The Final Frontier of Orange

LAST NIGHT (at the dinner table)

Husband: Potato pancakes!

Me: head shake

Husband: Not potato pancakes? Then what?

Me: silence

Husband: Radish?

Me: (laughter) Radish pancakes? No!

Husband: Turnip?

Me: Uh-uh.

Husband: (a close look) Carrot and radish?

Me: What’s with the radish? And no, they’re sweet potato pancakes. (hand up to head off the inevitable questions) And I know we don’t like sweet potatoes. But I tried a latke as I was cooking them. And these are good.

THIS MORNING (phone rings)

Husband: What’s up?

Me: I’m thawing some of that sweet potato purée I froze a couple of weeks ago. I’m about to make bread with it. Sweet potato yeast bread.

Husband: (pauses) So this is the way it’s going to be from now on, is it?

Why, yes! Yes, it is!

If you have been reading for a while, you may remember I don’t love orange vegetables. But over the past several years I have made every effort to find at least one savory preparation of each variety that I will eat and even enjoy. I have had success with carrots and pumpkins, even moderate success with different kinds of hard squash. Success with the yam, or sweet potato, eluded me.

Until now.

The two recipes that follow are delicious. The two qualities I don’t like about the sweet potato – the sticky consistency, the insipid sweetness – are much downplayed in both. In the latkes, the collection of individual shreds means extra surface area. All these edges crisp up as the cakes fry, they desiccate, they yield a wonderful chew. The finished latkes taste nutty sweet, as pecans do, instead of sugar sweet.

As anyone who bakes bread knows, adding mashed potato to bread dough along with flour results in a bread that is springy and moist inside with a thick brown crust on the outside. Adding sweet potato mash does the same, and then some. As it bakes, this loaf develops a beautiful deep brown crust with a great bite. Slice into that crust and the bread’s interior is revealed: the pale orange of of apricot flesh. Because there is very little sugar added to the dough, just enough to jump start the yeast in the proofing stage, the sweet potato’s more delicate toasty qualities shine. The mash’s stickiness is used to its best advantage also, making a really moist and tender crumb.

In the final frontier of orange, I persevered. I found delicious. Delicious is a just reward.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

  • 1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated using a box grater or the grating disc of a food processor
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil for frying

In a large bowl, stir together potatoes, scallions, 1/4 cup flour, eggs, salt, and pepper with a wooden spoon just until combined. If the mixture seems too wet as you mix, add additional flour a spoonful at a time, not to exceed a total of 1/2 cup. Batter should be not be too wet or too stiff. Set the bowl aside.

Set a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Heat enough oil to cover the bottom with a 1/4-inch layer, and allow to heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of three or four at a time, spoon generous mounds of the potato mixture into the oil and gently spread out using the back of the wooden spoon. Reduce the heat a bit and cook the cakes until golden on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Transfer pancakes with spatula to paper towels to drain.

Finished cakes may be kept in a warm oven on a baking sheet lined with foil as you cook the remaining batter.

Sweet Potato Yeast Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 ounces mashed sweet potato (slightly less than a cup)
  • 4 1/4 – 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour

Measure the yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the warm water, powdered milk, salt, and oil. Stir to blend.

Add to the bowl the sweet potato and 4 1/4 cups of the flour. Attach the dough hook and mix for a few seconds to combine. Add more flour a spoonful at a time only if the dough looks too sticky. With the mixer set at the manufacturer’s recommended kneading speed, knead the dough for 8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Turn it out onto a lightly floured kneading surface and grease the mixing bowl with a little more vegetable oil. Place the dough back into the bowl and then turn it over so the top of the dough has a thin coating of oil on it. Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

Prepare two 8-inch by 4 1/2–inch loaf pans by buttering or spraying with a generous coating of non-stick spray. Set aside

When the dough has risen, turn it out gently onto a lightly floured surface. Cut it in half and roll each piece into a long oval. Roll the ovals into tight cylinders and place these in the prepared loaf pans. Cover each loaf with a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until the dough has crested the tops of the pans by 1/2-inch to an inch. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

When the loaves have risen, place the pans in the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Turn the loaves out of the pans and onto a cooling rack as soon as you remove them from the oven. Let cool a bit before slicing.

©2012 Jane A. Ward