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Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.
Today: A noble use for leftover sweet potatoes, a kid-friendly baking project, and a better turkey sandwich.
I like bread as much as the next person who fills himself up before dinner arrives, but I confess I have never understood the point of it on Thanksgiving. In my mind, if you are eating dinner rolls at Thanksgiving dinner—if you eating bread period—that means you should have made more stuffing. Everything I needed to know about Thanksgiving I learned in kindergarten expect why you are not allowed to make the best thing on the Thanksgiving table at any other time of year. Turkey is just a vehicle for drippings which is just a vehicle for stuffing: this is so obvious it doesn’t even count as an observation. (The appeal of the wonderful Zuni bread salad owes a lot to the fact that it is almost stuffing.)
Which brings us to the day after: this is when you need your fresh-baked bread, when you have a cold, congealed carcass to resuscitate. (Not yours. The turkey’s.) You also have a bowl of abandoned sweet potatoes. They may be decorated with marshmallows, although let’s assume that any honorable children have taken care of those. You also have children who, let’s face it, need something to do.
If MacGyver was in your kitchen, he would use these ingredients, plus duct tape, to make some spectacular turkey sandwiches on sweet potato cornmeal bread. He’d also do it an hour minus commercials, whereas you’ll need more for rising time. That’s why he had a network television show and you don’t.
No one wants to cook after Thanksgiving. (No one really wants to eat, either.) But baking is different. The day after Thanksgiving has this spectral quality—it evaporates whenever you try to get hold of it. Before you know it, it is mid-afternoon and you’re still trying to figure out what to do that morning. Baking is a way to hold onto the day. It also makes you look busy when distant relatives wander in, muttering.
There are many good sweet potato roll recipes—although James Beard still holds the title—and some good sweet potato biscuits (and at least a sweet potato-marshmallow biscuit recipe). But these generally require miserly amounts of sweet potato: a half-cup, a quarter-cup. People! This is not helpful. Roy Finamore’s sweet potato-cornmeal sandwich loaf, on the other hand, uses a cup and a-half. It is forgiving of underage bakers. It is ready in time for a late lunch. It makes two loaves worth of turkey sandwiches. And it is delicious and wholly satisfying, in a day-after-Thanksgiving sort of way: it will not leave you impressed; this is not the time for being impressed. It will leave you deeply content.
Very lightly adapted from One Potato, Two Potato by Roy Finamore and Molly Stevens (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001)
Makes 2 small loaves
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, in pieces
2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups cold leftover sweet potatoes
5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for an egg wash
Photos by James Ransom