brown butter sweet potato bars


These brown butter sweet potato bars are the perfect Friendsgiving dessert: easy to transport, perfect for a crowd, and delicious to boot! The bars are topped off with a fluffy, marshmallow meringue and are on a brown butter shortbread cookie base made even more delicious with Vermont Creamerys new cultured butterjump to the recipe! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!

What is Friendsgiving?

Historically, over the last few years, Erlend and I have celebrated Thanksgiving by ourselves. Both our families lived too far awaythe flights were always too expensive and much too long for such a short holiday, and with Christmas and Hanukkah only a few weeks later, it was better to save up our limited PTO time for then.

As a result, we made our own Thanksgiving traditions. We started by celebrating with just the two of us, whipping up epic meals with non traditional, Asian-themed dishes like Chinese-style roasted duck, fish sauce brussels sprouts and rice cakes with caramelized potatoes and Korean gochujang sauce from the momofuku cookbook, and pumpkin coconut egg tarts and matcha cream pie. We had fun, but stillit was a lot of food for just the two of us!

Over the years, we invited other friends of oursthe ones also marooned by expensive flights and limited PTOto our makeshift Thanksgiving meal. These friends would bring more traditional Thanksgiving offerings like green bean casseroles, mashed potatoes, and sometimes even a whole roasted turkey to our dinners. This year, as I looked around our table, I realized that our Asian-style Thanksgiving had fully evolved into an official Friendsgiving complete with a full turkey, stuffing, and all the Thanksgiving table trimmings.

So what is Friendsgiving? To me, its exactly what it sounds like: a Thanksgiving celebration, but with your friends instead of your family. Beyond that, Friendsgiving is what you make of itit can happen instead of a traditional Thanksgiving with your family, or in conjunction with one (most folks celebrate Friendsgiving a week or so before the official dates of Thanksgiving itself). You can serve the traditional Thanksgiving table meal, or serve a menu of your choosing with a different centerpiece (ie, roast duck instead of turkey) like Erlend and I did in those early years. You can enlist friends to each bring a dish potluck style, or gather everybody early in the same kitchen to cook together. Because its a relatively new tradition, there are no ruleswell, except one: share a wonderful meal in each others company. After all, your friends are the family you choose, right?

Friendsgiving Dessert Ideas

These days, our Friendsgiving celebration has evolved into more of potluck type situation. And being the baker of the group, Im always assigned my favorite part of the meal: dessert.

And heres the truth: bringing dessert to a potluck is more challenging than it seems. Ive been burned in the past and brought something too finnicky and elaborate, or something that was too sensitive to temperature changes. I spent the entire car ride fretting nervously that it was going to collapse/melt on the way over and that wed be left dessert-less (a legitimate worst case scenario for me). Honestly, its just not the worth the stress! Similarly, Ive brought desserts that were too fancy and flavored with non-traditional flavors that barely went touched at the table. It turns out that, especially at Thanksgiving, people just want the comfort foods that remind them of home.

So here are my best tips for Friendsgiving desserts:
  1. Make a dessert that keeps well, with different components that you can make ahead.
    I dont know about you guys, but the holidays are ALWAYS the busiest time for me. There are work deadlines to meet, a ton of personal errands to run, and so on. The last thing I need to be doing is spending hours in the kitchen.

    So when I find myself strapped for time, I turn to recipes whose work I can divide up over a series of days to ensure that Im only in the kitchen for a half hour at a time. What exactly does that mean? I take a complicated recipe like a pie, which would probably take around four to five hours to make consecutively, and split up the recipe steps: on the first day, Ill make the crust (a 10-minute long project); on the second day, Ill make the filling and assemble the pie (a 30-minute long project), and on the final day, I bake and serve the pie. This is actually the basis of my new cookbook, Weeknight Baking!

  2. Make a dessert that can feed a crowd.
    I dont know if its just my friends or what, but Im actually always surprised by how little mileage a regular 9-inch pie actually gets. We always end the night with barely enough slices for everybody, with folks competitively jockeying for seconds (true story: the winner of the last slice of pumpkin pie at last years Friendsgiving was determined by an arm wrestling match). As a result, Ive started turning to large format desserts made in half sheet pans and 9 x 13-inch baking trays to ensure that theres enough dessert for everybody.

  3. Make a dessert that transports easily.
    I mentioned this before, but its VERY important, especially if Friendsgiving is being held somewhere other than your house, to think about how well a dessert will hold up when being transported in a car, bus, or even subway ride (which I used to do all the time when I lived in New York City!). Avoid making layer cakes held together by airy and unstable toppings like whipped cream; avoid making desserts like souffle or ice cream, which are temperature sensitive and must be eaten immediately.

  4. Make a dessert that is classic and comforting.
    The most crowd-pleasing desserts are always the ones with classic flavors like chocolate, salted caramel, brown butter, and more. They are classics for a reason!
With those Friendsgiving entertaining tips in mind, I have the perfect Friendsgiving dessert for you: Brown Butter Sweet Potato Squares.

Sweet Potato Pie Kinda

These brown butter sweet potato squares were inspired by a classic Thanksgiving dessert: sweet potato pie. Think of it as sweet potato pie, but in bar formtheir bar format makes them easier to transport and feed a larger crowd of people.

Although I came to close to dubbing these sweet potato pie bars, theyre definitely more cookie bar than pie. Thats because, instead of a traditional flaky pie crust, the bars are set on a brown butter shortbread crust. The shortbread crust is made with Vermont Creamerys Unsalted Cultured Butter, which I love for its delightful tang and rich, silky notes of buttermilk and hazelnut. Their butter is made with only two ingredientscream and culturesand you can really taste how fresh and high-quality it is.

The bars are then topped off with a fluffy marshmallow meringue inspired by the sweet potato casseroles topped with mini marshmallows. For a show-stopping effect, I actually like to torch the meringue in front of my friends!

Best Sweet Potato Bars Recipe Tips

  • At first glance, the recipe seems daunting: Ive divided the work up into FOUR days. Its a lot, I know, but theres actually a TON of flexibility within the schedule, and most of the recipe time in inactivethat is, youre just sitting and waiting for something to bake as opposed to prepping ingredients and making the dough/batter. The most time-consuming part of the recipe can be attributed to roasting the sweet potatoes; they officially take an hour to roast in the oven, but youll need to cool them with the oven toothis is the trick that gets them extra sweet and caramelized. You can roast the sweet potatoes up to 1 week in advance of making the shortbread crust and assembling the bars. If that still sounds like too much work for you, go ahead and replace the sweet potatoes with canned pumpkin puree! Itll be just as tasty. Youll need around 2 cups for this recipe.

  • Similarly, I instruct you to cool the bars and refrigerate them overnight before topping them with meringue and serving. This is because many of my friends preferred the bars chilled as opposed to fresh and warm from the ovenits the most classic taste/flavor they associate with Thanksgiving. But if you dont mind being non-traditional, you can go ahead and serve the bars warm and save a day. Cool the bars on a wire rack for around 30 minutes before making the meringue and topping/serving the bars.

  • Alternatively, if you want to make the bars all in one day, I suggest making the sweet potatoes first, then the crust. As the crust is in the oven, make the fillingonce the crust is out of the oven, theres no need to wait for it to cool before pouring the filling over the crust. Bake as instructed.

  • Finally, if you want to wait another day and serve the bars a day after the meringue has been made and added to the bars, this works too. The meringue will keep overnight, but will lose some of its fluffiness. However, I wouldnt torch theminstead, I highly recommend torching the meringue right before serving.

  • To slice the bars cleanly, use a *hot* serrated knife. Bring a pot of water to boil and pour it into a tall, heatproof glassstick the blade of the knife into the glass and wait 15 seconds. Wipe the blade off and slice the bars, repeating as needed.
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