As the autumnal weather turns wintry, we automatically begin thinking about holiday menus. Roasts, sides, and, of course, dessert. There are the classics: pumpkin and apple pie, gingerbread, crisps filled with pears and cranberries. Beyond those, we’re also very into another variety: root vegetable desserts. While you often see root veggies like parsnips and beets in side dishes, as it turns out, their dense texture and sweet, earthy flavors make for excellent desserts, too. Give these not-so-typical recipes a try—embrace root veggies with a little sugar, spice, and everything nice.
Sweet potato pie
We cover them in marshmallows, mash them with butter, and cut them into fries—sweet potatoes are endlessly versatile and easy to prepare. So why not also make pie?
16 ounces peeled, roughly diced sweet potatoes
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
1 whole nutmeg
3 ¼ cups milk
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
Store bought pie dough
Peel and dice sweet potatoes. Halve vanilla bean and scrape out seeds, reserving the seeds for later use. In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine sweet potatoes, empty vanilla pod, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, milk, cream, and sugar.
Bring to a boil over high heat, then adjust to medium-low and maintain a gentle simmer (higher heat may cause the milk to curdle). Scrape frequently with a flexible spatula to prevent milk solids from building up around the side, and simmer until sweet potatoes are fall-apart tender and dairy has condensed into a thick sauce, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F. Remove vanilla bean pod and spices from saucier and purée sweet potato and dairy mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. (If needed, transfer to a smaller container to avoid splashing.) Whisk in ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, salt, and vanilla seeds, followed by eggs. If you like, strain through a fine-mesh strainer before pouring into prepared pie crust.
Bake pie until gently set in the middle, about 40 minutes. Cool at least 20 minutes before slicing with a chef’s knife, pausing to wipe the blade clean as needed.
Ginger whipped cream
It may not be a vegetable—in fact it’s officially a plant—but ginger is without a doubt a root. We like to use it as a zingy addition to a classic dessert topping: whipped cream. Try it on the sweet potato pie, trust.
1-inch piece of ginger
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Trim and discard skin of ginger and, using a microplane or smallest holes of a box grater, finely grate. Place in a large bowl and stir in cream and powdered sugar. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, whip until thickened, fluffy, and stiff peaks form. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Love carrot cake? Well, time to swap in another hearty root vegetable: parsnip. For an equally sensational (if slightly less orange) dessert, topped with cream cheese frosting, these little cakes will make you see parsnips in a whole new way.
1 cup flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract, divided
2 cups grated parsnip (about 1 large parsnip)
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
Peel and grate parsnip, to yield two cups. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, eggs, oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and parsnip. Stir in flour mixture.
Line a 12 muffin tin with paper liners. Divide batter among cups. Make until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 22–25 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes.
Whisk butter and cream cheese until pale and fluffy. Whisk in powdered sugar and remaining vanilla extract. Frost cupcakes.
Beet red velvet cake
You’ve probably had red velvet cake before, but instead of using food coloring, this version employs a naturally red food—beets. Fun fact: The original red velvet cake was so-named (and so-colored) because of an interaction between buttermilk, white vinegar, and non-Dutch process cocoa.
3 medium beets
¾ cup butter, plus more for greasing pan
¾ cup buttermilk
juice of 1 large lemon
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
1⅛ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1¾ cup granulated sugar
Store-bought cream cheese frosting
Heat oven to 350F. Wash beets and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake until the tip of a knife slides easily into the largest beet, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool until beets can be handled, then peel. Butter two 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment and then butter again. In a food processor, chop beets to pieces about the size of finely diced onions. Measure 1 cup and set aside. Return cup of beets to the food processor. Purée with buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar and vanilla until smooth.
Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Set aside. In a stand mixer, beat butter until soft. Slowly add sugar and beat until creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Alternate adding flour mixture and beet mixture to butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and beating for 10 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the bowl after each addition of the wet ingredients.
Divide batter between prepared cake pans, smoothing the tops. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove pans from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. To assemble, remove one cake from its pan and peel away parchment. Place flat side down on a serving platter. Drop about 1 cup of icing onto cake and, using a flat spatula, spread evenly over top. Remove the second cake from its pan and remove parchment. Place flat side down on top of first layer. Use extra frosting to cover top and sides of cake.
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