There is no denying the hold the pumpkin spice everything has on American food culture during the fall. From lattes to cookies to ice cream to….kettle corn, pumpkin has taken over as the ingredient that people reach for to bring a bit of autumn festivity into their lives. But growing up as a Black child, pumpkin never really had much sway in my family’s home, and as an adult, it still doesn’t. During the holidays, there is absolutely no way you’ll ever see a pumpkin pie — or anything pumpkin — on our dining table. Instead, that treasured dessert designation is held by the unassuming sweet potato, which we bake into pies, cakes and even rolls.
This bread is my homage to the root vegetable that holds such a special place in my heart, both culturally and as a new mom. Sweet potato puree is the very first solid food I ever fed my baby girl, and this recipe is inspired by one of the meals I made in order to introduce her to new flavors.
In an effort to keep her meals interesting, and her palate hopefully on the more adventurous side, I decided to simmer sweet potato chunks in creamy coconut milk along with a few crushed cardamom pods for flavor. She loved them, and after tasting them, I did too. It made me think about what an amazing bread these flavors would make, especially with the holidays approaching. After a few failed attempts, I finally came up with a workable recipe that tastes like everything I love about sweet potatoes and the holiday season.
The loaf’s tender crumb has an unmistakably floral note thanks to the cardamom, while the coconut milk adds a touch of nuttiness. With a few pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, it’s a treat that works just as well in the morning with a strong cup of coffee (or a pumpkin latte if you absolutely must) as it does as a dessert. It also holds up in the freezer if you want to prepare it in advance and drop a few loaves off to family and friends.
So while pumpkin may keep its strong hold on the fall, I’ll be enjoying this festive bread — and all things sweet potato — now and for the rest of the year.
Cardamom Coconut Sweet Potato Loaf Recipe
Makes 1 9×5-inch loaf
1 good-sized sweet potato (about ¾ pound)
200 mL (½ of a 13.5-ounce can) coconut milk
2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon apple pie spice *
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup (200 grams) brown sugar
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
½ cup neutral oil, such as canola, grapeseed, or sunflower
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Step 1: Peel the sweet potato and cut it into large cubes. Place it in a saucepan and add the coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat until it’s just high enough to maintain a good simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring a couple of times, until the sweet potato chunks are very soft and starting to break down, and the coconut milk is reduced to a thick glaze, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
Step 2: While the sweet potato cools, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat a 9×5-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray or butter and flour.
Step 3: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, apple pie spice, cardamom, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Step 4: When the potatoes have cooled, transfer them to a mixing bowl (or use a large bowl with a hand mixer) and whip until they break down to form a smooth, soft puree. Add the sugars, oil, eggs, and vanilla, and whip until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.
Step 5: Add the dry ingredients, and mix on a low speed until well incorporated and no streaks or lumps remain (do not overmix).
Step 6: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes (or until cool enough to handle easily), then turn it out onto a rack and cool fully before slicing.
Note: If you don’t have apple pie spice, just use ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg and ⅛ teaspoon allspice.
Ryan Shepard is an Atlanta-based food and spirits writer. She loves Mexican food, bourbon and New Orleans.
Celeste Noche is a Filipino American food, travel, and portrait photographer based between Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.
Recipe tested by Deena Prichep