I wanted to develop a recipe this year that could stand in for the sweet potato gratin with marshmallows you so commonly find at Thanksgiving dinners, something leaning towards the sweet side but more sophisticated. The creaminess of the mascarpone means you don't need to use any butter or cream, like you usually find in other sweet potato purees. If you're making this for the holidays (or any day) and are pressed for time or oven space, you can boil the potatoes instead for 10 to 15 minutes, but you'll lose the added depth of flavor you get from roasting them. These caramelized pecans are also wonderful served alongside blue cheese as part of a cheese board. —Kristin
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Prick the potatoes with a fork and place them on the baking sheet. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are tender. (If using very large potatoes, make sure they are cooked all the way through.)
Meanwhile, to make the caramelized maple pecans, place the sugar, maple syrup and pecans in a small saucepan on a medium heat. Allow the sugar and syrup to caramelize slightly, without stirring, which will take about 15 minutes. Gently swirl the pan to spread the sugar evenly, then replace the pan on the heat to allow the sugar to caramelize completely. Carefully pour the pecans onto parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Allow the pecans to cool and harden, then break up the mixture to separate the nuts. Set aside.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and transfer to a food processor. Add the bourbon and mascarpone and process until the mixture is smooth.
Transfer the potato puree to a large gratin dish or casserole dish and smooth the top. Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until heated through. Sprinkle the caramelized pecans evenly over the top and serve.