Phillip and I just returned from a trip to Wales and Ireland, the purpose of our trip having been to run the Snowdonia Eryri Marathon. I have
bittersweet feelings about being back. I love being home. I love seeing my family and being with my pups again. However, I really miss the people and landscape of Caernarfon, Llanberis, and Bangor, and the hustle-bustle of Dublin. Our time in the UK was amazing, and the marathon was the race of a lifetime. Because of the timing of our trip I feel as if we missed Halloween. We were gone several days leading up to the holiday, and actually spent the whole of October 31st traveling back, landing in Austin early morning November 1st. We did see many signs of the celebration of the holiday in stores and on streets where we ran and walked while we were in the UK. I think, though, that perhaps the lack of traditional fall foods I’m used to eating contributed my feeling as if somehow Halloween passed Phillip and me by this year. Now that we’re back home and looking forward to Thanksgiving I can indulge in those traditional North American autumn dishes, such as sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows.
Sweet potatoes as a food source have been around for a long time, dating to Central and South America before Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas. Introduced to Europe by the Spanish explorers, the sweet potato then made its way to North America. By the 19th century the vegetable found its way, in some form, onto Thanksgiving tables in the United States. Conversely, marshmallows as a traditional ingredient in the sweet potato casserole has a much younger history than the vegetable is complements, dating to 1917, and is a testimony to the successful tradition of America marketing. The Angelus Marshmallows company, maker of the first mass produced marshmallows (1907) as well as the first manufacturer of Cracker Jacks, desired to help Americans find uses for its product. The company commissioned Janet McKenzie Hill, founder of Boston Cooking School Magazine, to develop recipes using marshmallows. As a result of its collaboration with Hill, the company published Recipes for the Use of Angelus Marshmallows in 1917, which includes the recipe for sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows.
Over one hundred years later this casserole still graces the holiday tables of Americans. As an aside, a glance through the recipes in the original text of the cookbook (see the previous link) reveals other marshmallow recipes common to my childhood. The women whose cooking I ate growing up were obviously familiar with these recipes, if not with the cookbook itself. What an example of great marketing: marshmallows in sweet and savory dishes, in recipes that are still used over a century later! At this point I must confess that despite the less than desirable ingredients (hence my guilty pleasure), I love marshmallows, and especially marshmallow creme. Marshmallow creme (which, coincidentally, dates to 1917 as well – popularized by one Archibald Query) is versatile and often easier to manage than marshmallows, depending upon the way one is using marshmallows in a dish.
The flavor of sweet potato casserole with marshmallows is too delicious to relegate to the dinner table just a few times a year, which is why I like to use sweet potato flour to make a treat that can be enjoyed all year around (except that it still feels best saving it for the autumn season). Interestingly, sweet potato flour is not an invention of the 21st century alternative flour movement. George Washington Carver experimented with sweet potatoes at the end of the 19th century, even publishing sweet potato recipes that include a method for making sweet potato flour. In fact, Quentin R. Skrabec, in his work The Green Vision of Henry Ford and George Washington Carver, notes that Carver convinced the people who ran the dining hall at Tuskegee, the university where he taught, researched, and experimented, to replace a third of the wheat flour with sweet potato flour. This substitution helped the dining hall to save $12 daily, since sweet potatoes cost less than wheat flour at the time. Additionally, during WWI the US military called Carver to help it substitute sweet potato for wheat flour to ease the shortage of wheat during the war (North Carolina: McFarland and Co, Inc, 2013. 82-83).
Using sweet potato flour for a twist on an American holiday classic casserole, then, isn’t so far from tradition! In addition to the sweet potato flour in this recipe, I use oat flour. Here I have to offer a warning, aimed at my fellow celiac-sufferers, about using oat flour. Oat flour does present some challenges for some celiacs. For the most part people with celiac disease who use flour from companies that adhere to the oat purity protocol will be safe from cross-contamination. If you have celiac and have experienced some digestive symptoms after having ingested oats or oat flour that you know is not cross-contaminated, your symptoms may be due to the increased fiber and may improve over time as you continue to add oats to your diet. For years I avoided oats and oat flour, fearing cross-contamination. I started using oats and oat flour this past summer when I made gluten-free lactation cookies (yes – they are a thing – who knew?) for my daughter-in-law after my twin grandsons were born. She can eat gluten, but my son cannot. I developed a gluten-free recipe so that I would not contaminate my kitchen and so that my son could taste the cookies if he wanted to. I found I tolerate oat and oat flour well, but I do use only products from companies that follow the oat purity protocol. Non-celiacs who eat gluten-free can safely eat oat flour from any source. Sorghum or brown rice flours may be substituted for the oat flour (I recommend Authentic Foods superfine sorghum flour, and either Authentic Foods or Anthony’s superfine brown rice flour).
Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Dessert Bars
This delicious sweet potato recipe turns the traditional Thanksgiving sweet potato marshmallow casserole into a dessert that can be eaten anytime of the year!
- 4 oz butter
- 100 grams sugar
- 100 grams grated piloncillo (or brown sugar)
- 40 grams sweet potato flour
- 40 grams oat flour (celiacs, use purity protocol oat flour)
- 40 grams arrowroot starch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 7 oz jar marshmallow creme
- 1 cup pecan halves
- 2 tablespoons pure cane or pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon butter
For the Sweet Potato Bars: Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8 inch or 9 inch square pan. Melt the butter in a medium microwave safe bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the melted butter and stir or whisk until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350F until slightly browned and a tooth pick stuck in the center comes out clean (about twenty minutes).
For the Glazed Pecans: While the sweet potato bars are baking, prepare the glazed pecans. Melt one tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of either pure maple or pure cane syrup in a pan. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts into the syrup and the mixture becomes bubbly. Add the pecan halves to the syrup mixture. Stir the nuts in the syrup for about three minutes. Pour the pecans onto a piece of parchment paper, spreading to separate into a single layer. Allow to cool. When the nuts have cooled, cover them with another sheet of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, gently roll over or pound the nuts until they are coarsely chopped.
Assembling the Sweet Potato Bars: Spoon the marshmallow creme into a bowl and stir until smooth. Spread the marshmallow creme onto the sweet potato bars as soon as the bars come out of the oven, while still hot. If the creme doesn't spread easily enough, zap it a couple of seconds in the microwave. After spreading the marshmallow creme evenly over the bars, place the pan under the broiler and broil until the surface of the marshmallow creme is roasted as desired. After removing the sweet potato bars from under the broiler, immediately press the coarsely chopped glazed pecans evenly into the warm roasted marshmallow cream. Cool on a wire rack completely before serving.