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THE AVA GARDNER OF DESSERTS

Every Thanksgiving I make my Sweet Potato Chiffon Pie.

ava gardner barefoot contessa movie stillmamie eisenhower portrait
Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa          Mamie Eisenhower, First Lady 1953-1961

I'm a big fan of the standard pumpkin pie, the one you make with the 15 ounce can of Libby's pumpkin and evaporated milk--it's the Mamie Eisenhower of pies--dependable, straightforward, not too rich or cloying.  But after all the mashed potates and bread stuffing and gravy, I need some glamour.  I like this recipe because like Ava (check out her museum) the daughter of a poor tobacco farmer from Grabtown North Carolina, it starts with the humble sweet potato and gets the Hollywood treatment. 

Actually, I love chiffon pies just for their name alone--lemon chiffon, raspberry chiffon, chocolate chiffon--they sound like the prom queens and exotic dancers who favor that sheer floaty fabric. (I like to think of the delicate lemon as the Donna Reed of chiffon pies.) But Sweet Potato chiffon is my own concoction (adapted from a Marion Cunningham recipe) and my favorite for the way the  earthiness of the sweet potato melds so delectably with the airy gelatin, whipped egg whites and cream.   Adding bourbon to the recipe just heightens the effect.

I wish I could post an image of this pie, but all I have right now is a debauched slice three days old, with the beautiful whipped cream rosettes mashed down and the crust broken. The glamour shot will have to wait--

SWEET POTATO CHIFFON PIE 

have ready one pre-baked 9 inch pie shell. (You really should make a butter pie crust. No crumb crusts or trashy store-bought crusts.)

Sprinkle 1 package (approx 1 Tablespoon) gelatin over

4 Tablespoons of water, OR 2 Tbs water/OJ and 2 Tbs bourbon

let the gelatin soften.

Mix/pulse  in food processor until smooth:

1 1/2 cups cooked sweet potato (I peel and cut them in chunks and cook them in water in the microwave until tender.)

4 egg yolks (reserve whites)

1/2 cup evaporated milk, or half & half

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp salt

Put this mix in a heavy, non-aluminum pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens.  remove from heat, scrape into a stainless steel bowl, and thoroughly stir in the softened gelatin.

You can either set the bowl in an icebath to chill quickly, or in the refrigerator. Stir occasionally.  When the mix is cool but not cold (it will be too thick if it's well-chilled), whip the egg whites to soft peaks, adding

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Fold whites into the sweet potato mixture.

Set one cup of the filling aside, and spoon the remaining mix into the cooled pie shell.

Now comes the glamour part:

Whip until stiff 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, sweetened to taste with powdered sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract.  Fold cream into the reserved cup of the sweet potato filling.  Spoon entire mix into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tube--the biggest one you can find! (I use an Atco #8) Cover the entire surface of the pie with rosettes.  I usually start at the outside edge and pipe a border, moving into the middle.  If it looks a little disheveled, that's OK, it adds to the voluptuousness.  If you're so inclined, you can go Max Factor and sprinkle a little cinnamon over the whole thing.      ava gardner movie still

You can do all this a day ahead of time, as long as you have a safe, odor-free space to store it in the fridge.  Then give the pie the entrance it deserves! Maybe centered on a table with proper lighting, like Ava in this photo on the right.

Just make sure the pie is cool, not cold when you serve it, and use a sharp serrated knife to slice it, wiping off the blade between cuts. 

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

                                                                               Ava Gardner in The Killers