Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole

The morning after my mother died a few months ago, my family and I were sitting around the table drinking coffee, still stunned, looking at our iPads and laptops, when one of my brothers said, “At least now Mom can go to Steve Jobs with all of her iPad questions.” We all burst out laughing. I still smile just thinking about it. We had a close relationship with our mother and embedded in that relationship was the job of answering her computer questions. Well, every year, a few days before Thanksgiving, I could expect an email from my mother that went like this, “Judy, could you send me the recipes?” I knew which ones they were: Mom’s Pumpkin Pie, Micky Kohn’s Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie, Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney and this one, Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole. Mom did not have a clue how to search her computer for them. In honor of Mom and to help my family get through the holidays, I plan to post the rest of Mom’s Thanksgiving recipes over the next few days. If there is a kitchen in heaven, she and Steve are by now best buds, and he’ll be stopping by her table that will be full of the family and friends who have gone before us. My brothers and I will be thankful we have her recipes and that we had the privilege of calling her Mom.


I’ve been making this sweet potato casserole every Thanksgiving since 1994 when my children’s fabulous babysitter, Melissa, first gave it to me. Little did I know I would be making it every Thanksgiving for the rest of my life.

Yield: serves 12 as a main side dish or 20 as one of many side dishes

4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled
5 large eggs, beaten
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup (12 tablespoons, or 1-1/2 sticks) butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
²/3 cup milk
½ cup orange juice
Mise en Place:
Preheat oven to 350º
Wash and peel sweet potatoes. Cut into 2-3 inch chunks and place in a large saucepan.
Cover potatoes with cold water. Add two tablespoons of salt to the water.
Bring water to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes or until sweet potatoes are fork-tender.
Drain in a colander and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.
Place sweet potatoes in a mixing bowl and mix until mashed. Do not whip.
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Add eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, milk, and orange juice and mix until well blended on medium-low speed. Do not whip.
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Transfer sweet potato mixture to an oven-safe 9x12x4 casserole. At this point, you could put the uncooked casserole into the refrigerator for up to one day as a make-ahead dish. Just be sure to allow it to come to room temperature before baking. Do not add toppings until after it has baked.
Bake until the top starts to turn light brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. This usually takes about an hour in this deep casserole dish. If you are using two shallow casserole dishes, it could be ready in 30 minutes.
The toppings below are optional. Because some of our guests may have a nut allergy, I generally opt for the marshmallow topping, but the nut topping is equally delicious.
Optional Marshmallow Topping:
When finished cooking, remove casserole from oven and add a layer of miniature marshmallows. Bake for another 10 minutes or until marshmallows become lightly browned.
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Optional Nut Topping:
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ stick butter (4 tablespoons)
1 cup chopped pecans
Mix until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of cooked casserole. Bake for 10 minutes at 400º.
This casserole is good cold the next morning, and if you are anything like me, you’ll be thinking about grabbing a spoonful of it every time you walk by the refrigerator.


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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

The first time I had warm pumpkin bread pudding was at The Nashville Food Project. The bread pudding had just come out of the oven, and one of the staff members had spooned some of it into a bowl for us volunteers to taste. We all stood around the stainless steel countertop sinking our spoons into the warm bowl of dessert and gushed about how delicious it was. I mean it was warm, and the vanilla glaze was dripping down the sides. You can find TNFP’s recipe for bread pudding along with many other crowd-pleasing recipes in the Cook for a Crowd section of their website.

The title of the recipe on the website is Banana Bread Pudding, but you can substitute almost any fruit for the bananas. In addition to making it with pumpkin purée, I’ve made it with fresh-cut peaches, with chopped apples, and with mixed berries. They all work. I’ve made it to serve 12 people for a dinner party, 25 people for a summer cookout and 50 students for a school gathering. I’ve served bread pudding with a simple vanilla glaze drizzled over the top of cut squares, and I’ve served it all dolled up with caramel sauce and whipped cream for a special family dinner. You can’t go wrong with this dessert once you get comfortable making it.


A note on bread choices. Some people like to use sweet bread like stale croissants or challah, but I prefer a more chewy texture, so I use a crusty white bread. I would stay away from soft “Italian” loaves like this one from a local grocery store:


It looked to be a crusty Italian loaf, but it was very soft,and light and the bread pudding I made with it looked soupy before I cooked it. Once baked, it was flat and rubbery. I fed it to the chickens.

At the end of this recipe, I have provided recipes for three different toppings for your bread pudding: Vanilla Glaze, Caramel Sauce, and Homemade Whipped Cream

Yield: Serves 12-15



Mise en Place:


8-9 cups crusty, stale bread, roughly chopped or cubed into 1-inch squares
3 large eggs
2½ cups whole milk, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1¾ cups pumpkin purée (one 15 oz can or purée from a small pie pumpkin)
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350º.

Butter a 9 x 12-inch baking pan or a similarly sized ceramic casserole dish.

Prepare bread crumbs and arrange in baking pan.

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Add raisins and chopped nuts to and mix well.

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Add eggs to mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until blended.DSC_0055

Add milk, sugars, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and pumpkin purée. Mix well for about 30 seconds.


Pour pudding on top of bread and let liquid seep into the breadcrumb mixture. Lightly press down, so all the bread is submerged in the custard. Let set for about 20 minutes. Use a fork to check that all the breadcrumbs are moist.


The overall consistency should be like that of thick oatmeal. If it appears to be soupy, add more diced bread.


Bake for about 50-60 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven. It’s ready when the crust just starts to turn color to a light brown.


To Serve:

How to Make Vanilla Glaze:


1 cup powdered confectioner’s sugar (aka 10x sugar), sifted
1 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Be sure to sift the sugar, so it isn’t lumpy. Mix ingredients together. Usually, when using this glaze, I pour it over the whole dessert and then cut squares and place them on plates to serve.

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I had some bread pudding leftovers in the refrigerator and decided to play around with it. After cutting out the leaf shape with a cookie cutter, I warmed it in the microwave and then drizzled the Vanilla Glaze over it. It was good.

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How to Make Caramel Sauce:

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1¼ cups packed brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup whipping cream or heavy cream
Add brown sugar and butter into a small heavy skillet and cook over medium-high heat.

Whisk until butter is melted and the mixture is smooth.DSC_0107  DSC_0109

Add cream and whisk until well blended. Set your timer for three minutes and continue to cook and whisk until sugar dissolves. The caramel will come to a nice rolling boil and darken in color.
Note: the handle of the first wire whisk got very hot while I was stirring, so I switched to one with a tubular handle and it stayed cool. Something to think about when buying whisks.
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For this version of the dessert, I used a large round biscuit cutter to cut circular portions of bread pudding.
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To plate the dessert: I poured a small amount of warm caramel sauce on a  dessert plate. Next, I placed the round disc of warm bread pudding onto the caramel sauce and then lightly pressed it into the sauce and topped it whipped cream.
How to Make Whipped Cream:
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 1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)
Add cream, vanilla, and sugar to the chilled bowl of the mixer. Beat cream for one minute on medium high and then increase speed to high once the cream starts to thicken, otherwise, the cream will spray all over the kitchen. It took four minutes for the cream to whip.
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I had to channel my inner Mary Carter, my food stylist friend who I featured in the post, Playing with your Food to bump this dessert up a notch.
My friend, Corabel Shofner, made this dessert for our Thanksgiving Dinner and told everyone she felt like a “real chef” making something so tasty and beautiful. That’s the fun part of tackling a new recipe and watching people delight in what you have prepared.
 Add some bling for the next big holiday!

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Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips

Let’s just say you need something to serve for a morning meeting or an afternoon snack. Or, maybe you need to come up with a contribution to a bake sale or a neighborhood party. Or, maybe you are looking for a healthy-ish dessert. This is your recipe!

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There is something about the way the earthy pumpkin purée in this bread absorbs the heat of the spices and the sweet taste of the chocolate and turns it into a decadent memory of all that is autumn. Bonus points to this bread for being dairy and nut free.


My cousin Marion first emailed me this recipe back in 2008 when I was looking for something to make for a school bake sale. It took me a year to make it because I couldn’t see pumpkin and chocolate tasting good together. When I finally tried it, I was blown away by the flavor. The spices subdued the sweet chocolate, and both did something crazy good to the pumpkin. The combination was brilliant. I started making her pumpkin bread every year for the school bake sale. It was so popular; it was placed on the school’s website where it remains all these years later. This recipe is so well-loved my cousin has to print copies for her customers to take home with them whenever she serves it at her Details and Goods trunk shows.

Yield: Makes 2 loaves, 1 bundt cake, or 18-24 muffins depending on size


Mise en Place:

1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup canola oil
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
4 large eggs
1  15-ounce can pumpkin purée
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º

  1. Grease baking pans and lightly dust with flour. This recipe will fill one bundt pan, two loaf pans, 18 muffin tins, or six mini-loaf pans.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the sugar, oil, applesauce, and eggs on medium speed for two minutes.
  3. Add pumpkin purée and spices. Mix on medium speed for 30 seconds more. Use a spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as you mix.


4. Add flours, salt, and baking soda. Mix for 30 seconds on low speed just until dry ingredients are fully incorporated into the batter.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake on the middle rack of oven for 50-60 minutes. To test for doneness insert a knife into the center of the baking pan. If it comes out with orange residue on it, put back in the oven for another 10 minutes. If it comes out with just melted chocolate on the knife, then it is ready.

Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Next, run a knife around the edges of the pans to loosen the loaves. Turn the pans over onto the wire rack and shake the loaves out. Immediately flip them over, so they are right side up. Allow to cool for an hour before packaging.

A few baking notes:

If you don’t have applesauce, use 1 full cup of oil instead of half oil and half applesauce.

If you don’t have whole wheat flour, use 2 cups of all-purpose flour.

In case you’re wondering, a 15-ounce can is equal to 1¾ cups of pumpkin purée.

Marion, thanks for turning me on to this unlikely pairing of flavors! Marion thanks her friend, Marilyn who first introduced her to this recipe in the form of muffins as a crowd-pleasing snack after a high school lacrosse game.

Holding hands with my favorite cousin and first friend, Marion.

Other Nice Fall Desserts
Mom’s Apple Pie with a Cheddar Streusel Topping
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream
Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.