork loin roast and everyone couldn't get enough of it! I'd definitely do it again.

The fact that this can be prepared ahead makes it doable for a Holiday. I tweaked it slightly by adding 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of crab apple jelly to the apple mixture. I also substituted fatfree half and half for the heavy cream. The end result is delicious and colorful. Worth the time and adventure.

After two hours of prep work and having to purchase random spices, we were very disappointed with the outcome. Overall, the casserole has very little flavor, it tastes tart and bland. I would not recommend this, and definately would not prepare for Thanksgiving.

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