Some people like muffins for breakfast, others prefer croissants. If you’re Mexican, you reach for the pan dulce. Panaderías, or Mexican bakeries, greet you with the smell of cinnamon sugar, anise and the colorful and assorted baked breads, cakes and cookies that remind you of home and grandmothers. There’s always some around and often, even when it’s turned a bit stale, you can find some in the kitchen waiting to be revived during the afternoon merienda, dunked in a little coffee.
People are becoming more health conscious these days. I was in my parent’s hometown of Laredo, Texas recently and was surprised to find that even in the land of Friday night football, beer and weekend carne asadas, there were stores popping up catering to healthier eating, encouraging the consumption of more vegetables and whole grains. I even had the chance to try some pan dulce made out of whole wheat flour. While it was a far cry from the real thing, it got me thinking about an alternative that could satisfy the insatiable sweet tooth of many of us who are accustomed to having our morning pastry.
For this recipe, I used whole wheat flour, and added one of my favorite ingredients, the sweet potato which is naturally sweet and high in fiber, potassium and a good source of vitamins A and C. I also used unrefined Mexican cane sugar, or piloncillo, to round out the sweetness in place of more traditional brown or refined white sugar. When dissolved into a syrup, piloncillo has a flavor similar to molasses and consequently is more concentrated so a little goes a long way. Other quick breads often call for at least one full cup of sugar or more, not including sugar used in the bread’s frosting or glaze. This sweet potato bread is reminiscent of my favorite pan dulce, the empanada de calabaza, or pumpkin. It’s moist and flavorful, not at all dense and heavy, and guaranteed to be a winner the next time you’re craving something of the pastry kind to go with your morning cup of coffee.
Sweet Potato Bread (Pan de Camote)
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups sweet potato (cooked, peeled, mashed)
2 large piloncillo
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter (melted)
1 large orange
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 TBS ground cinnamon
Yields: 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 350°.
This recipe has several steps, however, the first two can be done the day before if you are short on time.
Begin by boiling sweet potatoes in a pot over medium heat for about 40-50 minutes or until you can easily slide the tip of a small knife into them. Drain and let cool in the refrigerator. When cool, remove the skins and mash. Set aside.
Zest the orange. Set aside 2 teaspoons of zest. (You will later add this to your mashed sweet potato mixture). Juice the orange (strain the seeds) and pour into a half-cup measuring cup. Fill the remainder of the cup with water and add to a small saucepan along with the two piloncillos. Simmer over medium-low heat and stir occasionally, until both cones have completely dissolved. Take care to not let the sugar boil over. Cool in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes. If you do this step in advance, bring the syrup back to room temperature so it’s easier to stir into your batter. This will yield about 3/4 cup of piloncillo syrup using two 4.5 oz piloncillo cones.
In a large bowl mix together your dry ingredients: whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon.
In a medium bowl mix together your wet ingredients: mashed sweet potato, vanilla, orange zest, piloncillo syrup, melted butter and lightly beaten eggs.
Fold in half of the wet batter into the dry ingredients, careful not to over mix. Add remaining wet batter.
Grease a 9×5 bread pan and pour in batter. Level with a spatula and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool 20 minutes before slicing. It is best served warm and can be reheated in the microwave.