Bourbon Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole with a Pecan Crust

This dish is nothing like the marshmallow-topped Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole of old. Sauteed apples, a crunchy pecan crust, and spicy mashed sweet potatoes make for a sophisticated update.



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Ingredients
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    3 - 3 1/4  pounds 
    sweet potatoes (about 3 large)
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    2   ounces 
    unsalted butter; more for the pan (4 tablespoons)
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    4   ounces 
    toasted and very finely chopped pecans (1 cup)
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    1 1/3  cups 
    fresh breadcrumbs
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    2   tablespoons 
    finely chopped fresh parsley
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    Kosher salt
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    1   cup 
    heavy cream
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    8  1/4 inch thick slices 
    fresh ginger, unpeeled and crushed
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    2   
    whole star anise
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    1  2 - 3  inch 
    cinnamon stick
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    2   tablespoons 
    plus 2 teaspoons bourbon
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    1 1/2  teaspoons 
    pure vanilla extract
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    1 3/4  pounds 
    Granny Smith apples (about 3 large), peeled, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced

Directions
1.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and bake them on the sheet until completely tender when pierced with a fork, 55 to 60 minutes. Let rest until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, if not working ahead, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
2.
Discard the skins and put the flesh in a medium mixing bowl. With a potato masher, work the sweet potatoes until they're well mashed (they don't have to be perfectly smooth).
3.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and combine with the pecans, breadcrumbs, parsley, and two big pinches of salt in a small bowl.
4.
Combine the heavy cream, ginger, star anise, and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Bring to a full boil (watch carefully so that it doesn't boil over) and remove from the heat immediately. Let steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a liquid measuring cup, pressing down on the solids with a spatula to extract all of the liquid. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the bourbon, the vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
5.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples, season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and toss well. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, 8 to 9 minutes. Lower the heat if the apples are getting too dark, but not so much that they soften without browning.
6.
Turn off the heat, carefully add the remaining 2 teaspoons bourbon and stir until it evaporates, a few seconds. Pour in 1/3 cup of the infused cream and stir until the apples have absorbed most of it, a few more seconds. Set the pan aside and let the apples cool for about 15 minutes, turning them occasionally to release steam.
7.
Butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish (9x13-inch works well). Add the remaining cream to the mashed sweet potatoes and mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt. Arrange the apples across the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the sweet potato mixture over the apples in an even layer. Top with the pecan-crumb mixture.
8.
Bake the casserole at 375 degrees F until the crumb topping is dark brown (it will be browner around the edges) and the casserole is heated through, about 25 minutes.
Make Ahead:

1.
You can bake and mash the sweet potatoes and make the crumb topping a day ahead (cover both and refrigerate). Bring the potatoes and crumb topping to room temperature before assembling the dish. You can also assemble and refrigerate for up to 8 hours before baking. Return to room temperature before baking.
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