Sweet and caramelized, creamy and tender, these sweet potatoes are a side dish to remember (and frankly, feel a bit like dessert, but let’s pretend otherwise). For some folks, it’s not a holiday dinner without a big steaming platter of candied yams or sweet potatoes. These are especially popular in the South, but if you serve them up for Thanksgiving or Christmas one year, there’s no way you will be able to skip them ever after. For a Thanksgiving menu with Southern flair, try them with Cajun Roasted Turkey, Green Bean Casserole, or Southern Collard Greens with Bacon, and Corn Pudding.
If you can get your hands on some actual yams, go right ahead and sub them in for the sweet potatoes. And whatever you choose to call this dish at your table — candied yams or candied sweet potatoes — even if it’s not botanically correct, it’s your Thanksgiving and your tradition, and you should do as you please.
Table of Contents
Candied Sweet Potatoes: Sweet, tender, and caramelized, these potatoes may be the best best part of the meal, no matter what else you are serving!Tweet This
- Sweet potatoes – A darker orange color to the flesh usually means a sweeter flavor. Taste your cooked sweet potatoes as you add them to this dish, and adjust the amount of sugar as desired.
- Butter – Makes the sweet coating on these sweet potatoes creamy and rich.
- Brown sugar – Brown sugar is more flavorful than white sugar and gives this dish its signature caramel-like flavor.
- Maple syrup – A little maple flavor takes this dish to the next level.
- Dried cinnamon and cloves – Aromatic spices like cinnamon and cloves are essential for warming autumnal recipes.
- Salt and pepper – Don’t forget to add salt and pepper. This sweet recipe still needs proper seasoning to provide balance.
- Orange juice – The orange juice is added halfway through the baking process and becomes part of the basting liquid, which keeps this dish moist and sweet.
How to Make Candied Sweet Potatoes
- Bake the sweet potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the potatoes until tender. Cool, let them sit out for at least 12 hours to become very firm.
- Make the sauce: In a small saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, and cloves. Cook until smooth.
- Make the casserole: Peel and slice the sweet potatoes. Place them in a buttered baking dish and pour over the butter mixture. Toss gently until the potatoes are evenly coated.
- Bake: Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Baste: Remove the foil and drizzle the orange juice over the sweet potatoes.
- Finish baking: Bake, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes until the top is golden.
- Serve hot or warm.
In the U.S., the terms yams and sweet potatoes are often used interchangeably. What most Americans think of as yams are actually orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. According to Jessica Harris, an expert in African American foodways, it’s likely that enslaved people began using the terms interchangeably, as American sweet potatoes approximated the flavor and texture of yams, which were more familiar to them. (Read more in The New York Times.)
These days, most yams are usually grown in the tropics, the West Indies in particular. You can find them in Hispanic, Latin, or Caribbean markets in the U.S., but most yams sold in the average supermarket are botanically sweet potatoes. True yams are usually huge, at least 1 foot long, and have white, starchy flesh.
Choose sweet potatoes that are small to medium in size, very firm, and without any dramatic roots sprouting from them. They should have no cuts or bruises. A darker orange color to the flesh usually means a sweeter flavor, and the level of sweetness can range dramatically. Taste your sweet potato dish or at least your cooked sweet potatoes as you combine them into this dish, and adjust the sugar as desired.
I prefer baking my sweet potatoes before combining them with the sauce and baking them for a second time. Roasting brings out the sweetness in the potatoes more than boiling does. Additionally, boiling your potatoes increases their water content and can result in a watery final product.
- Prick the potatoes with a fork before baking so they don’t explode in the oven.
- Allow the potatoes to sit out at room temperature for a day to firm up so they slice neatly and cleanly.
- When you add the orange juice midway through baking, use a spoon to baste the potatoes with the sauce from the bottom of the casserole.
What to Serve With Candied Sweet Potatoes
More Sweet Potato Recipes
- Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows
- Garlic-Parmesan Sweet Potatoes
- Sweet Potato Spoon Bread
- Sweet Potato Fries with New Bay Seasoning
- Sweet Potato Casserole
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Candied Sweet Potatoes
- 6 medium (about 5 pounds) orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (scrubbed)
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- Coarse or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- ½ cup fresh orange juice
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Prick each sweet potato several times with a fork. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, preferably lined with parchment or aluminum foil, and bake until tender, about 1 ¼ to ½ hours. Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature, then let them sit out, loosely covered with a dish towel, for at least 12 hours to become very firm.
- Preheat the oven again, this time to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish or another shallow 4-quart baking dish, or spray with nonstick spray.
- In a small saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, and cloves. Cook over medium heat until the butter melts and everything is well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
- Peel the sweet potatoes (you should be able to peel the skin off with your fingers). Cut them into ½-inch thick slices. Place the sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish and pour over the butter mixture. Toss carefully to keep the slices intact so that the sweet potatoes are pretty well coated with the sauce. Rearrange the slices in the baking dish so that they overlap. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes until hot.
- Remove the foil and drizzle the orange juice over the sweet potatoes. Use a spoon to baste the casserole with the sauce from the bottom. Bake, uncovered, for another 15 to 20 minutes until the top is golden (you can baste once or twice again if you think of it). Serve hot or warm.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.