The oven dings. It’s that moment when everyone is beginning to hover around the turkey as it’s being carved. The mushroom dressing and the roasted carrot salad are resting on the counter. The pan gravy is simmering away on the stove top, sending clouds of rosemary and garlic and rich umami steam up into the corners of my kitchen. The table is set, the wine is being poured.
Sweat starts to seep through the pores of my underarms and my heart picks up under the pressure. I pull on the oven door, eager to finally get off of my aching feet. I’m hoping this will be the last time I pull on that door for at least a week. The marshmallow topping is still stark white. In a pinch, I throw on the broiler. The marshmallows will take on the toasty amber color in just a few short seconds. Maybe one minute, max.
My husband enters the kitchen. We pour more wine. We talk. We laugh about something silly that only he and I would find amusing, the wine starting to work its magic through our empty stomachs. I smell smoke. And when I open the oven door, the sweet potato casserole is a rectangular sheet of flames. Shit. How many minutes have passed? Two, three, ten?
Last year was not the first time sweet potato casseroles and I have had a run in on Thanksgiving. There was the time, a few years prior, that I made a maple leaf-shaped masterpiece out of the marshmallow topping on our casserole. Only, the maple leaf looked more like a weed leaf than anything else. My family became convinced I was a stoner, obsessed with making herb art out of anything I could think of, including on the surface of a casserole. What can I say? They’re weird and I’m not much of an artist.
Then there was the time that, as children, my sister and I were accused of filching all of the marshmallows from the leftover casserole the day after Thanksgiving. For days my entire family was in a fight over it. “We didn’t do it! We didn’t do it!” we shouted. No one ever believes the kids. But y’all, marshmallows melt when they’re reheated in a microwave. Take note.
So here’s what I have to say to sweet potato casserole this year: You can suck it.
There will be no more flaming trays of orange whipped potatoes. There will be no attempts at creating decorative marshmallow art. Because this year, sweet potato casserole has gotten a makeover into something special: Sweet Potato Donuts with Toasted Marshmallow Fluff and Cashew Crumble.
This recipe is actually more like zeppole, a cakey Italian-style potato donut, than anything else. The sweet comes primarily from the sweet potato, with just a couple of tablespoons of sugar in the whole dough, making for a donut-y texture with less overwhelming sweetness than American-style donuts. I’ve incorporated the same warming spices as can be found in a traditional sweet potato casserole and added just a few passes of orange zest to brighten the dish.
But the best part, in my humble opinion, is the homemade marshmallow meringue fluff. Made entirely from scratch and toasted using a kitchen torch. Because any excuse to use a kitchen torch is a good one. And because I’m now scarred from using my broiler on mallows. Flaming donuts are not allowed at my table. Just the slightly sweet ones with fluffy toasted topping and the delicate crunch of buttery spiced cashews.
- ½ pound of yams/sweet potatoes (about 1 small yam*), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon of room temperature water
- 2 ½ teaspoons of active dry yeast
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out
- a pinch of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon of ground allspice
- zest of ½ orange
- ¼ cup of butter, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- canola oil for frying (I used about 35 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon of butter, melted
- ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon roasted salted cashews
- ¼ cup of light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon of flour
- ¾ cups of granulated sugar
- ⅛ cup of water
- 2 large egg whites
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
- *special equipment: 1 candy thermometer and a kitchen torch
- Boil sweet potatoes in a pot of water until tender, about 10 minutes. Strain the potatoes and when cool enough to handle, put through a rice mill or mash with a potato ricer. If you don’t have a potato masher or ricer, a sturdy whisk will do.
- Add 1 tablespoon of room temperature water to a small bowl. Do not use hot water. Add the yeast to the water and let rest for 2-3 minutes, or until you notice it begin to foam. If it doesn’t foam, this means your yeast is probably old (or you’ve used too hot water); you should try again with different yeast.
- Add the flour, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and salt to the bowl of your stand mixer or a large bowl. Mix to incorporate. Add the riced or mashed sweet potatoes, eggs, butter, and yeast, and, using the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer (if using), work the dough on low speed until it’s smooth, about 3 minutes. If you’re kneading by hand, this will take longer, about 5 to 10 minutes. The dough will be fairly sticky.
- Flour your work surface well. Also flour your rolling pin since the dough is so sticky. Roll the dough out onto the work surface until it is about ¼-inch thick. Use a donut cutter to cut into donut shapes. If you don’t have one, use a biscuit cutter (or a glass), cut out circles from the dough, re-roll the scraps until all of the dough has been used, then cut a hole in the center of the dough. Various kitchen tools can be used to do this. I’ve used the fat part of a baster and blow out the dough from the other end so it doesn’t build up in the baster, but get creative! And let me know if you find something else that works well in the comments 😉 You can either reshape the cut out pieces into another donut, or you can roll them into balls to make tiny donut holes!
- Allow the donut dough to rest in a non-drafty part of the house for 1-2 hours. Try to keep it away from anything too hot or too cold as they will either kill the yeast or stunt the rising process. I find between 70 and 80 degrees F is best.
- While donuts are resting, prepare the cashew crumble topping.
- Once the donuts have doubled in size, heat oil in a fryer or a dutch oven over medium to medium high heat. Once the oil reaches about 350 degrees F, drop the zeppole, no more than a few at a time, into the oil and fry in batches. They will float to the surface, so once you notice the bottom of the dough is golden brown, flip the donut and fry the other side. The whole donut should take about 3-4 minutes to fry. If it’s happening much faster, turn the heat down as it may be too high and you’ll end up with a very uncooked center. I recommend taste testing one of the first few to make sure your temperature and timing are on; this will vary by temperature of the oil and often frying thermometers are not precise.
- Once the donut is finished frying, remove and set on paper towels to drain while you prepare the marshmallow topping.
- Add cashews, butter, flour, and sugar to a food processor and pulse until ground into a crumble.
- Add egg whites to the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. If you don't have a stand mixer, use a large bowl and a sturdy whisk. Set aside.
- Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan that's fitted with a candy thermometer and heat over medium-high, do not stir. Once the thermometer reaches 220 degrees F, beat the egg whites on medium until frothy, about 1-2 minutes. Set frothed egg whites aside until the sugar mixture reaches 238 degrees F, at which point you should increase the mixer to high speed. With the mixer running, pour the sugar syrup in a thing stream into the egg whites, continuing to beat on high speed until the egg whites form medium-stiff peaks. You want the peaks to fold over just slightly but not be so stiff that they stand upright. Once you reach medium stiffness, add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.
- Once the fluff is cooled, spread on top of donuts and sprinkle (if using) with cashew crumble. Use a kitchen torch to toast slightly, keeping the torch roughly 4-6 inches away from the donuts. Do not torch the cashews.
In the US, we tend to confuse yams and sweet potatoes. There are dozens of articles on the internet that can explain the differences between the two, but really all you need to know is this: For this recipe, I’m talking about the potatoes with the orange flesh and the reddish brown skin, which are slightly creamier and sweeter.
Marshmallow fluff recipe adapted from The New Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne.