Food & Drink

November 8, 2010

Kerry McCray: Just place in a bowl and mix

Confession: Up until last week, I didn't know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.

Confession: Up until last week, I didn't know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.

Sure, I had read about them in cookbooks, but make anything with them? No way, not me. I had a vague idea that sweet potatoes were yellowish and guessed that yams were not, but — really — I had no clue.

So, while shopping for this week's recipe, I spent most of my time in the produce aisle trying to figure out which long, scraggly thing was a yam and which was a sweet potato. I finally asked a clerk. I'm so glad he didn't laugh.

Back to my sweet-potato/yam aversion. When I was a kid, my mom would bake either sweet potatoes or yams — I don't know which — and serve them with pats of butter on top. One bite was enough to convince me I wasn't going to eat that — whatever it was — when I became a grown-up.

So I didn't. Until I got a recipe for sweet potato soufflé from Annie Thu Henrich, who teaches adult education cooking classes at Modesto Junior College. I picked up the recipe at a class I took years ago and have wanted to try it since.

Why on earth would I want to try sweet potato soufflé? Because it calls for sugar, butter, cream and nuts. How could you go wrong?

Shopping was easy, once the clerk pointed out the sweet potatoes. Turns out they range from yellow to orange to red and have pointed ends. Yams, it seems, have brown or black skin and don't have pointed ends.

I've since read that the yams most supermarkets carry are not yams, but really another kind of sweet potato. Can it get any more confusing?

I bought the yellowish sweet potatoes, the kind the clerk recommended. Peeling them was just as easy as peeling regular potatoes. The rest of the recipe was simple, too. I mixed the soufflé ingredients in my stand mixer for a long time — maybe 10 minutes — while I made the topping.

I bought chopped pecans for the topping, so I skipped the step where you chop the pecans, coconut and other ingredients after they're mixed. If you want to use local ingredients, chopped walnuts would work well, too.

When the soufflé got out of the oven, it was beautiful: golden and brown, with little flecks of coconut and bits of pecans on top. It tasted supersweet and creamy, and had a nice crunch.

Even my 4-year-old liked it. Which should tell you something: It is very sweet, almost like dessert. You can hardly taste the sweet potatoes.

Which, it turns out, is the way I like them.

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at

What The Tasters Had To Say

I said, "Sweet!" when I first saw this recipe, as I love sweet potatoes of nearly any variety. But with all that sugar, the unique flavor of the sweet potato was totally lost. And with all that sugar, cream and vanilla, how could it not taste like candy?

Note: The recipe didn't say how many it served, so I cut the recipe in half for the four of us; the full recipe would easily serve eight as a side. Also, I'd try to broil the top after baking to give it a sugar-crusted top and added crunch.

— Karin Reenstierna, Modesto

This is a delicious recipe and a beautiful presentation. Only a couple of changes to suit our taste — I add a ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie seasoning. As we have some kids who don't like coconut, I separate the topping and make half with and half without the coconut. Some say this is too sweet, I prefer the sugar amount as listed.

— Lisa Moreci, Oakdale

If you love sweet potatoes and love sweet, rich, delicious foods, this is the one for you.

— Melinda Cabrera

This dish is a nice alternative to the old marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes that my husband loves — that dessert on the plate that masquerades as a vegetable. Of course, just like with that dish, he served himself mostly the coconut-streusel topping and left the sweet potato for the rest of us. That's OK, because it had a really nice flavor. I might add a little bit of grated orange zest next time, because there will definitely be a next time.

— Carrie Munroe, Modesto

My family enjoyed this recipe, but I couldn't quite get on board with it. I was confused as to what kind of cream to use, and in a moment of thoughtlessness chose Lite Cool Whip. It is very sweet and doesn't need more sugar. A little goes a long way with this recipe. Our party of six ate only half of the dish. This may be a testament to just how sweet it was. Another cautionary note, the recipe calls for one-third stick and not ª cup of butter. I had to amend my measurements after melting what I thought was enough butter. In all, a better dessert than side dish.

— Ann Griffith, Modesto

When I first read through the ingredients, I thought it would be too sweet, but it's not. I baked the potatoes in the skins the day before. The next day, I mixed all the ingredients together; it took quite a while to get the mixture really smooth and fluffy. I used a 13-by-9-inch pan, which is a little large. The topping is really good and needs all of the ingredients. The nuts and coconut give a nice crunchy texture in contrast to the smoothness of the potato mixture. I served this as a side dish to pork roast and there was plenty for eight people.

— Ann Waldron, Sequim, Wash., formerly of Modesto

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