Travelgiving: Sweet Potato Tartlets with Five Spice Fluff

Travel Inspired Sweet Potato Pie for Thanksgiving

Last year I wrote a series of recipes I called "Thanksgiving Basics" in case you're far from home or hosting Thanksgiving for the first time and just want to keep it classic and simple. You can find them all here. This year I'll be doing things a little more travel inspired for our second annual big expat Thanksgiving (we'll be hosting around 25) but definitely keeping some of the classics in the mix.

Our 3rd Stop: Thailand, where I bought our star anise heavy five spice powder or China, where five spice comes from.

Our T-Day Inspiration: Candied Yams (I'm using the common name for this dish even though what you're eating in the US is always a sweet potato)

I grew up eating plenty of sweet potatoes as baked potatoes but the classic marshmallow topped candied yams never graced my Thanksgiving table so even the recipe I wrote last year isn't the most traditional. I love sweet potatoes and I love home-made marshmallows so I figured there had to be a way to make this dish my own. Unfortunately, when I did a more traditional casserole with my homemade honey five spice marshmallows (delicious, and will definitely get a write up of their own) they just totally melted without browning. I'm not entirely sure why. It also was so sweet when I tried it, I just couldn't imagine serving it with the main course and decided to revise and make a dessert. I remembered a few years ago, I worked at a catering company where we had a bride specifically request this Martha Stewart cake with it's toasted marshmallow frosting and I knew that was something I could make my own that would stand up to either a torch or a broiler. I will say, even as a dessert, this ends up being a little much for me, but if you've got guests know for their sweet tooth, this is bound to be a winner.


  • A basic 3-2-1 Pie Dough, like 1.5 times this one

For the Sweet Potato Filling:

  • 1.5 pounds Sweet Potato*
  • 2 ounces Butter (melted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Five Spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons AP Flour
  • 3/4 cup cream

For the Fluff:

  • 1.5 sheets Gelatin
  • 1/4 cup Egg Whites
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon Five Spice Powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons Water

*I've found two types of sweet potatoes in Korea. The smaller, more widely available ones are too starchy to work well for this recipe. The ones to use are the "pumpkin sweet potatoes" (which can be found at Costco this time of year) which are more similar to American varietals but still a little on the starchy side. I bet this recipe turns out even better with soft US sweet potatoes. I think if I do this again with Korean sweet potatoes, I'll probably cut out the flour.


  1. First things first, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Take out your chilled pie dough and divide into six pieces. Roll out a piece into circle 3/8th inch thick. Place into tartlet pan, making sure to go all the way down into the corners. Trim around the edges so you have an overhang about the height of the tart pan. Fold the overhang around the circle, creating a double thickness tart edge. You can now use a paring knife to trim off any height above the pan for a clean look or just leave it for a more rustic look. Repeat with the remaining five pieces of dough. Blind bake the tartlet crust to light golden brown. (You can also just do this recipe as one 9 inch pie)
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Peel and cube your sweet potatoes. Cook until fork tender and drain. In a large bowl, mash potatoes with a fork or potato masher. Mix in butter, salt and spices.
  3. In a separate bowl, use a stand or hand mixer to whisk together yolks and sugar until pale yellow and creamy. Fold into the sweet potatoes. Next mix in the flour and then the cream.
  4. In a clean bowl, use a stand or hand mixer, whip egg whites to soft peak. Fold 1/2 the egg white mixture into the sweet potato mix. Repeat with the remaining half until just incorporated.
  5. Divide sweet potato filling evenly between the six tartlets. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the center is just set.
  6. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Once cool, you can store for 24 hours in an airtight container before adding the fluff.

Adding the Fluff:

  1. Place the sheet gelatin in ice water until soft
  2. Begin beating egg whites to soft peak
  3. While the eggs are beating, heat sugar, honey, five spice, salt and water to 235 Fahrenheit. Immediately remove from heat. squeeze excess water off bloomed gelatin and then mix into the hot sugar.
  4. With mixer on low, slowly pour hot sugar into the eggs whites. Once all the sugar is in, turn up to high speed and let whip until cool and shiny (this will probably take about ten minutes, that sugar is HOT).
  5. I used a piping bag with a round tip to pipe the fluff until it completely covered the top of the tart and then I used a small offset spatula to shape it how I wanted. You can pipe or spread in whatever design you want.
  6. Once all your tartlets are covered with fluff, you can either torch them or stick under the broiler for about five minutes to brown. I don't have a torch here, so I used my "fish drawer" which is basically the Korean version of a broiler.
  7. Serve immediately or store at room temperature up to six hours.

Gluten free version: I'm fairly confident you could also do this as a casserole. Depending on the size of your casserole dish, you'd probably want to do one and a half times to double the recipe. Don't make a crust and omit the flour in the sweet potato filling. If you're serving it with the main course, don't double the fluff recipe, if you're doing it as more of a sweet potato pudding dessert, go to town.

Flourless Chocolate Cake, Fresh Strawberries and Whipped Sour Cream

Flourless chocolate cake, fresh strawberries and whipped sour cream.

Am I posting this flourless chocolate cake recipe because it's Pesach? Yes. Yes I am. But you certainly don't have to be observing or even a member of the tribe or believe gluten is the root of all evil to enjoy the rich decadence of this cake. You can, of course, replace the flourless chocolate cake in this recipe with your favorite chocolate sponge, but the intensity of this cake contrasted with the sharpness of the whipped sour cream is what really takes this cake up a notch from Birthday Party to Plated Dessert.

You'll notice in this recipe I use gelatin to stabilize the whipped sour cream to allow me to build this cake in a ring mold. You can omit the gelatin but it means you'll probably want to build this cake right before serving, with a more rustic, icebox cake look or just serve it as slices of cake with a dollop of whipped sour cream and fresh strawberries on top.

If you just don't have a ring mold or like the idea of plating better, but still want to do as much as possible in advance, keep the gelatin in the recipe and the stabilized whipped sour cream should hold in the fridge for about twenty four hours.

This cake is incredibly rich, so even though it's only a nine inch round, I'd say it serves about 15-18.


For the Cake:

  • 8 oz Bittersweet Chocolate (chopped)
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) Butter
  • 1 1/2 cups Sugar
  • 6 Eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon Salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 3/4 cup Sour Cream
  • 3 sheets Gelatin (I don't know the strength I'm using because Korea)
  • 2 tablespoons Cointreau or other liqueur
  • 1 cup Strawberries (sliced)
  • 1/3 cup Strawberry Jam


  1. Preheat your oven to 350. Grease the bottom of two 9 inch pans, cover with parchment and grease again. (Your life will be easier if you have springforms, but I don't have appropriately sized ones and it worked out fine.)
  2. Using a double boiler, melt together your butter and chocolate. I always line my bowls with the butter before putting in the chopped chocolate as an extra precaution against burning. Once completely melted, whisk in one cup of the sugar and set aside.
  3. Using a stand or hand mixer (or a whisk and a lot of elbow grease) whisk the eggs and remaining half cup of sugar to ribbon stage. Reduce the speed to low and slowly pour in the melted chocolate mixtures. When the chocolate mixture is most of the way incorporated, whisk in the cocoa powder and salt.
  4. Divide evenly between the two prepare pans. Bake for twenty to twenty five minutes or until a tester poked in the middle comes out with moist crumbs.
  5. Cool cake for ten minutes in the pan before removing and cooling completely on a rack.

Whipped Sour Cream (When Cake is Ready for Assembly)

  1. Bloom sheet gelatin in cold water.
  2. Whip heavy cream and powdered sugar to medium peak. While whipping, squeeze out the bloomed gelatin and then melt in 3 tablespoons water or a mixture of two tablespoons liqueur and one tablespoon water. (I do this in the microwave, only do about fifteen seconds but you can also use a double boiler)
  3. With the mixer on low speed, drizzle the gelatin into the whipped cream. Add in the sour cream and mix until incorporated.


  1. If necessary, trim cakes to the size of the ring
  2. Put your ring on a cake board and line with a cake collar (acetate strip).
  3. Carefully place your bottom cake layer inside the ring. Arrange strawberries in an even layer covering the cake.
  4. Scoop half the whipped sour cream over the strawberries and use a small offset spatula to spread and smooth.
  5. Carefully place your second layer inside the ring.
  6. In a small ramekin, heat strawberry jam for twenty seconds in the microwave. Use a small offset spatula to spread a thin layer over the cake. Let cool.
  7. Scoop remaining whipped sour cream over the top of the cake. Use a large offset spatula to make a smooth top or use a smaller one to make swirls for a textured look.
  8. Cover in a cake dome and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to twenty four.
  9. Remove acetate strip and slice. This is definitely a cake where you want to have some hot water to clean your knife between every cut.

Simple Sunchokes

raw sunchokes

I was pretty surprised the first time I got a bag of sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) in my CSA back in November. Most of the produce we get is pretty Korean and it's an exciting week for us when vegetables that are either expensive here (like broccoli) or impossible to find (like kale) show up in our box and even in America, sunchokes are a pretty under-utilized vegetable. I had always assumed that sunchokes were native to North America but them showing up in my Korean CSA made me momentarily question my assumptions.

Some quick internetting taught me that my assumptions were right, they are indigenous to North America, but it hasn't taught me how they got to Korea or how they're used in Korean recipes (which might solely be because I'm searching in English). If somebody with either better research or Korean skills than me can answer these questions, I would love to know, and gladly update this post.

One of the things that really struck me while I was reading about sunchokes, was how many article or recipes warned that they might get mushy and should be cooked quickly to keep them crunchy or said that you should just use them as a replacement for potatoes. I think both these ideas devalue a truly delicious and unique tuber. With just a little bit of preplanning but a low amount of effort, you can really get the most of the sunchoke's artichoke heart flavor and change the texture from crunchy to creamy.

This is more about method the measurements.

The first step, of course, is to clean your sunchokes. The most recent batch we got looked already scrubbed but they're often filthy. I find the best method is to soak them in a large bowl or plugged sink to get off the first layer of filth and then I give them a good scrub with a brush and another rinse in a strainer. This method of cooking requires keeping the skin on, so getting the dirt out of all the knobby corners is crucial.

Next I halve them lengthwise and then chop them into roughly one inch pieces. They should be as close to the same size as possible for even cooking times but they're a pretty funky shaped vegetable, so don't worry too much if there's some variation in size. After you've got them all cut, put them in a container to marinate - tupperware, glassware, a mason jar, ziploc, whatever you've got around that you can close or cover and refrigerate.

For this most recent batch I then threw in a handful of chopped spring onions, smoked sea salt and cracked black pepper. For Thanksgiving, I had purchased every type of fresh herb I could find in Korea (not many) and added a handful of torn up basil leaves, rosemary, thyme, mustard seed, chopped leek, smoked salt and pepper. My spring onion ones were good, but if you have access to fresh herbs, you'll get a more complex, interesting flavor. Pour olive oil into the container until everything is almost all the way covered. Mix everything together. I usually use a gloved hand but you can also use a spoon or if your confident of your containers seal, close it up and give a good shake.

Refrigerate for at least 24 and up to 48 hours.

Remove from the refrigerator about an hour before cooking and let come to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 375 (Fahrenheit). Use a slotted spoon to remove the sunchokes from the marinade and spread them out on a sheetpan (I made the mistake of using a silicone baking mat instead of a bare sheetpan this last time, and they got nice and creamy but really didn't brown as well). It's fine if most of the herbs come with them. Sprinkle with some more salt. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until the sunchokes are browned and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

You can either serve the sunchokes hot or toss them with a little more marinade for a room temperature salad.

You'll probably have a fair amount of olive oil leftover but don't worry, it doesn't have to go to waste. Keep your herb-y olive oil in the fridge and use it to toss other vegetable before roasting or in a vinaigrette.

Roasted Kumquat, Dried Cherry and Chocolate Scones

dark chocolate, roasted kumquat, cherry scone

This last week we got a pint of kumquats in our CSA box and since it didn't seem like we were going to eat them all, I figured I would candy them. This is what working in a kitchen does to you, any fruit that sits in the fridge too long either gets candied or turned into jam. For a future mystery something. But candying just seemed such a BORING things to do with them. I decided it was time to jump on the roasting citrus bandwagon and HOLY SHIT, why didn't I jump on this bandwagon sooner, guys?

Sadly, not all of my kumquats were fit for roasting. A lot of the pint was all pith and seeds, which I did end up candying. I separated out the fleshiest ones for roasting, which only ended up being ten kumquats but they were ten kumquats that were turned into savory, citrusy, spicy heaven. What more could a kumquat want from life?

There's no real recipe for this part of the scone making.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the end off of the kumquats then slice into four pieces. Remove the seeds. Put your kumquats on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. I used smoked salt and two finely chopped Thai chillies on mine. You can use whatever fancy or not fancy salt you desire and crushed red pepper flakes if Thai chillies aren't available but I really recommend the smoked salt and chillies. Roast for ten to fifteen minutes, checking and tossing every five minutes. Remove them from the oven when they start to caramelize and brown. Let cool. Taste. Decide they're too good to use in scones because you live in America and can put them in a salad with butterleaf lettuce and chevre and avocado and really show off their flavor. I can't do that though, and scones are delicious, so if you still want to make scones, I've got you covered.

Roasted kumquat, cherry and chocolate scone


  • 3 1/3 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon 1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 cup Sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) butter cubed (cold)
  • 3/4 cups Whole Milk
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/3 cup Coarsely Chopped Dark Chocolate
  • 1/3 cup Chopped Roasted Kumquats
  • 1/3 cup Chopped Dried Cherries

Put it Together

  1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to flake in the cubed cold butter like you're making pie dough until it resembles course sand with some larger pea sized chunks of butter. Toss in the chocolate, kumquats and dried cherries, distributing evenly throughout the mix.
  2. Whisk together the milk and egg. Make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and pour in the milk and egg mixture. Use a wooden spoon to mix the dough just until it's shaggy and then dump onto a lightly floured surface. Gently squeeze the dough together until it forms a ball. Scones are more about gentle squeezes than kneading. We want those flaky layers.
  3. Pat into a disc, wrap well in plastic wrap and chill at least one hour or overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out disc to one inch thick. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut the disc into 8-10 wedges. Space evenly on a parchment or silicon mat lined pan. Brush with milk and sprinkle generously with more sugar.
  5. Bake 18-22 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool on rack. Scones are best consumed within twenty four hours.

Veronika Varenyky

or The Best Damn Potato Pierogi

Lviv Veronika Varenyky

Now look, I'm not trying to insult anybody's Bubbi, but last week I wrote that I thought the best potato varenyky (pierogi) in the world came from Veronika in Lviv, Ukraine and it's a statement I stand by. I thought I had had decadent varenyky. I'm the woman at the Ukranian East Village Restaurant (no, I don't mean Veselka) ordering the varenyky fried with butter, caramelized onions and sour cream. I don't mess around. At Veronika the varenyky are always boiled but it doesn't make them seem less over the top. Instead of caramelized onions on the outside, the potato filling tastes like it is mixed with sour cream and caramelized onions and the varenyky themselves are then drenched in clarified butter. Don't worry, if that all still sounds too tame to you, you still get more sour cream for dipping the final product. Even though we were eating it July, this is the kind of food you crave in the depths of winter so it makes sense that it took me until December to work on what I think its a pretty close copy of those little pillows of potato-y heaven.

I'm not going to lie to you, making varenyky is a not difficult but pretty time consuming process. Like, a "set aside a whole Sunday afternoon" sort of process. The good news is this recipe yields about 60 and they freeze very well, so unless you're an Olympian or competitive eater, all that hard work should last you a few meals.


For the Dough:

  • 1 Egg
  • 2 tablespoons Sour Cream
  • 1/4 cup Whole Milk
  • 3 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 and 1/2 Yellow Onion (medium dice)
  • 3 ounces (3/4 stick) Butter
  • 9 medium Russet Potatoes
  • 3/4 cups Sour Cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt

For the topping:

  • 4 ounces (1 stick) of Butter
  • Alllllll the Sour Cream

First things first, let's make the potato filling so that it cools all the way by the time you need it.

  1. Start a large pot of water boiling. Peel your potatoes and cut 'em into big chunks like you would for making mashed potatoes (side note: you can also just eat this filling as amazingly decadent mashed potatoes if you add a splash of milk). Once the water is boiling, cook the potatoes until they're tender and can be easily pierced with a fork, drain.
  2. While you're waiting for the water to boil or while your potatoes are boiling, start your caramelized onions in a small to medium sautee pan. There are two secrets to caramelized onions: don't skimp on the fat and slow and low (also known as FTP or forgotten to perfection). For a truly even and delicious caramelization, you either have to have a lot more patience than I have or will yourself to actually ignore the onion. Put the onions and the butter in the sautee pan over low heat. Throw in a pinch of salt. Walk away. Don't be like me and stand there constantly nudging and stirring and creeeeeeping up the heat just a little. It's not the way. Do check your onions occasionally to make sure they're still simmering in a pool of butter. If there's no more butter in the pan, add more. I know what the recipe says, it's ok, add more. The onions are done when your whole house smells like heaven and they're a lovely golden brown. Pour the onions and the butter into a bowl so they stop cooking.
  3. Next you're going to want either a stand mixer or hand mixer. If you're using a stand mixer, you're probably going to have to do this in two batches. Put half the potatoes, half the onions and the butter they're swimming in, half the sour cream and half the salt into the mixer bowl. Paddle until smooth and creamy. You can add a little more sour cream if it's not smoothing out but this mixture should be dryer and firmer than you might want mashed potatoes. Taste. Add more salt if it needs it. Scrape out the bowl and repeat with the remaining half of the ingredients. Mix everything together in a big bowl and give it one more taste. Cover and chill in the fridge.

Next let's show this dough who's boss. In an ideal world, we'd do this in the stand mixer but don't do that, this dough needs tough love and you'll burn out your stand mixer's engine.

  1. Put your flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, mix together your milk, egg and sour cream. Pour the liquids into the well and use a wooden spoon to stir into the flour. When it gets too hard to mix with a wooden spoon, switch to your hands and bring it all together. Dump out onto a counter and knead until smooth. It's going to take some elbow grease. This dough is much much more like a very stiff pasta dough than a bread dough.
  2. Cover in plastic wrap and let rest one hour. If you don't let it rest a full hour, it's going to be impossible to roll out. Trust me.
  3. Uncover the dough and portion into thirds (do not ball or work the dough). Take one third to roll out and cover the remaining two thirds with plastic. Roll the dough as thin as you can, ideally about 1/8th of an inch thick*. Use a round cutter 3 inches in diameter to cut out as many circles as you can. Set the circles aside in a single layer and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
  4. Take all your scraps from the first third of dough and incorporate into the next third as you roll them out. Again cut out as many circles as you can. Place on top of plastic wrap in a single layer and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining scraps and one third of dough. I managed to get 60 circles all told.

*My husband's family actually uses a pasta roller for this part. If you've got one, there's no shame in making this recipe a little less work.

Now it's time for assembly and cooking.

  1. Get your chilled potato mixture out of the fridge. Get yourself a small bowl or ramekin of water. Line up five dough circles. In the top half of each dough circle put about a heaping spoonful of filling. I just used a regular spoon, not a measuring spoon or anything fancy. The next part is partially up to preference. I found my dough mostly stuck together fine without wetting it, but if your dough is starting to dry out or your just concerned you're not getting a good enough seal - wet one finger and trace around the edge of one half of the circle. Pick up the dough in your hands and fold the bottom to the top. Firmly seal all around the edges. Repeat until your out of filling or dough or both. Once you start getting fast, try lining up ten at a time. If you're a speed demon, maybe even twenty.
  2. Decide how many varenyky you plan on eating. Freeze the rest of them in airtight containers with double layers of parchment between each layer to prevent them from sticking together.
  3. Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil.
  4. While you're waiting for the water to boil, place one stick of butter in a small sauce pan, melt over low heat skimming off the foam. Cook just until it starts to smell nutty. Set aside.
  5. Once your water has come to a boil, gently drop the varenyky into the pot. After they've floated to the surface like raviolis, let them cook 2 minutes more. Spoon a small pool of your buerre noisette onto a plate. Use a slotted spoon to removed the varenyky and put into the pool of butter. Drizzle with more butter and enjoy with copious amounts of sour cream. You earned it.