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When I moved to New Orleans, I discovered that this was a city that -- at least in terms of food -- was a world unto itself.

During Mardi Gras, I would have a king cake party almost every day, and over the course of a few years I tried almost every flavor made.

My favorite bakery boasted a "queen cake" made with Louisiana sweet potatoes. It was my favorite. And every year since moving away, I crave it.

It didn't take long for me to figure out that I could take all the rich flavors of my favorite "queen cake" and make a sweet potato bread pudding (also very popular in New Orleans).

> Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Whiskey Hard Sauce

For the sauce:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sifted powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon best-quality bourbon or rye

Pinch of salt

For the bread pudding:

8 cups torn or cubed stale raisin bread (about 1 large loaf)

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon mace

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 cups half-and-half

1 cup heavy cream

4 large eggs

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup mashed baked garnet sweet potatoes

To make the sauce, in a large bowl use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla, liquor and salt. Continue mixing until smooth and creamy. Cover and set aside. Also can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a month.

For the bread pudding, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 2-quart baking dish or individual ramekins with cooking spray.

In a large bowl toss together the raisin bread with the pecans, then set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the granulated sugar, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and salt. Toss the sugar mixture over the bread and pecans, then stir well. Drizzle everything with the melted butter, then toss to evenly distribute.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, cream, eggs and brown sugar. Add the vanilla and sweet potatoes, then mix well. Pour the sweet potato-cream mixture over the bread mixture and stir until well blended. Let stand for about 5 minutes, then spoon into the prepared baking dish or ramekins.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes (bake ramekins for just 15 to 20 minutes), or until set.

Top with hard sauce so that it melts into the crevices. Serve warm. Serves 10.