Sweet Potato Cobbler and a Lesson in Love

If it’s true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then my husband’s heart belongs to another woman. Since we’ve been married, he has sung the praises of her pinto beans, her cornbread, her fried pies.

She had the culinary Midas touch. At her hand the most common ingredients turned into delicacies. Feasts fit for a king emerged from her humble kitchen — that is if kings sop up red-eye gravy with cat head biscuits.

Who is this other woman? His Mawmaw. And we all know when it comes to cooking you can’t compete with a man’s Mawmaw.

But I still try.

Especially as Thanksgiving nears, when my husband starts to get a faraway look in his eyes. He seems distant, distracted. I know it’s coming.

“I sure wish I had some sweet potato cobbler…” His voice trails off wistfully.

There it is, the penultimate holiday dessert as far as my husband is concerned — Mawmaw’s sweet potato cobbler. The recipe? Lost to the years. Never written down. Maybe a creation from what was on hand at the time. Who knows?

What I do know this: the perfect sweet potato cobbler is elusive. Like a snipe. And I am always on the hunt for new ideas, new recipes, something, anything close to the cobbler of my husband’s childhood.

Every year I try to make it. Every year I know it will never compare Mawmaw’s. Every year my husband eats a big bowl of my latest attempt and gives me a kiss on the cheek for trying.

So today I give you my latest incarnation of sweet potato cobbler. Even though it’s not Mawmaw’s, it’s still pretty darn good. And it might just win you a few hearts this Thanksgiving.

Sweet Potato Cobbler

For the filling

  • 2½  pounds sweet potatoes
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup pure cane syrup
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the dough

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1¼ cups whole milk

Make filling:

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into thin slices. Combine potatoes with the rest of the filling ingredients and simmer, covered, until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Remove potatoes from the liquid and boil the liquid, uncovered, until it is reduced to about 2 cups and syrupy.

Make dough and bake cobbler:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in milk with a fork until a dough forms, adding milk as necessary.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead 7 or 8 times. Divide dough in half, then form each half into a disk.

Roll out 1 half with a floured rolling pin until it is about ⅛ inch thick. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, slice dough into strips about 1½ inches wide, then cut each strip into rectangles to make dumplings.

Roll out remaining dough into another, then cut into strips about 1½ inches wide for top of cobbler.

Spoon a third of sweet potatoes evenly into a baking dish, then top with a layer of dumplings, leaving some space between them. Add another third of the sweet potatoes, then another layer of dumplings. Top with remaining third of potatoes and pour boiling syrup over the whole thing. Top with remaining strips of dough in a lattice pattern.

Bake cobbler until top is golden, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.