A Sweet Potato Cake Showstopper from Ben Mims
This impressive yet homestyle Sweet Potato Cake is perfect for Thanksgiving. Make sure to roast your potatoes thoroughly. The sugars concentrate and caramelize and lend incredible flavor and moistness to the cake. This cake is from Sweet & Southernby Ben Mims as is the Coconut-Lime Cornmeal Pound Cake. Read our interview with Ben to learn more about our southern traditions, how he is putting modern spins on classics and for some extra tips on constructing this centerpiece of a cake.
Excerpted with Permission. Sweet & Southern: Classic Desserts with a Twistby Ben Mims. Published by Rizzoli 2014. Photography by Noah Fecks.
My favorite Thanksgiving side dish is sweet potato casserole the way my aunt Barbara Jane makes it. I can never get enough of the rich, smooth sweet potatoes, topped with a crunchy cashew crust. But it always seems more like dessert than a side dish. Here, I transform it fully into a dessert, and what a showstopper: three thick layers of sweet potato cake, stacked very high with a homemade marshmallow meringue filling with toasted pecans and drizzled with a praline-like caramel sauce. It’s as decadent and over-the-top as the side dish, but no longer in the turkey’s shadow.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
- ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups mashed roasted sweet potatoes
- ¾ cup sour cream
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup dark rum
- 2¼ cups whole pecan halves, toasted and cooled
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ cup milk
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the cake: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat and cook, stirring, until it begins to smell nutty and the solids brown lightly. Pour into a small heatproof bowl and refrigerate until solid, about 1 hour.
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans evenly with baking spray.
- In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and allspice. Put the browned butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each. Add the sweet potatoes, sour cream, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined and smooth. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of each comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes, then invert onto wire racks and let cool completely. (The cakes can be made up to 1 day in advance; wrap in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature.)
- For the marshmallow meringue: Put the egg whites in a large, heavy bowl and beat with a handheld mixer on high speed until frothy, about 1 minute. In a small saucepan, bring the sugar, salt, and ½ cup water to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the mixture comes to a boil, quit stirring and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan; continue cooking until the syrup reaches 250°F. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the thermometer, then begin beating the egg whites again on high speed. With the handheld mixer in one hand, hold the saucepan of syrup with the other (or have someone help you if you’re not ambidextrous) and slowly pour the hot syrup in a steady stream into the whites while beating them. Once the syrup is all added, add the vanilla and continue beating until the mixture triples in volume and is barely warm to the touch; it will form stiff peaks as well. Divide the meringue evenly among the three cooled cakes and use an offset spatula or butter knife to spread the meringue over each cake evenly, leaving a 1-inch border at the edges of two of the cakes and taking the meringue just to the edge of the third cake (the first two cakes will be the bottom and middle layers of the cake and you want to leave room for the meringue to spread under the pressure of the other cakes without gushing out the sides). Let cool while you make the candied pecans.
- For the candied pecans: Heat the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted. Add the sugar, rum, and pecans and cook, stirring often, until the pecans are thickly glazed, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a sheet of aluminum foil and spread into an even layer. Let cool completely, then break the pecans apart and sprinkle them evenly among the meringue-frosted cakes. Place one of the first two cakes on a cake stand or serving platter and top with the second cake. Place the third cake on top and then refrigerate the whole cake to help it set, at least 1 hour.
- For the praline sauce: Bring the confectioners’ sugar, brown sugar, butter, milk, salt, and vanilla to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring often, over high heat and cook until smooth, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and let cool, without stirring, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir the sauce until smooth, then drizzle over the cake; refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve the cake at room temperature with more sauce.
Tips from Ben Mims for Coconut Grating:
When I first discovered the coconut rotary gratersused in India to shred fresh coconut for use in making coconut milk and confections, my life changed. The grater produces the perfect-size shavings for my Coconut Cake, yielding fluffy piles instead of heavier, long shreds. It makes shredding coconut a much easier task and really fun. Simply split a coconut in half, press each half against the rotating ball grater, and turn the handle to get quick, fine shreds. It attaches to virtually any surface via a sturdy suction cup at its base. The model I use and cherish was brought back from India by a coworker, but these graters are also available online (check Amazon or eBay), and possibly at your local ethnic grocery or market.
If you don’t want to purchase a special tool for grating coconut, the food processor is the next best thing, and it’ll produce similar results. You can buy whole coconuts, crack them open, and pry out the meat yourself, or purchase whole chunks of coconut from your grocery store. Once you have the cleaned white coconut pieces, simply toss them into the bowl of a food processor fitted with its normal blade (not the shredding disk). Pulse the processor for about 10 seconds, and you should have finely ground, light shreds of coconut, ready to use in your coconut cake, or for toasting and sprinkling over Marbled Chocolate Bark, or to add to your bowl of granola for breakfast.