I love tradition. As autumn gathers I love the slight chill in the air, the dance of colorful leaves, the smell of logs in the fireplace and the crackle of friendly fires. These cues inspire my anticipation of traditional fall fare: hearty soups and stews, apples fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg, roasted squashes and root vegetables.
Sometimes though, what I love best about tradition is the opportunity to turn it upside down, or at least sideways. I enjoy rethinking traditions, looking for ways to make them new and to satisfy my own sense of good taste in the process.
Maybe that’s what attracted me to this recipe in the first place, one I cut from the newspaper many years ago. It gives a new twist to an age-old favorite: Pumpkin Bars. It employs sweet potatoes rather than pumpkin maintaining a similar texture but the potential of a richer color. For crunch it adds oats and a streusel topping. The twist comes from a splash of bourbon and a good sized pinch of ground red pepper. Both intrigued me, appealing strongly to my southern spirit.
This recipe still appeals to me today. It uses traditional fall ingredients and flavors in a slightly unusual combination. Pretty and appealing these bars are easy to like. It’s not until you slow down to savor a bite that you begin to consider the slight warmth contributed by the red pepper and the complexity of the flavor developed by the bourbon. Even then it’s just a whisper for those who are listening. Not a shout that threatens to topple expectations.
Spirited Southern Sweet Potato Bars
attributed to Quaker Oats
2 cups old-fashioned oats, uncooked
1½ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
1 cup butter, slightly softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cusp mashed, cooked sweet potato
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons bourbon
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl combine the oats and flour, mixing well. Remove 2/3 cup of the oat-flour mixture to a smaller bowl. Stir in the salt and ground red pepper. Set aside for the filling.
To the remaining oat-flour mixture add the butter, white sugar and vanilla.
Blend with an electric mixer until the mixture is crumbly. Remove 1 cup of the mixture and set aside for the topping. Press the remaining mixture evenly across the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove from oven.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl comine the sweet potato, eggs, brown sugar, bourbon and reserved 2/3 cup of the oat-flour mixture. Mix well. Spread the filling over the warm crust.
Add the toasted nuts to the reserved crumb mixture and sprinkle evenly over the sweet potato filling.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 – 35 minutes or until the topping begins to brown. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Serve at room temperature.
Serving Note: To dress up these bars for a special dessert drizzle dessert dishes with Caramel Sauce and place a Sweet Potato Bar on top. More Caramel Sauce can be drizzled on top or served on the side. Top with Whipped Cream and garnish with a toasted pecan half if desired. While the bars are sweet enough on their own I found that the Caramel Sauce added a very appealing flavor note to these Spirited Southern Sweet Potato Bars.