The Showstopping French Alternative to Sweet Potato Casserole
It was the layers that pulled me in. When I first saw a picture of Kristen Farmer Hall’s Sweet Potato Pavé, I think I audibly gasped. I definitely inwardly gasped. And if gasping at your computer isn’t a sign that a dish is going to be a showstopper, I don’t know what is.
The sweet potato component is one of my favorite elements of Thanksgiving (after stuffing but way before the actual turkey), but there isn’t a specific recipe I go to every year. Sometimes, I keep it traditional, with a pecan-topped sweet potato casserole; other years, I might do something that leans more savory like a fennel and sweet potato gratin; and still other years, I completely jump the shark and try a sweet potato casserole that uses Peeps instead of marshmallows for a psychedelic side dish.
But this year, it’s definitely going to be this sweet potato pavé because it’s visually stunning and individually portionable. Pavé is a French word that means “cobblestone,” and in food terms, refers to flat, rectangular layers of deliciousness. In this case, the sweet potatoes are thinly sliced and layered to perfection. Best of all, the crispy-flaky layers get a thumbs up from my kids who are bafflingly hard to please when it comes to Thanksgiving. So let’s dive in!
How to Make Kristen Farmer Hall’s Sweet Potato Pavé
First, you should know that you’re going to need to carve out time the day before you plan to serve this dish for the initial steps. The sweet potatoes need time in the fridge to come together and become sliceable to make this dish work, so plan ahead.
On day one, you’ll roast a head of garlic in the oven, which will make your entire house smell fantastic. Smash about five cloves of the roasted garlic with salt and add it to heavy cream to create the base of what is essentially a gratin.
Next you’ll thinly slice about eight sweet potatoes. The recipe recommends using a mandoline, but, if you’re confident in your knife skills, you may be able to get thin, clean cuts by hand. I tried both and preferred the hand-cut potatoes personally. Once you have the potatoes sliced, toss them in the garlicky cream mixture with some fresh thyme, and shingle them in a parchment-lined baking dish.
The potatoes cook for about two hours in the oven and then cool at room temperature for another two hours. Next, you’ll weigh the gratin down with another baking dish loaded with cans of food (or pie weights or a book) in the fridge.
After an overnight in the fridge, you’re ready to finish the dish. Slice eight portions and crank up the oven to 500 degrees. Brush each portion with melted butter, and then place in the oven until the edges get golden and crispy. Add some flaky salt, and then stand back and admire the beauty.
My Honest Review
This dish, while feeling novel in its presentation, is 100% Thanksgiving comfort food. The sweet potatoes are soft with an earthy sweetness, and the roasted garlic cream brings so much flavor to the dish, elevating it beyond anything you might remember from sweet potatoes past. That said, it is on the fussier side, so if you’re going to commit to this recipe, be prepared to give it a little extra finesse. After all, you want those layers to be perfect for maximum visual pay-off.
The most important suggestion I can make to help you have a positive experience with this recipe is to change one step: Instead of broiling the sliced gratin to achieve the crispy edges, sear the pieces, cut-side-down, in a nonstick skillet over high heat. When I tried the oven method, several of my gratin slabs fell over, searing the flat side instead of the cut side, and though they were still great to eat, they didn’t achieve the crispety brilliance I was hoping for. When I seared the pieces in a skillet, I was able to monitor them and keep that from happening, and it only took two batches to get them all seared to perfection. Plus, an important bonus for Thanksgiving: You use stovetop space instead of the harder to come by oven space.
5 Tips for Making Sweet Potato Pavé
If you do use the mandoline, save the knobs of sweet potatoes you have at the end, and use them to make soup.
Use the extra roasted garlic cloves to make a roasted garlic mayo, which will be perfect on your Thanksgiving Leftovers sandwich.
Play around with the herbs you add to your cream mixture. Rosemary and sage would both bring some lovely autumnal depth to the dish.
Sear, don’t broil, the pieces of gratin in the final step to make sure each one comes out perfectly.
While this dish has got Thanksgiving written all over it, it would also be a lovely side for any special dinner alongside a roast chicken with a big, juicy red wine and a chicory salad.
This article originally published in November 2021.