Sweet potatoes are probably the first thing I ever put in the oven.
I can’t quite remember how old I was, but I can remember the early fascination with the magic of baking. I tore off a sheet of foil, set the oven to 420 degrees, and placed a hard, unattractive object into the oven. There was no cutting, no slicing, no mixing, no peeling. There was no other ingredient, and no other steps. And yet, after ninety minutes, a sweet smell enveloped the kitchen and much of the house, beckoning me downstairs. I grabbed the pot-holders, cut a tablespoon of butter, and sat down to dig into the soft, sweet flesh of a baked sweet potato.
I couldn’t have been older than twelve or thirteen, but I knew that this treat could not be bested by even the sweetest concoction.
In the intervening years, I’ve made many types of sweet potatoes. I’ve roasted sweet potatoes, either as cubes or as wedges. I’ve made sweet potato into fries, either grilled or baked. I’ve also made sweet potatoes into a bundt cake. And while none of these dishes is complex or demanding, that simple, baked sweet potato can best the lot.
This is my recipe for that childhood favorite, that has survived the test of time.
Baked Sweet Potato with Maple-Pecan Butter
PREP TIME: 5 minutes, plus time for softening butter
COOK TIME: 1 hour 20 minutes
YIELD: Serves 4
WHAT TO GRAB:
2 large sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 heaping tablespoon pecans, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (or plain sugar)
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roast the pecans for 10 minutes.
2. To make the butter, leave the butter out at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, until soft. Combine the butter with the pecans, sugar, syrup, and salt, and mix thoroughly. Place the butter on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a log. Twist the ends together and wrap in aluminum foil. Place in the refrigerator or freezer to firm up, depending on how soon you plan to use the butter!
3. Preheat the oven to 420 degrees.
4. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes. Pierce them with a fork in a few places. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the flesh is quite tender. Serve each sweet potato with a tablespoon or two of maple-pecan butter!