Sweet potato Bebinca

Just for the Joy of It

I’m carefully tracing a cake tin on a piece of parchment paper. I cut out the circle and place it inside the tin, then smear butter over the paper, guiding it with torn butter-wrapper foil. I don’t like this part; I’m not a precise person, I like to wing it. But as A A Milne said, “Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” So I follow the instructions so life doesn’t get mixed up later on.

When the cake tin is ready I get on with the batter, my favourite part. Especially this time of year, when Thanksgiving is in the air and it’s cool enough to wrap an apron over a chunky sweater. I’m making a baked pudding of sorts, a bebinca, from Nik Sharma’s new book Season. My friend Kris reviewed the book over at Shipshape Eatworthy, and when it came to bebinca, this is what she wrote:

“Last fall I discovered one of my top-5 favourite recipes of all time within the pages of  Bake from Scratch magazine — Sharma’s Sweet Potato Bebinca  (influenced by his Grandmother Lucy’s recipe and his Goan heritage). I won’t own up to how many times I’ve made it but it’s safe to say that the recipe is slowly being indelibly inscribed on my memory. This lightly sweet and custard-y dessert is (in my mind) perfect in both flavour and texture. Akin to a traditional pumpkin pie (without the crust) the sweet potato, ghee, jaggery, coconut milk, freshly ground nutmeg and a hint of turmeric create something apart from the ubiquitous pumpkin pie.”

I love anything autumnal, anything custard-y, anything pumpkin pie-like without having to make a crust, and anything that works with substitutions… So I whip roasted sweet potato together with eggs and coconut milk, brown sugar instead of jaggery, turmeric and nutmeg. The room smells like a golden latte; this Goan recipe is right on trend. I add flour and melted butter instead of ghee, stirring the mixture just to combine. I pour the batter into the ‘prepared cake tin’, smile that I’m not all mixed up, and slide it into the oven. It’s a Wednesday in early October, Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t for another five days. I realize as I set the timer that I’ve made this dessert just for the joy of it.

What do you do just for the joy of it?

My Dad posed this question to a friend of not long ago. We were in the kitchen, I was prepping for dinner, they were sipping wine, chips were in a bowl. She’s been going through a tough time; the question caught her by surprise.

The idea for the question came from a book he was reading – Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear. Birds, writes Maclear, sing for many reasons – to call to each other, to warn off predators, to navigate, to attract mates. It’s possible, she adds, with her words floating like a song across the page, that… “birds may sing just for the joy of it.”

I’ve been imagining a bird singing, purely for pleasure and happiness –  joy – ever since that day in the kitchen. We all need a song to sing, whether it manifests in the form of a walk on the beach, stopping to pick up sea glass, or reading in a favourite chair on a Saturday afternoon, even when the sun is shining outside. I find it when I pull something out of the oven, filling my kitchen with turmeric, nutmeg and sweetened coconut. It’s not food to sustain us, it’s food we can eat, just for the joy of it.

Sweet potato Bebinca

Sweet Potato Bebinca
From Nik Sharma’s Book SEASON

2-3 large sweet potatoes (1 1/4lb / 565g total)
6 TBSP butter, melted, plus more for the baking pan
6 large eggs
1 cup (200g) jaggery or muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
1/4 cup (60ml) maple syrup
1 tsp nutmeg – freshly grated is best
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
One 13 1/2 oz (400ml) can full-fat coconut milk
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour, (sieved, to avoid lumps in the batter)

Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Rinse the sweet potatoes to remove any dirt, pan them dry with paper towels, and poke several holes in them with a fork for the steam to escape. Put the potatoes in a baking dish and roast until completely tender, 35-45 minutes. Cool completely before handling. Peel the sweet potatoes, discard the skins, and purée the flesh in a food processor. Measure out 1 2/3 cups (400g) and set aside, saving the rest for another purpose. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F (180C).

Line the bottom of a 9 inch (23 cm) round baking pan with 2 inch (5cm) sides with parchment paper and grease lightly with butter. Put the pan on a baking sheet. In a large bowl, whisk together the cooled roasted sweet potato purée, eggs, jaggery (or muscovado or brown sugar) maple syrup, melted butter, nutmeg, turmeric and salt until smooth. Add the coconut milk, sieved flour and whisk until the mixture is smooth, with no visible streaks of flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and put the pan, still on the baking sheet, in the oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. The pudding should be firm to the touch, in the centre and light and golden brown around the edges. Remove from the oven, and cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Wrap the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hrs, and preferable overnight, to set.

Once the bebinca has set, with a sharp, serrated knife, cut the chilled bebinca into wedges. Store any leftovers, wrapped in plastic wrap, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

*I served mine with maple syrup drizzled over top.

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