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Cathy's Lab: Sweet potato souffle with candy cap mushrooms. (gluten free and vegetarian)

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If you want a conversation starter at your holiday table, candy caps are a perfect addition to the menu. The dried mushrooms smell to some, like earthy maple syrup, but to others more like slightly spicy burnt sugar or butterscotch. When baked in a recipe that includes sugar they can taste like maple syrup or vanilla. Pop a dried one in your mouth and it tastes bitter and unpleasant. It is like chewing on a square of unsweetened chocolate or a cinnamon stick-- a little sugar is all you need to bring out the best flavor. In addition to sugar it is also essential that they be well ground so you don't treat your guests to a unpalatable nugget. A coffee grinder works best, but a food processor or mortar and pestle will do.

A chemistry professor recently published a paper on the the chemical compound that makes this lovely taste and odor (Wood, Brandes et al. 2012). A seemingly innocent pursuit posed by a graduate student ended up taking 27 years and 4 additional students. All their names were included on the publication. I hope it made up for the hours they spent toiling on the bench to no avail. I've been there, it isn't fun. But enough of that--The compound they discovered, quabalactone III, is extremely stable. In the quest for the discovery of the volatile compound the original mushroom sample was used for all 27 years of tests, they extracted the odoriferous compound from the air leaving the mushroom undisturbed. The compound is actually so stable that you can often smell it on your skin after eating, especially if you sweat. The first time it happened to me I thought- when in heck did I spill maple syrup on myself. It is great if you play an after Thanksgiving Dinner touch football game, or travel for a weekend to a music festival, or backpack when you can't have a good wash.

There are several Candy Cap recipes for cookies and cakes on the web so I decided to try a gluten free savory dish. I paired the candy caps with sweet potatoes and a little sugar and rum to bring out the flavor. To me in this recipe the Candy Caps taste more like vanilla, but more complex than bottled vanilla. This recipe has only enough sugar to bring out the flavor of the candy caps, if you like sweet - sweet potatoes add more sugar. This dish freezes well so it can be made several weeks in advance.

You will need:

  • 4 c mashed sweet potato
  • 1⁄4 c rum
  • 2 oz dried candy cap mushrooms (ground to a fine powder)
  • 1⁄4 c milk
  • 1⁄4 c brown sugar
  • 1 T butter or olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1⁄2 t salt

Bake sweet potatoes (3-4 large or 5-10 small) in an oven at 350°F or microwave until soft. When cooled, peel, cube and roughly measure 4 cups. Gently heat rum in a pan for a few minutes until wisps of steam are visible, remove from heat and add ground candy cap mushrooms, milk, brown sugar, oil and stir. In a food processor whip eggs and salt until light yellow and slightly foamy. Add sweet potato chucks, process again. While processing pour in Candy Cap-rum mixture. Transfer mixture to a 2 quart greased baking dish. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F until top browns and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 to 1.5 hours.

Baked sweet potatoes and dried candy caps ready for processing.

Finely ground dried candy caps get happy with warmed rum, butter, milk, and brown sugar.

Sweet potatoes in the food processor with whipped eggs. 

Viola, souffle!

Growing your own sweet potatoes

For the kids in my family, the sweet potato harvest is the fun part of doing their share in the preparation for the holiday. They love it so much they ask if they can dig them up long before they are ready. So, I've also included pictures and instructions on sweet potato growing.

Place potatoes in a half inch of water and wait until shoots appear.

Cut off shoots and root in water.

Plant slips when the ground doesn't feel cold anymore. In Knoxville this is usually in early June. Repeat until beds are full.

Sweet potato harvest is like a dirty easter egg hunt. Well prepared and amended soil makes the search easier!

- Wood, W. F., J. A. Brandes, et al. (2012). "The maple syrup odour of the "candy cap" mushroom, Lactarius fragilis var. rubidus." Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 43: 51-53.

Cathy's Lab - a slice of science pie for the mushroom minded

- Cathy Scott is Chief Science Officer at Everything Mushrooms; she handles all the mycelium! Cathy is also a tremendous cook and dedicated fungal fanatic. This little slice of our web space is dedicated to Cathy's experiments, recipies, and mushroom musings. Be sure to check this page regularly for updates on some of the exciting things happening "behind the scenes" in Cathy's Lab at Everything Mushrooms.