Julia's Plain Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile,scrub the potatoes under running hot water, remove any blemishes, and plunge a small sharp knife down about an inch into each potato in 5 or 6 places, to let out baking steam. Line a baking pan with foil (the potatoes will exude juices that will burn, staining your pan), and arrange the potatoes in it, in 1 layer. Bake in the lower middle level of the preheated oven for about an hour, or until they are thoroughly tender when squeezedand a knife pierces through them easily. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and then open up to cool. Scrape the flesh into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and mash with a mixing fork or potato masher. Or put them in your heavy-duty mixer to break out at slow speed with the paddle attachment--careful not to go too fast and turn them gluey. Blend in salt and pepper, and the butter and/or cream or milk. Taste very carefully and correct seasoning, folding in the optional fresh ginger to taste.
If done in advance, smooth the top and film with a spoonful or so of milk or cream to keep a skin from forming. To reheat, stir over low heat or over a pan of simmering water.
Variation: Orange Flavoring
Rather than stirring in milk or cream, use a little butter and orange juice, and blend in the finely grated rind of a bright fresh orange.
Variation: Marshmallow Topping
This old-fashioned juvenile topping is held in such low esteem that none of the standard American cookbooks I have on hand even mention it. In our family we love it at thanksgiving with our Turkey, particularly when we can find fresh homemade marshmallows. Here is my formula. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Smear the inside of a 3-inch deep casserole with softened butter, and scoop in the well-seasoned warm mashed sweet potatoes. Smooth the top surface of the potatoes with a rubber spatula, press a fairly close-packed layer of marshmallows into the surface, and coat with a very light sprinkling of confectioners' sugar. Bake in the upper middle level of the preheated oven until the topping has melted and browned nicely. May be cooked in advance and kept warm.