The Southern Topaz

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This is the crown jewel of sweet potato pies. It will convert even the most stubborn pumpkin lovers. The base is a crispy and sturdy pâte sucrée. The sweet potato filling is spiced, creamy, and soufflé-like. Toasted Italian meringue is sweet, rich and marshmallow-y. And the pièce de résistance is a bittersweet, crunchy, sparkly, nutty, complex Hazelnut Praline. I don't think there's anything else we can say — just make this. Yields two 10-inch pies.

Pie Shell (Pâte Sucrée): http://www.marthastewart.com/314991/pate-sucree-extra

Italian Meringue: http://www.marthastewart.com/312900/basic-italian-meringue

Halzenut Praline:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 4 ounces chopped hazelnuts, untoasted
  • Pastry brush
  • Sheet pan
  • Cooking spray

Spiced Sweet Potato Filling:

  • 6 to 8 medium sweet potatoes (you will need about 4 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ teaspoon white peppercorns
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 4 eggs, separated into 4 yolks and 4 whites

Make the pie shell first:

  1. Follow Martha's directions for the pâte sucrée. I substituted half the water with ice-cold vodka for a really crispy crust.
  2. After making, flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat an oven to 350°F for blind baking, with a rack in the middle.

Make the praline:

  1. In a medium pot over medium heat, combine the water and sugar. Occasionally swirl the pan then dip a brush in water and brush down the sides of the pan to prevent crystals from forming.
  2. While the sugar cooks, spray a pan with non-stick spray.
  3. Once the sugar turns a light amber color, mix in the hazelnuts. Stir constantly until it reaches a dark amber and the hazelnuts are fragrant. Immediately turn out onto the greased pan and spread out into a thin even layer.
  4. Let cool completely, about an hour.
  5. Once it is completely cooled, remove from the pan and place in a plastic bag. Cover the bag with a kitchen towel and bash with a rolling pin. I like shards around a half inch long, but do whatever you like. Alternatively, you can grind in a food processor. Keep in a plastic bag until ready.

Blind bake the pie shell:

  1. Cut the dough in half and return half to the fridge. Roll out on a floured work surface to a little thicker than an eighth of an inch, and a little larger than ten inches. across.
  2. Transfer to a greased pie pan or tart pan, making sure to ease the sides down into the pan without stretching the dough. Crimp or trim the excess, dock the bottom and sides with a fork, then place in the freezer for up to 15 minutes, 10 is ideal. Roll out the other dough in the meantime.
  3. Cut a sheet of parchment to fit over the pie shell, crumple it up tightly, and then stretch it out again. This helps the weights sit closer to the shell for a more even blind bake. Pour weights (I have a jar of beans) over the parchment and bake 12 to 15 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the pie shell no longer shows any moisture on the bottom but isn't browning. Turn up the oven to 375°F.

Make the filling:

  1. Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise then crosswise into four pieces to get eighths. Boil in a large pot until totally done but not waterlogged, around 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and let cool while you assemble the other ingredients.
  2. Remove the cardamom from its husk, discarding the husk (or save for chai). In a small pan, toast the white peppercorns, cardamom, and star anise over medium heat until fragrant, just a few minutes. Let cool, then grind finely along with the cinnamon and nutmeg
  3. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, or by hand, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Set aside.
  4. Remove the skins from the sweet potatoes. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter, salt, sweetened condensed milk, spices, and egg yolks. Start low to incorporate, then beat on high for 5 minutes until well mixed and lighter in color. 
  5. Stir a third of the egg whites into the filling. Fold in the rest of the egg whites, being sure to mix from the bottom.
  6. Immediately pour out into the blind baked pie shells and bake in the middle rack at 375°F for 55 to 60 minutes.

Make the meringue and finish the pie:

  1. Make the meringue according to Martha's instructions, adding 1 tablespoon vanilla extract right after pouring in the sugar syrup.
  2. Scoop out into a pastry bag or zip-top bag fitted with your preferred tip or no tip.
  3. Pipe mounds, pulling up at the end to make peaks. Alternatively, spread the meringue across the pie, making swirls and peaks.
  4. Carefully toast under a low broiler or with a kitchen torch until mostly browned all over with some charred bits. Scatter the praline over.
  5. Pro tip: this pie is sensational eaten cold, the next day.