The old cookbook hadn’t been used in years by the time I picked it up earlier this year. The stoplight-yellow cover is well-worn and reads, in brown lettering, The Eleventh Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Cook Without This Book.”
It was my grandmother’s, a 1970 treasured favorite from her days serving as the recording secretary of the St. James Catholic Women’s Club in Arlington Heights, Illinois, which included a cookbook committee and a priest, Father Ed Hughes, who had a sense of humor. The Sloppy Joes recipe is called “Fun on a Bun.” There’s also a “They’ll whine for more” Beef Burgundy recipe, Chicken Tetrazzini referred to as “fowl play, the Italian way,” and instructions for making an “‘O’ Hole in One,” better known as an Orange Jell-O Surprise Cake.
The inside cover is dedicated to women of another era:
“To every wife who has watched a good dinner grow cold; he had to stay late at the office again…Or conversely, to every woman who has just had a phone call; he’s bringing two of his salesmen home for dinner; it’s 5:30 and what does she do now???”
The verbiage is coupled with theology that it is perfectly right “to recognize that taste and delight in food (as in all of God’s creation) is actually far more important than its immediate practical purpose.”
Throughout the cookbook, an assortment of advice is sprinkled in, including a list of birthday stones and flowers for every month of the year, flavor profiles for various herbs and seeds, and intricate diagrams explaining different cuts of beef, veal, lamb, and pork.
In the Cakes and Frostings section is a list of baking hints. One in particular caught my attention: “A good quick frosting is made by boiling a small potato, mashing it and adding powdered sugar and vanilla.”
Could it be true? Mashed potato frosting? Given the ingredients, I knew it was vegan and a good fit for my son, who has a host of allergies and sensitivities.
So I tried to make it.
I boiled a potato for 30 minutes, peeled and mashed it, then combined it with powdered sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla using a stand mixer. Unfortunately, it turned out like—forgive the image—slimy, gooey snot. It was pretty disgusting.
Prior to this experiment, I had read a bit about sweet potato frosting. But in doing further research, I found that almost every recipe calls for coconut oil, and since my preschooler is allergic to most nuts (coconut is indeed a nut), I didn’t want to go that route.
I opted for olive oil instead, though that doesn’t whip as well as coconut oil. The solution: part olive oil, part dairy free butter, plus a few tablespoons of gluten-free flour to make it fluffy.
I also didn’t want to bother with boiling the potato; instead, I decided to roast in the oven so I could “set it and forget it” while I did other things. And I determined that almond extract (I don’t use the imitation fake stuff) gives the frosting more depth, which sweets often lack when there isn’t butter.
After much trial and error, I’ve developed a vegan and gluten-free recipe that’s good enough to share. Like most good things, it starts with a potato.
This is more of a smooth, creamy frosting than a fluffy one. Despite all the ingredients, the recipe doesn’t taste too sweet, which I prefer. But it has some richness and depth that many vegan recipes tend to lack. If you need it sweeter, just add sprinkles.
- 1 large sweet potato (or 2 smaller ones)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ cup maple syrup (I prefer Grade A darker, more robust profile)
- 1½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. almond extract
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ cup dairy free sticks, room temperature
- 3 Tbsp. gluten-free flour
- ⅓ cup + 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
- ⅔ cup powdered sugar
- 2-3 Tbsp. non-dairy milk (I use Unsweetened Original Ripple)
- ⅓ cup vegan chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the sweet potato, skin-on, for 40-50 minutes (depending on potato size). Test the potato with a fork. It should be soft and tender, almost mushy.
Peel the skin off the potato. Do this by simply using your hands to peel it back. (It’s easier than peeling an orange.) Using a knife or fork, remove any brown spots from the potato that would color the frosting.
Put the potato in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for 1-2 minutes until the potato is mashed.
Add olive oil, maple syrup, vanilla, almond extract, and salt; beat for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Add in buttery sticks and beat again.
With the mixer on low, add in the gluten-free flour, one tablespoon at a time, until well combined.
Slowly add in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. (Add a little at a time, or you will get a cloud of dust going everywhere.)
Lastly, I created a double boiler by putting a pot on the stove with 4 inches of water. I put a smaller pot inside it, so it is floating in the water. Add the chocolate chips into the inside pot and as the water heats up it melts the chocolate without burning it. This takes less than 5 minutes.
Once melted add the chocolate chips to the recipe and beat again until mixed in for about a minute.
The frosting can be chilled in the fridge for 15 minutes to stiffen up, or you can begin decorating right away. I spooned all the frosting into a piping bag and used it to decorate cupcakes.
Pro tip: If you don’t have a legit decorating bag (which most people don’t) get a zip-top bag, spoon the frosting into it, then cut a hole in the bottom corner and squeeze the frosting out that way. If you decide to use a decorating tip, put the decorating tip into the bag before filling the bag with frosting; otherwise, the hole in the bag works just fine without tips. To frost, start on the outer edge of the cupcake and work your way into the middle, swirling upward at the end to create a peak.