Every year Chef Kevin Conner bakes 1,000 of the 20,000 pies sold on behalf of Community Servings’ Pie in the Sky fundraiser. Of that number, his team plans on 700 pies to be made of locally sourced sweet potatoes. The chef, an alum of No. 9 Park, Radius and Union Bar Grill, says there are a few tricks to creating a rich, flavorful pie that doesn’t need a million steps and ingredients along the way. And just before the holiday season kicks off, he decided to share them with us.
PICK THE RIGHT POTATO
Conner sources around 500 pounds of sweet potatoes for the Community Servings pie drive, and relies heavily on local farms to ensure he’s receiving the freshest ingredients possible. “We want a medium size potato,” he says. “It should have darker skin and shouldn’t be too tough.”
NOW ROAST THAT SUCKER
Rather than cubing and boiling your sweets, stick them in the oven so they release their natural sugars and get ready for mashing. “Roasting causes caramelization of the sugars inside of the potato,” Conner explains. “We roast all of our potatoes. We add a little oil and pepper and put them in the oven for 55 minutes.” A quick sprinkle of pepper, he believes, helps release some of the sugars in the potato.
Chef Conner says the potatoes should be “just done,” as in a fork comes out clean when you pierce the skin, but they still don’t collapse under the pressure. “We’ll then let them sit for 15 minutes, peel and begin the mash.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT TEXTURE
A perfect crust has a couple of elements: texture, taste and the ability to hold up to a rich custardy potato filling. For Conner, making an ideal crust for a sweet potato pie begins with the right ratio of flour and butter. “Once you put your ingredients into a food processor, you want to get the crumb super small,” he says. “When they’re very tiny, it means they’ll melt evenly as you roll out the crust.”
NO SHAME IN STORE-BOUGHT
Conner says there’s nothing wrong with a store-bought crust; just make sure you bake it first. “You can use a frozen or a pre-made crust, but you have to pre-bake it,” he explains. “Otherwise, it won’t be cooked through once you put the filling into it. I’ll put a pre-made crust in to the oven for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees before putting in the filling.”