Did you know that North Carolina is the nation’s top sweet potato grower? At last count, the state provided almost half the total U.S. production of sweet potatoes, totaling $175.8 million. One more reason to buy locally and let the falling autumn leaves showing off their vibrant spectrum of colors inspire us to create dishes showcasing the flavors of the season.
A few years ago, I was asked by Debbie Stikeleather at Iron Gate Winery to judge the Sweet Potato Cooking competition. The evening was filled with music, wine, and sweet potato dishes. This particular evening featured an outstanding group of musicians, the Sweet Potato Pie Band, which specialized in “sweet grass,” a mixture of country, classical, blues and bluegrass performed in the courtyard.
After tasting, and retasting (just to make sure), I pinned the first place ribbon (and $100) on the Marbled Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Grand Marnier, which featured a gingersnap crust and pecan topping. Second place went to a Sweet Potato Pound Cake, an exceptionally moist cake with a creamy pecan icing. Surely this was someone’s grandmother’s recipe. It was timeless.
While listening to the fiddle-playing, banjo-picking, bass-plucking, and guitar strumming of the all-women Sweet Potato Pie Band, I had a chance to briefly talk with Lorraine Tuck of Hillsborough, creator of the Sweet Potato Pound Cake. I asked her what made her cake so moist. She shared her secret, which I have noted below.
Sweet Potato Pound Cake
Preheat oven to 350 and grease well and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Combine 3 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Stir with a fork to mix well. In another bowl, combine 1/2 C. fat-free buttermilk and 1 tsp. vanilla. Set the milk and flour mixture aside.
In a large bowl, beat 1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, 1 C. sugar, and 1 C. light brown sugar together with a mixer at high speed until light and well combined, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl. Add 4 eggs (room temperature), one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 2 C. sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed. Mix at low speed for 1 minute or until the batter is evenly mixed.
Add about half the flour mixture and beat gently, using a wooden spoon or a mixer at low speed, only until the flour disappears into the batter. Add half the milk and mix gently to combine everything well. Mix in the remaining flour, and then the remaining milk, beating gently only until you have a thick, smooth batter.
Scrape the batter into the prepared tube pan, and bake at 350 degrees for between 60 and 75 minutes, or until the cake is evenly browned and springs back when touched gently in the center.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for a few minutes. (And here is the key to what made Lorraine’s cake so moist): Flip into plate that has 2 lengths of plastic wrap, overlapping so it looks like a plus sign, large enough to cover cake. Once cake has been flipped onto plate, immediately cover cake with plastic wrap while cake is still warm. Let cake sit until cool.
For the frosting, melt 1/4 C. unsalted butter in a small saucepan. Stir in 1/4 C. packed brown sugar, and remove from heat. Add 1 1/2 C. sifted confectioner’s sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 2-3 tsp. milk—blend well. Immediately spoon over cooled cake. Sprinkle with 3 TB. chopped pecans