The Mexican state of Puebla has one of the richest cuisines in the country, recognized for iconic dishes such as mole Poblano (Puebla Style red mole), or chiles en nogada (stuffed poblano peppers in walnut sauce), particularly popular during the month of September, to commemorate Mexico’s Independence. There are also many sweet preparations, and the traditional treat to bring back home after a visit to Puebla, is a box of flavoured sweet potato bars (as pictured at the top of this post), lovingly wrapped in paper, and available at every confectionery store in the state:
They are so well known in Mexico that they are simply called “camotes de Puebla” – “sweet potatoes from Puebla”, and it is implied that refers to the prepared sweets, not the vegetable roots. I would never have thought of making them while in Mexico, but now that I live in Canada, I felt I had to try. They are easy to prepare, with just a simple syrup and flavourings added to cooked and mashed sweet potatoes. Traditionally, all flavourings added were natural: lime, strawberry, orange, coconut, pineapple, vanilla, etc.; more recent recipes call for artificial flavourings, and food colouring to mask the natural tone of cooked sweet potato, so making them at home is a good way to avoid those antics, as well.
Puebla Style Sweet Potato Treats –
Camotes de Puebla
Ingredients (for one dozen)
2 large sweet potatoes (preferably white-fleshed, approximately 400 g each); thoroughly washed
1 ½ cups granulated sugar (approximately 300 g)
½ cup water (250 ml)
Choice of flavouring (quantities for one batch):
½ cup strained strawberry or other fruit jam OR
½ cup shredded dry coconut OR
2 tbsp orange blossom water, or orange zest, or lime zest, or vanilla extract or rose water, etc.
Powdered sugar, for coating
Parchment paper, labels, glue stick
I found some good sized white-fleshed sweet potatoes (sometimes called Japanese yams in Canada). They are dark pink, almost purple on the outside, and white inside:
They start to discolour as soon as they are sliced, so first set up a large pot with water, then peel and cut the sweet potatoes into large chunks, quickly placing them in the water (photo below, left). Cook over high heat, covered, until tender when tested with a fork; mine took twenty minutes. Remove pot from heat, drain water, and mash sweet potatoes (photo below, right):
I got about 600g of cooked sweet potato mash. The recommended amount of sugar for some recipes goes from as high as equal weight, down to half, and that is what I chose, so 300 g for this batch. At this point, the mashed sweet potato might be divided into smaller batches, if several flavourings are to be used. I decided to try with two half-batches, so I placed 150g of granulated sugar (about 3/4 cup) and 1/4 cup of water in a small pan over medium heat (photo below, left). The mix has to be stirred to dissolve sugar, and cooked until it becomes bubbly and thickens into a syrup (photo below, right):
Incorporate flavouring of choice; I added 1/4 cup dry shredded coconut (photo below, left). Add reserved mashed sweet potatoes (in this case half), and continue cooking and stirring, to thicken the paste (photo below, right):
The paste is ready when it looks dry and the bottom of the pan shows when the paste is stirred with the spoon, approximately 12 minutes for this amount. Since the sweet potato gave the paste an off-white shade, I added 1 tsp of grated lime zest, and the paste turned greenish (photo below, right):
Transfer to a bowl and allow to completely cool down to room temperature.
For the other half batch, I chose strawberry flavour, so I strained some jam to obtain 1/4 cup of smooth strawberry “sauce” (photo below, left). I cleaned the small pan and repeated the procedure, preparing the clear syrup with another 3/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water, then adding the strained strawberry jam (photo below, right):
I added the remaining half of the sweet potato mash, and stirred and cooked until thick as before. For this flavour and quantities, it took about 15 minutes, a little longer than with the dry coconut. I transferred to a bowl and allowed to cool as before.
This paste turned a muddy pink, mostly brown coloured, very close to old-fashioned version for this flavour. I wanted to make some orange paste, and I thought that, just in this case, using orange-fleshed sweet potato might work nicely. I cooked and mashed a large one (this take a little shorter than the white-fleshed), then cleaned the small pan and started a third small batch of syrup. For flavouring, I added one tablespoon of orange blossom water (photo below, left). I added the sweet potato mash, and continued cooking (photo below, right):
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes have a higher water content compared to white-fleshed ones, so this batch took close to 20 minutes to thicken. The colour, though, was a very bright orange, so I thought it was worthwhile taking the extra time.
Once all the flavours have cooled down, I prepared a tray with powdered sugar, and taking about 1/4 cup of paste at a time, formed cylinders about three inches (7.5 cm) long; I placed them on powdered sugar on the tray, then sprinkled with more powdered sugar, working with all the different pastes:
To wrap in parchment paper, I cut strips from a roll (15 inches wide), pulling out about 6 inches, cutting that strip into four pieces, and ending up with 6 in x3.75 in rectangles. Taking one treat, I placed it in the centre of the rectangle, then wrapped lengthwise, and twisted the ends:
I made labels copying the original design from Puebla (template included with printable recipe); glued to the wrappers, they identified each flavour properly:
The different flavours had different colours without artificial additives (photo below, left). They may be kept in a dry spot for a few days, or in the fridge for up to two weeks. they will develop a thin crystallized layer as they dry, as seen in the photo below, right, but that is tasty, too:
I am bringing my Puebla style sweet potato treats to Su’s Virtual Tea Party, Kia Ora, Su! Growing introspective, I was thinking of how much I am missing my daughters, currently working in France and Japan, so I thought it would be nice to have a café au lait or a green tea with these treats, especially when served in the University of Toronto mugs that each girl so fittingly gave me:
It was great to sample all the different flavours of camotes de Puebla, as shown above, in Mexican Talavera ceramic plates, another example of Puebla’s extensive cultural footprint (more on this in my next post.)
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I am sharing my recipe at Thursday Favourite Things #458, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.