I am always charmed by quirkily named recipes, and Sweet Potato Sonker is a delight. Native to North Carolina, the sonker is a traditional dessert that is simply fruit or sweet potatoes in a luscious filling encased with pastry or dough, something akin to a deep dish pie or cobbler. It is set apart from these desserts by the addition of a milk dip, a sweet vanilla sauce that is poured over the dessert mid-baking, with any extra poured into a jug and served alongside the warm sonker.
While the sonker is lovely served with the milk dip alone, it’s especially rich and decadent when accompanied by a generous drizzle of heavy cream or a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Sonkers are often made with stone fruit such as peaches, apricots, or plums, but the regional favorite is sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are a nutritious vegetable that are beautiful in savory dishes such as Sweet Potato Scones and Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos with Avocado Crema, or in sweet ones like Sweet Potato Spiced Rum Waffles.
They are wonderful in a sonker, sliced thinly and drenched in a buttery, sweet sauce that infuses each slice with a caramel richness.
Sweet potatoes really are the star of the sonker, so it’s one dish I don’t mind using a store-bought pie crust in. The rich, buttery sauce soaks into the crust, giving it a lovely depth of flavor, and the addition of the milk dip part way through the cooking process ensures a golden top crust and even more buttery flavor. There are times where a homemade pie crust is worth the effort, but a sonker will not suffer from a store-bought one.
The filling for the pie crust is comprised of thinly sliced, pre-cooked sweet potatoes drenched in a sweet, buttery sauce. Some use white sugar and molasses as the base, while others stick to syrup. I like the combination of brown sugar and golden or maple syrup since they each offer a unique flavor profile that enhances the overall dish.
Some sonker recipes are cloyingly sweet with the sweet potatoes swimming in sauce. I prefer mine less sweet, with the sauce as a condiment rather than a broth, so I only use 1 to 1 1/2 cups of sauce instead of three.
Milk dip is essential for a traditional sonker. It is simple to make: just milk, flour (or cornstarch), and sugar boiled together until thick, then vanilla stirred in at the end. Again, this can make the sonker overly sweet if too much is used, so I stick to one cup of milk dip instead of two. If you like your desserts really sweet, by all means, be generous with both the sauce and the milk dip.
Once your Sweet Potato Sonker is baked, topped with milk dip, and baked some more, be sure to let it sit 20-30 minutes so the sauce can soak into the pie crust. Serve warm or cold with extra milk dip on the side.
Sweet Potato Sonker
- 4 large sweet potatoes
- 2-3 sheets pie dough
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup golden syrup or maple syrup
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1/4 cup flour or cornstarch
- 1 cup sweet potato cooking water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Peel sweet potatoes and place whole in large saucepan; cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove sweet potatoes from hot water (reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid) and chill 30-40 minutes until cool.
Line 9×11-inch pan with pie dough and place in fridge to chill. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
When sweet potatoes are cool, slice thinly and layer into the dough-lined pan. Set in fridge while you make the sauce.
In medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar, syrup, melted butter, flour, sweet potato cooking water, and salt. Pour over sweet potatoes.
Use second sheet of pastry to cover sweet potatoes in lattice pattern or layered cut-out shapes.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make milk dip: In saucepan, whisk together milk, flour, and white sugar. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Simmer 1 minute until thick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
When sonker is baked, remove from oven, pour milk dip over it, then return to oven and bake another 15-20 minutes until top is golden.
Remove from oven and let cool 20 minutes. Serve warm with any remaining milk dip.