A classic Thanksgiving side dish, this sweet potato recipe is simple and sweet with warm spices, a buttery syrup and crunchy pecans. It can be made ahead and is cooked on the stovetop. They're a southern staple for the holidays that also works with yams.
This is a quick and easy idea to add a sweet casserole dish as part of your Thanksgiving side dishes or another holiday meal. Or, you are just looking for a new addition to your sweet potato recipes.
That was our case; as much as we love this ingredient, we didn't have many recipes except for this very easy sweet potato pie.
Whether you call them candied sweet potatoes, southern candied yams or sweet potato casserole, the essence remains the same: tender sweet potatoes (or yams) in a spiced sweet, buttery sauce.
It's a dish that celebrates the simplicity of home cooking, where a handful of simple ingredients can create something truly special for the holiday season. It's a perfect addition to the Thanksgiving table (with roasted Brussels sprouts and green bean casserole) and also for Christmas dinner.
There's something comforting about recipes that have stood the test of time. Old-fashioned candied sweet potatoes have been gracing dinner tables for generations.
It's a dish that doesn't rely on fancy ingredients or complicated techniques.
- Fresh sweet potatoes: orange-fleshed.
- Dark brown sugar: you can use light, but it has a weaker molasses flavor.
- White granulated sugar.
- Unsalted butter.
- Cinnamon: any ground cinnamon you normally use works fine. I like Frontier Vietnamese cinnamon and Simply Organic Ceylon cinnamon.
- Nutmeg: buy it already ground and grind nutmeg pods.
- Orange: fresh orange juice and orange zest.
- Salt: I like using kosher salt or fine sea salt when baking. But regular table salt works just fine.
See the recipe card towards the end of this post for quantities.
Variations & substitutions
- Yams: the traditional dish uses orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, but yams and white sweet potatoes also work.
- Pumpkin pie spice: use it instead of the cinnamon and nutmeg. It can be a homemade pumpkin mix or from the grocery store.
- Marshmallow topping: cut the sugar in half, place in an oven serving dish, top it with mini marshmallows and bake until golden brown. It will be very sweet. You might want to consider reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe.
- Spicy: cut through the sweetness by adding a dash of cayenne pepper.
- Other vegetables: the buttery caramel toffee flavor of the syrup goes well with pumpkin, butternut squash and different root vegetables like carrots and parsnips.
How to choose sweet potatoes or yams
- Skin: should be mostly smooth and free from bruises, blemishes, or spots.
- Firmness: when you gently squeeze them, they should feel firm and not too soft. Avoid any that feel mushy or have soft spots, as these may be overripe or damaged.
- Size and shape: even-sized sweet potatoes are easier to slice or dice evenly. Smaller ones tend to be sweeter and better for candying.
- No sprouting: check for any sprouts or shoots emerging from the sweet potatoes. These indicate that they are older and may not be as fresh.
Do you need to peel the sweet potatoes?
Yes, peeling the sweet potatoes is recommended for old-fashioned candied sweet potatoes. The skin can be tough and doesn't caramelize like the flesh, so removing it ensures a smoother texture in the final dish.
How thick should you slice them?
Aim for slices that are about ¼ to ½ inch thick. This thickness allows them to cook evenly and absorb the sweet glaze effectively.
How to make Southern candied sweet potatoes
You can start by adding less sugar than specified and check before adding the sweet potatoes. The same goes for the orange zest.
Combine all ingredients except the sweet potato pieces. Let the butter and sugars melt and stir to mix.
Add the pieces of sweet potatoes or yams and cook until soft to your liking.
For a thicker syrup: remove the potato pieces with a slotted spoon and let the syrup reduce over medium-low heat to your liking. Serve with the reserved sweet potatoes.
Serving old-fashioned sweet potatoes (or yams)
They're the perfect side dish for the Thanksgiving table along with:
- Roast turkey or chicken.
- Cranberry sauce.
- Bread rolls.
- Mashed potatoes.
- Green beans.
- Ham: whether it's a holiday ham or a baked ham for any occasion, the combination of sweet and salty flavors is wonderful.
- Pork: dishes like roasted pork loin and pork chops work well with candied sweet potatoes. The contrast in flavors is a winning combination.
- Meatless options: If you're serving a vegetarian buffet meal, consider pairing these sweet potatoes with dishes like stuffed acorn squash, lentil loaf, or a hearty vegetable stir-fry.
Can you prepare candied sweet potatoes in advance?
Yes, you can make them ahead of time. Prepare the dish as usual, let cool, transfer to a baking dish, cover and refrigerate. When you're ready to serve, warm them in the oven until heated through. Or just let them come to room temperature.
How to store leftovers
Store leftover candied yams or sweet potatoes in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Reheat them in the oven or microwave before serving.
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- 3 pounds sweet potatoes
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ cup butter
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- Zest of ½ orange
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
- Peel and chop sweet potatoes into ¾ inch cubes. Set them aside.
- Place butter, brown sugar, white sugar, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, salt, and orange juice and cook it over low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
- Incorporate cubes of sweet potatoes and stir to coat.
- Cover with a lid and cover over medium heat for 15 -20 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender. Cooking them with the lid on will create a liquid caramel that coats the potatoes. If you prefer a thicker caramel, you can cook them uncovered for an additional 5 minutes to reduce the liquid.
- Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, transfer them to a serving dish and serve them warm with chopped pecans (toasted or raw).
- For a thicker syrup, remove the potato pieces with a slotted spoon and let the syrup reduce over medium-low heat to your liking. Serve with the reserved sweet potatoes.
- For optional garnishes, you can sprinkle some fresh rosemary, a pinch of sea salt.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container or covered with plastic wrap for 3-4 days. Reheat before eating.
- How to choose sweet potatoes or yams:
Skin: should be mostly smooth and free from bruises, blemishes, or spots.
Firmness: when you gently squeeze them, they should feel firm and not too soft. Avoid any that feel mushy or have soft spots, as these may be overripe or damaged.
Size and shape: even-sized sweet potatoes are easier to slice or dice evenly. Smaller ones tend to be sweeter and better for candying.
No sprouting: check for any sprouts or shoots emerging from the sweet potatoes. These indicate that they are older and may not be as fresh.
- To make ahead: prepare the dish as instructed, let cool, transfer to a baking dish, cover and refrigerate. When you're ready to serve, warm them in the oven until heated through. Or just let them come to room temperature.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Category: Side dish
- Method: Cooking
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: candied sweet potatoes