Pan de Batata (Sweet Potato Cake) is a delicious dessert with a very exotic and spicy taste, the aroma of cinnamon, cloves, and a touch of ginger.
About ten years ago I was in Denmark, where my husband hails from, spending the holiday season with his family. With a full schedule of eating and more eating ahead, I had the "brilliant" idea of treating everybody to an "authentic" traditional Dominican
pre-Xmas Xmas meal on the 23rd, including a delicious pan de batata (sweet potato cake) for dessert.
We were not even in the capital, where finding the right ingredients had a slightly better chance than a snowball in hell, instead we were in a small tourist town away from any major city. This idea of mine proved to be quite the challenge.
Even under these conditions, I was still able to procure yuca and platanos in a nearby city, and with considerable diligence, a raw leg of ham.
It's easy to forget that what is common to the point of being unremarkable in our country, is not really so abroad. For a country that consumes a heck of a lot of pork, finding a pernil in Denmark proved to be quite the feat. Since my in-laws own a hotel and restaurants, they have a good relationship with the town's butcher, who got us one after a couple of days of waiting.
Whatever ingredients I couldn't find I adapted, and substituted. No whole-grain bulgur? I made kipes with peeled bulgur and added a bit of flour to help with the consistency. No yautia or ñame? I made pasteles en hoja with yuca and platanos and added a grated potato to add more starch. Since finding plantain leaves would be impossible in Denmark, I wrapped them in parchment paper.
The most difficult part proved to be guandules (pigeon peas) for a moro de guandules. Nobody had ever heard of them. So, I found some dry beans that looked a bit like guandules and decided to try them. Left in water overnight it only took 15 mins. for them to cook soft. The taste is similar to the "ashy", nutty taste of guandules. It turned out not a lot unlike the real thing. The beans in question are mung beans, a name that Aunt Ilana dug up for me as the bag had a Danish name that my husband wasn't able to translate.
And since finding batatas (Dominican sweet potatoes) in cold Denmark would be akin to finding rødgrød med fløde being served in the Dominican Republic, I used the more common sweet potatoes (the ones with the orangey flesh) and some corn starch (they have less starch than batatas). It worked. A Festivus miracle!
About this recipe
Sweet potato cake is one of those dishes that are very Dominican. With a short list of ingredients, it is easy to make, and full of exotic aromas and spicy flavors. The one in the recipes and pictures are made with Dominican sweet potatoes.
The recipe includes instructions to adapt to other types of sweet potatoes. While this dish is not generally related to Christmas, I find the combination of flavors and spices very apt for this time of the year.
Pan de Batata Recipe (Dominican Sweet Potato Cake)
- 2 lb [0.9 kg] of sweet potatoes
- 1/3 cup of coconut oil , plus extra to grease pan
- 2 medium eggs
- 1 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 teaspoons of grated ginger (or 4 tsp ginger powder)
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
- 1 teaspoon of cloves powder
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg powder
- 1/2 cup finely chopped coconut
Make batter: Peel the sweet potatoes (raw!). Chop and place in a food processor bowl. Grind it to the texture of brown sugar. Add eggs, brown sugar, milk, salt, oil, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg powder. Pulse until you obtain a smooth batter. Mix in the chopped coconut by with a spatula. If you do not have a food processor, grate the sweet potatoes with the least coarse side of your grater, then mix with the rest of the ingredients as instructed above.
Bake: Grease a small bread loaf pan, if your pan tends to stick, line with greased parchment paper and also grease the paper. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake in preheated oven to 350 ºF [175 ºC] until you pinch with a clean knife and it comes out clean (about 35 mins).
Serve: Cool to room temperature before removing from the pan. Serve at room temperature with a hot drink of your choice.