I’m a Mississippi native. Like most southerners, when I think of favorite fall flavors sweet potatoes come to mind. Although some folks find it a little déclassé, I absolutely adore sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top. I simply can not help myself.
While I was working on my first cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook, I knew I had to have a rendition of that autumn classic. Flavoring deep orange sweet potatoes with dark brown sugar, cinnamon and a few grates of freshly ground nutmeg is just the right thing to do for the season. Add a pinch of cloves and a nip of Bourbon and you’ve brought some of the finest friends a sweet potato ever had together. The only problem I saw with the classic casserole was marshmallow allocation.
Although thrilled as I was to be allowed to move up to the “grown-ups’ table” at holiday get-togethers, there was no guarantee marshmallow would be involved with dinner like there was at the “kid’s table”. And if you were at the end of the buffet line or sat beside the wrong cousin there might not even be any marshmallows on top by the time you got there! This distribution problem was easily solved by enrobing a marshmallow for each guest with creamy, spiced sweet potatoes and crunchy crumb coating. My little first grader, Joseph, is quite a hand in preparing these and he loves being in on the secret that a marshmallow is waiting warmly inside each one.
In the spirit of Paula, I figured if I was going to take it that far I might as well fry the thing too! This can be kind of a production if making them for a large crowd though. Last Fall I made miniature versions of these yummy balls for a swanky food and wine gala by lining them up on cookie sheets and spritzing them with a little oil then baking for 25 minutes at 325ºF. A crowd that might have turned up their noses at our beloved southern casserole ate them up and raved. For those who frown on marshmallow topped sweet potato casserole, well, they can just go sit at the grown-ups table.
Inside-Out Sweet Potatoes
Irresistible to children once they find out there is a marshmallow inside, and a guilty pleasure for adults once they become privy to the same secret.
1 cup crushed cornflakes
1 large egg
6 sweet potatoes, baked and mashed (see Notes)
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1⁄3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon unbleached
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon sherry, Bourbon, or vanilla extract
8 large marshmallows
Canola oil, for frying
Preheat oven to 200º F.
Put the cornflake crumbs in a shallow dish or pie pan. Beat the egg with 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl. Set aside.
Combine the mashed sweet potatoes with the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder, flour, orange juice, and sherry. Working with your hands, use the mixture to encase each marshmallow, forming a ball. Dip each ball in the egg wash and then roll in the crumbs. Refrigerate while preparing to fry.
Set a wire rack over newspaper or paper towels to cool and drain the balls after frying.
In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat to 375º F.
Fry the balls one or two at a time for 3 to 4 minutes, turning as needed, until lightly browned. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon, and place the drained balls on the prepared rack and in the oven to keep warm while frying the remaining batches. Serve warm.
• To make mashed sweet potatoes, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes, or until tender and easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. Allow to cool in their jackets. When cool enough to handle, halve them, scoop out the flesh, and mash it with a fork or potato masher.
• If the sweet potato mixture seems too soft
to hold its shape, stir in some of the crumbs to thicken it.
• You can form these ahead of time and roll them in the crumbs right before frying. They can be baked if you really want to, but are better fried, like most things. Bake on a baking mat or parchment, if you do.
• Marshmallows are named for the wild plant that lent its roots to the first marshmallow confections. Most marshmallows today are made with gelatin or gum arabic.
Paula’s Note: Martha is a gem and a true cook. She helped with the food styling on the boys most recent book, Take It Easy, so I got to spend time with her in my home. I was so impressed with her beautiful cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, and just wanted to congratulate her again for winning such a prestigeous award. Congratulations Martha!