Serve a sweet potato pie with pralines

Sweet potato pie at the Ladybird Diner in Kansas City.
Sweet potato pie at the Ladybird Diner in Kansas City. Kansas City Star

Kansas City chef Meg Heriford

and her baking crew at Ladybird Diner last year made more than 400 pies for Thanksgiving pick-up: Flavors included pumpkin, pecan, spiced peach, cherry and Douglas County Pie — gooey chocolate chip cookie and nut filling in a pie crust.

But one of her personal fall favorites is sweet potato pie, featuring sweet potatoes, swirled with caramel and topped with a pecan praline.

Asked why pie is iconic and so often wrapped in holiday emotion, Heriford says, “Anyone who ever made a pie for you loved you.”

This pie will take some time but you can work on the recipe over two days, Heriford says: “You could do it all in a day, but it will taste better if you’re not too weak to enjoy it. We recommend making the caramel sauce, pralines and crust a day ahead.”

Heriford finds the best pie crusts are made from half butter, half lard. Because many of her customers do not eat lard, she uses half butter and half vegetable shortening at Ladybird Diner. The compromise also keeps her pies affordable, but for home cooks making a traditional custard pie, she recommends an all-butter crust.

And, if you haven’t tried it, don’t skip the freshly grated nutmeg.

Caramel sweet potato pie with spiced praline crumble

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie, or 8 servings

For the caramel sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature or slightly warmed

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons good-quality bourbon

For the praline crumble:

2 cups pecan pieces

4 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For the crust:

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small, uniform pieces

1/4 cup water combined with a splash of white vinegar or vodka

For the sweet potato filling:

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (2 large or 3 medium), baked, peeled and pureed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 eggs plus 1 yolk

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup caramel sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

A few grinds of black pepper

Fresh whipped cream, for garnish

To make the caramel sauce: Brown the butter in lightly colored or aluminum-bottomed saucepan until it’s a dark caramel color. Strain milk solids from the butter and set aside.

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until it turns dark amber in color (about 10-12 minutes). If you have a candy thermometer handy it should read 244-248 degrees.

Remove the sugar from the heat and very slowly add the cream. The caramel will bubble rapidly when you do this and might appear to seize for a moment, but it will loosen as you stir. Add the browned butter, vanilla and bourbon. Set caramel sauce aside to cool. Once cooled, store at room temperature in airtight container.

To make the pralines: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss all ingredients together until pecans are well coated. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until sugar is caramelized around the pecans. Let cool completely!

Once the pralines are cooled, break them apart in miscellaneously sized chunks for topping the pie.

To make the crust: In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. With a twisting motion, cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until pea-sized lumps form. Sprinkle with water, a tablespoon at a time, and work in with the tines of a fork. Gather the ball up into a ball and wrap in waxed paper. Place dough ball in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in two parts. Flour a pastry cloth and your rolling pin. Working from the center, roll dough evenly into a circle 1 1/2 to 2 inches larger than the circle of an inverted pie plate. Use your rolling pin to fold dough circle and transfer dough gently to the pie plate. Trim edge so that a 1/2-inch hangs over and flute edges. Place pie crust in the freezer for at least 30 minutes and preferably overnight; freezing will keep the pie from shrinking when baked.

To par-bake the crust, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line the frozen crust with parchment paper and weight with dried rice or beans. Par-bake the crust for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake 5 more minutes or until golden, pricking the crust with the tines of a fork if it puffs up. Remove crust from the oven.

While the oven is still preheated, prick sweet potatoes and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 425 degrees. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool completely before making filling or you risk cooking the eggs.

To make the filling: In a large mixing bowl, combine thoroughly cooled sweet potatoes that have been peeled and pureed and the remaining filling ingredients.

Pour mixture into par-baked pie crust. Tent with foil and bake for 30 minutes in preheated 350 degree oven. Remove foil tent and finish baking until custard is set, about 20 minutes longer. The custard should be set in the outer 2/3 of the pie, but the very center will still be a bit loose. It will set up as the pie cools.

To serve: Top pie with praline crumble and dollops of freshly whipped cream.

Per serving: 868 calories (60 percent from fat), 58 g total fat (25 g saturated), 217 mg cholesterol, 79 g carbohydrates, 10 g protein, 653 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber.