The problem with "regional" cookbooks is always the same. The reader wants the regional recipes, but they have also seen all those regional recipes. You either get the same book over and over, or a book that is not true to the region. Walking the line between those two points is a tough one. Fortunately, for anyone with a sweet tooth, David Guas has managed to walk that thin line, hell, he has managed to skip over it with a somersault or two.
For years he was the executive Pastry Chef of DC Coast and its sister restaurants and was named Pastry Chef of the Year in Washington. Bon Appétit magazine named him a "Dessert Star." His book, DamGoodSweet, can make you a dessert star.
This recipe is a perfect example of taking a Southern classic, Sweet Potato Pie and transforming it into some that is the same and wildly different.
Sweet Potato Tarte Tatin
One 11-by-14-inch sheet all-butter store-bought puff pastry dough, defrosted
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the pastry
1/4 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds (2 or 3 same-size) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Have a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet at hand.
Place the sheet of puff pastry dough on a clean work surface and cut out a 10- or 12-inch round, depending on the size skillet you’re using (roll out if necessary to smooth over any creases). Set the round onto the prepared baking sheet. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and refrigerate until ready to use.
Place 3/4 cup of sugar in a small saucepan and cover with the water. Gently stir with a spoon to make sure all of the sugar is wet (it should have the consistency of wet sand), partially cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook undisturbed for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is clear and producing syrupy-looking medium-size bubbles.
Uncover and cook until the syrup is a light amber or butterscotch color and its temperature reaches 320 degrees. Turn off the heat; the sugar will continue to cook in the pan. Once the temperature reaches 350 degrees (this will take only a few minutes), whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, waiting until each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract and the salt, stirring to combine. Pour the caramel into the cast-iron skillet.
Cover the caramel with the sweet potato slices, starting in the center and overlapping in a spiraling outward circle as you go. Top with the chilled puff pastry dough round.
Combine the egg and the milk in a liquid measuring cup; use the mixture to brush over the pastry, and then sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the edges are deep amber and the pastry is puffed and golden.
Let cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a large plate. (Make sure the diameter of the plate is larger than 10 inches!) Cut into wedges and serve warm.
You will never see sweet potatoes in the same light.