Friday, March 26, 2010

Memories & Chocolate Sweet Potato Cake

My passion for baking was sparked long before my passion for cooking. The culprit: large meringues spooned and piped onto parchment, drying out in our apartment oven overnight. They emerged from the oven early the in the morning like fluffy white clouds slipping from the pitch dark oven, glowing when touched by the morning sun. Seriously, for all it's poetic cheesiness, that is how I remember the moment that I was first dazzled by egg whites and sugar.

I don't think I was more than 5 years old, and  I'd probably been helping my mother bake for most of them. When I was born she started a quest to bake her way through a french pastry book recipe by recipe, Julie/Julia style, but decades earlier, (and minus the blog). Meringues soon became my specialty. I would sit on the counter beside the sturdy kitchen aid mixer with a cup of sugar and a spoon. As the egg whites whisked around the silver bowl I would slowly sprinkle in a spoonful of sugar, being careful to have it fall onto the whites and not be kicked back onto the sides of the bowl. I sat patiently waiting for 30 seconds before slowly adding another spoonful, again and again until the cup of sugar was empty and the egg whites were billowy and glossy.  Let me point out that I was not a patient child, more of a burst of energy and inspiration kind of kid, so you can imagine that completing this recipe and then waiting for the meringues to dry out for hours in the oven, sometimes overnight was an incredible feat. But I loved it, and it quickly became my job to make meringues for passover every year. I continue to be mesmerized by meringues, or any recipe containing whipped egg whites for that matter, to this day.

I know it is odd for such a description not to lead into a recipe for meringues, but I actually sat down to write a lead up to this fabulous chocolate sweet potato cake, also inspired by my mother, and also for passover. As I started to think about passover and baking and making a cake leavened by beaten egg whites as this one is, I was over come with the memory of meringues in my mother's kitchen. A wonderful illustration of the visceral, non-linear nature of food. Memories sparked by a scent of spice, the feel of butter or the texture of clouds.
I found this picture from last year where I actually topped the cakes with meringue.

Chocolate Sweet Potato Cake or Cup Cakes
The original recipe for this cake was called "mock chestnut torte" and can be found at
It is by Marcy Goldman from,

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 Cup brown sugar
2T white sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes, fresh or canned - slightly warm is good
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, melted and still warm
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg or cardamom
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. If making a cake, line a 9-inch springform pan with baking parchment. If making cupcakes, fill muffin tins with cupcake papers.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the 1/2 cup brown sugar. Blend in the egg yolks, then the mashed sweet potatoes, vanilla and warm chocolate. if the chocolate and potatoes are cold, this mixture will be very hard, and difficult to fold in whites.
  3. In another bowl, with clean beaters, whip the egg whites gently until they are a bit foamy. Then add in the salt and whip on a higher speed, slowly dusting in the two tablespoons of sugar to form stiff, glossy (but not dry) peaks. Fold one third of the egg whites into the sweet potato/chocolate mixture and work them in well to loosen the batter. Then, gently fold in the remaining egg whites, blending well but taking care not to deflate the mixture. 
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan or cupcake papers. Bake for about 40 minutes for the cake and 25 minutes for the cupcakes. The cake rises and looks dry, and slightly cracked on top when done. The middle should be soft but firm. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. At this point, the cake can be frozen for up to a month.
Pictures of the cake from passover 2010, decorated by my 5 year-old, he was very proud!

    The original recipe gives a chocolate ganache glaze, but I didn't think it needed more chocolate. My mother likes to melt chocolate and pour it over the top of the cake. I have been more inclined to leave it plain, or top it with a salted caramel buttercream or torched swiss meringue.

    To make a simple meringue frosting:
    2 eggwhites
    1/2 cup sugar

    Put the eggwhites and sugar in a heat proof mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. wisk constantly until sugar is disolved and whites are very warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water and using electric mixer whisk whites until cool, about 7-10 minutes. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes. To brown, use a hand torch, or set cakes under the oven broiler for 20 seconds or until edges of meringue are golden.

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    1 comment:

    1. I made this for 2nd Seder and it was a huge hit even if it didn't look as pretty as yours! Nobody could believe it was made with sweet potatoes! I did the chocolate ganache which was such an easy frosting.