Vanilla pudding topped with a whipped cream layer and finished off with a sweetened purple sweet potato puree makes me weak in the knees. But let me back up a bit. A few months ago I received a surprise box of purple sweet potatoes from my friends at Frieda’s. I was literally jumping up and down and giggling. Why? Because I had never seen purple sweet potatoes in the US. So I hit the internet, and the LA Times had just published an article talking about the arrival of these tubers in markets, thanks to the distributing efforts of, yep, you guessed it, Frieda’s! Since then, I’ve been playing around with them in my kitchen, and thankfully Sprouts, which has a store just a few minutes from our house, carries them!
During the first couple of months of living in Japan, back in 2002, Mr. Fuji and I took a day trip to Kamakura, a city about 30 miles southwest of Tokyo. Kamakura is filled with temples and other interesting sights, and I remember being disappointed that the day passed so quickly. Another thing I remember, however, is that it was an extremely hot and humid September day, and by early afternoon, both Mr. Fuji and I were dripping and exhausted. Thankfully Japan is big on their “soft cream” (soft serve ice cream), and we found a vendor selling a wide variety of flavors. My eye immediately went to a vivid purple soft cream, which Mr. Fuji explained was sweet potato. I was intrigued—how in the world did sweet potato translate into this violet hued confection? One lick, and I didn’t care about the how any longer. I was in pure soft cream heaven. Later I learned that there was a variety of sweet potato that is very popular in Japan whose flesh is brilliant purple in color. Aha!
While living in Japan I also fell in love with Mont Blanc, or “monburan” as it’s pronounced in Japanese. Not the mountain in the French Alps, but a Japanese take on a French classic, Mont Blanc aux marrons, a dessert made of a sponge cake or meringue base, topped with sweetened chestnut puree, and finished off with whipped cream. In Japan, Mont Blanc is usually made with a sponge base, followed by a whipped cream layer and then topped with the sweetened chestnut puree. This dessert is so popular, that many permutations have been born over the years, and it’s not uncommon to see “Mont Blanc” flavored items, like Mont Blanc KitKat. My favorite reincarnation of the Mont Blanc dessert, however, is Mont Blanc pudding (purin)—a confection that starts with a layer of vanilla custard instead of sponge cake, then topped with the usual whipped cream and sweetened chestnut puree.
Now back to the present. Last week I was recently craving a good Mont Blanc pudding, but chestnuts can be hard to come by, and honestly, they can be a pain to get out of their stubborn shells. I glanced at a pair of purple sweet potatoes sitting on my kitchen counter, begging to be eaten, and decided to make a twist on a Mont Blanc, by replacing the chestnut puree with a purple sweet potato puree. It worked. I whipped up a simple eggless vanilla pudding, which I spooned into little custard cups and put in the refrigerator to set. (Good vanilla is key here, since there are so few ingredients in this pudding. My favorite is Heilala Vanilla.)
While it was chilling, I boiled one of the sweet potatoes with a vanilla bean, then mashed it with some butter and sugar syrup, and pushed it through a mesh sieve to create a smooth puree.
Then all that was left was assembly! I spread a thin layer of lightly sweetened whipped cream over the puddings, and then piped a small mountain of the purple sweet potato puree on top . . . all while the lyrics to The Purple People Eater were stuck replaying over and over in my head.
All that’s left to say is, you should seriously make this. Profound, I know.
Purple Sweet Potato Mont Blanc Pudding
Makes 6 servings
For the purple sweet potato puree:
10 ounce piece purple sweet potato, peeled
1 vanilla bean
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
7 tablespoons butter
For the vanilla pudding:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the whipped cream:
1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Make the purple sweet potato puree:
1. Cut the purple sweet potato into large chunks. Put the pieces in a medium saucepan with the vanilla bean, and add enough water to cover the potato pieces. Cook the sweet potato over medium heat until soft, then drain the water and discard the vanilla bean.
2. While the sweet potato is cooling, mix the 3/4 cup water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Let the mixture boil for 30 seconds, then remove the saucepan from the heat and set it aside to cool.
3. Mash the cooked sweet potato pieces with the butter, then add enough sugar syrup to the mash to make it thin enough to pipe through a pastry bag, but thick enough to hold its shape.
Make the vanilla pudding:
1. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium saucepan. Add 1/2 cup of the cold milk and whisk until smooth, then slowly add the rest of the milk and the heavy cream, whisking to incorporate. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
2. Pour the pudding into 6 individual custard cups and chill until the pudding has set, at least 2 hours.
Make the whipped cream:
Whip the cream and powdered sugar together in a medium-size mixing bowl at medium speed until soft peaks form, but the cream is still smooth.
Assemble the Mont Blanc puddings:
Remove the chilled pudding from the refrigerator. Spread a layer of whipped cream over the top of each pudding. Pipe the purple sweet puree in a mound over the top of the whipped cream.
Making the puddings in advance: The finished puddings can be chilled overnight, but the sweet potato puree will firm up to have a fudgier consistency. If you want to make this dessert in advance, my advice is to make the pudding and purple sweet potato puree in advance, but wait to assemble the dessert until close to serving time. You will need to lightly heat the puree to make it soft enough to pipe onto the puddings.
For a lighter version, use all milk in the pudding instead of using the cream. I went for rich and creamy with my pudding, but a lighter version will be just as delicious!
For a non-dairy version, replace the milk and cream in the pudding with soy or almond milk and a use a non-dairy whipped cream for the whipped cream layer.
*Disclosure: Frieda’s sent me a box of purple sweet potatoes at one point a few months ago. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.