If You Can’t Take the Heat…

…Then don’t cook with chipotles. Spice is one thing; those distinctive flavors and gentle warmth make cooking come to life, adding a spark that simply cannot be replaced. Chilies, however, are on a whole different playing field, and the threat of their taste bud-obliterating burn has kept me far away for as long as I’ve been cooking. Pick just one wrong, innocent-looking little capsicum, and you’ll pay dearly for hours to come. My reluctance was only reinforced when a venture in chili making went awry after using a whole can of chipotles in adobo sauce in a batch meant to feed six… To call it inedible would be kind.

And yet, for ages it seems, one lone can of those very chipotles remained in the pantry, quietly waiting to be released from their aluminum prison and start some fires. After studiously avoiding them for perhaps a year or so, curiosity (and frugality; as if they would ever go to waste!) got the best of me. Armed with a can opener and a plenty of vanilla ice cream to extinguish the burn, it was time to push the limits and see how these hot peppers behaved… In dessert.

Maybe I’ve spent a few too many late nights watching Alton Brown, but suddenly, the sound of chipotle mashed sweet potatoes became too attractive to put out of mind without a second thought. Presenting such a dish to my straight-up, butter- and cream- mashed potato family would be flat out heresy, so a different approach with clearly needed. Dialing back on the chipotles so that they provided just the slightest tingle on the tongue, a gentle after burn, if you will, their intensity is further tempered by the soothing contrast of brown sugar and rich coconut milk. Better yet, a thin base of dark chocolate adds depth to the dessert, and adds appeal for those who aren’t big on pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Yes, this one is different indeed- Just try a bite for yourself!

Sure, it may not look like a traditional pie, but with filling this good, I wanted to really pile it on, and a standard pie pan simply couldn’t accommodate my ideal proportions. And of course, spice is a matter of preference, so if you’re a real chili-head, go ahead and pack it in, but beware; The difference between 1/2 of and 1 whole chipotle is astounding.

Chocolate Chipotle Sweet Potato Pie

Chocolate Crust:

1 Cup Chocolate Wafer Cookie Crumbs
3/4 Cup Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Natural Cocoa Powder
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted

1 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Chipotle Sweet Potato Filling:

2 Cups Roasted Sweet Potato Puree*
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 – 1 Small Chipotle, Canned in Adobo Sauce
1 Teaspoon Adobo Sauce
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch
1 Cup Coconut Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Coconut Whipped Creme
Chocolate Shavings or Curls

*To get roasted sweet potato puree, crank up your oven to 400 degrees. Peel and roughly dice two medium – large sweet potatoes, and toss with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle very lightly with coarse sea salt, and bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until the pieces are fork-tender and lightly browned around the edges. Let cool, and puree to a completely smooth consistency in your food processor or blender. Alternately, you could use canned sweet potato or even pumpkin puree.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease a 9-inch round springform pan.

Beginning with the crust, combine the cookie crumbs, almond meal, cocoa powder, and sugar in a large bowl. Pour in the melted margarine or coconut oil, and mix thoroughly, until all of the crumbs are moistened and will stick together when pressed. Transfer this mixture into your prepared pan, and use lightly moistened hands or the flat bottom of a measuring cup to smooth it out, pressing it evenly into the base of the pan. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until it no longer appears shiny on top. Immediately after removing the crust from the oven, sprinkle it evenly with your chocolate chips, and let them sit for a moment to soften and become melted. Use a spatula to smooth them out over the crust, to form a fairly consistent layer. Set aside.

Moving on to the filling, simply place all of the ingredients (starting with the lesser amount of chipotle) in your food processor or blender, and pulse to combine. Pause and scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed, to make sure that everything is getting incorporated, until the filling mixture is completely smooth and homogeneous. Taste for seasoning, and add in more chipotle (or even adobo sauce, if that’s not enough for you) as desired. The heat does tone down a bit after being baked, but not too much, so go easy on those spicy little peppers! Once you’re satisfied with the level of spice, pour the sweet potato mix on top of your prepared crust, and smooth out the top.

Tap the pan a few times on the counter to release any air bubbles before sliding it into the oven. Bake for 20 – 28 minutes, until the edges are set but the center still looks wobbly, much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely before moving the pie into the fridge to cool. Only after it is thoroughly chilled can you top it with the coconut whipped creme and chocolate shavings. Release the ring from the springform pan and and serve! And yes, if you added just a touch too much chipolte, a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream does help tame the flame.

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