March 13, 2023| By

Old Fashioned Candied Sweet Potatoes

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
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Old Fashioned Candied Sweet Potatoes are a classic soul food dish. Melt-in-your-mouth sweet potatoes baked in a buttery brown sugar glaze with warm spices and vanilla make this great recipe unforgettable! With the caramel notes and luscious texture, this dish is a must for holiday dinners.

For more sweet potato recipes, try my Stove Top Candied Yams, bourbon sweet potato casserole or my sweet potato pie recipe!

candied sweet potatoes in a casserole dish with a serving spoon.
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2023 Juneteenth virtual potluck banner

I’ve joined Eat The Culture along with 30 other Black culinary creators in celebrating Juneteenth through a virtual cookout. Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day, signifying the final emancipation of those enslaved in the US announced in 1865. This year, we are celebrating "Freedom Day" by offering a delightful selection of mains, sides, desserts, and refreshing drinks that are perfect for backyard barbecues and summer gatherings with friends and family.Join us in honoring the legacy of progress and freedom by cooking and sharing these recipes.

You can easily follow each participant by using the hashtag #JuneteenthCookout2023 on Instagram. Additionally, you can find a list of all recipes from the 2023 Juneteenth Virtual Cookout on the Eat the Culture website.

The Ultimate Soul Food Side Dish

Candied sweet potatoes are one of my favorite side dishes for family gatherings. Originating from the American South, tt's one of those soul food dishes that's always huge hit for any special occasion, especially for holiday dinners. Growing up, my Grandmom would make this dish and the smell of the spiced syrup and sweet potatoes baking in the oven would fill up the whole house.

This recipe is inspired by those fond memories. I use fresh sweet potatoes, peel them and cut them into chunks (so that they cook a little faster). Then I make a buttery browned butter and brown sugar glaze (akin to a caramel sauce) with spices and vanilla extract to pour on top prior to baking them in the oven. The end result is heavenly.

Whether it be Thanksgiving dinner, Easter, Christmas dinner, or just sunday dinner, this southern candied sweet potatoes recipe is the perfect side dish for your holiday meal. Also, if you haven't paired candied sweet potatoes with my other favorite side dish - mac and cheese, you haven't lived. This combination is always the star of the show.

Key Ingredients

ingredients to make candied yams - sweet potatoes, maple syrup, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla extract.

Sweet Potatoes - fun fact: sweet potatoes are simply swollen roots that absorb water as they grow. The best sweet potatoes (flavorwise) are the small and medium sized potatoes that have smoother skin. In this case, bigger is not better. The smaller sweet potatoes tend to be sweeter, while the larger sized sweets are more starchy with less flavor. Go for a 4-8 oz sized sweet potato for this sweet potatoes recipe.

Butter - butter is the basis of our brown sugar sauce that will be poured on top of the sweet potatoes prior to baking. I used salted butter as I love a nice mix of savory and sweet flavor to balance out this dish. If you're watching your salt intake, you can use unsalted butter and taste for salt as you go, adding about ¼ tsp of salt at a time while making the sauce.

Brown Sugar - brown sugar is what gives the syrup its buttery caramel toffee flavor. I recommend using dark brown sugar as it contains a bit more molasses and has a deeper caramel-like flavor. However, both light or dark brown sugars will be delicious for this recipe!

Warm Spices - you'll need ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground nutmeg. These spices really give this yam dish so much character and flavor and liven the dish to make it cozy. (Pro tip: you can also use my pumpkin pie spice blend here too)

Maple Syrup - the maple flavor pairs exceptionally well with the spices and buttery flavor of this dish.

Vanilla Extract - use a quality vanilla extract for the best results. The combination of vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter are the stars of this dish so make sure that the type of vanilla extract you use actually contains vanilla. There's so many imitations out there! If you really want to get fancy, use vanilla beans (1-2 should do the trick) for added vanilla flavor.

Chopped pecans - this ingredient is totally optional. In my opinion, sweet potatoes and pecans go together like peanut butter and jelly - but if it's not your thing, leave the nuts out.

Sweet Potatoes vs Yams (A Brief History)

a casserole dish filled with candied yams.

You've probably noticed that I've mentioned homemade candied yams and candied sweet potatoes interchangeably throughout this post. Truth is, sweet potatoes and actual yams are completely different root vegetables.

True yams have a white flesh and a bumpy grayish brown skin. Early sweet potatoes that were grown in the US had a white flesh as well. The orange-fleshed sweet potatoes weren't introduced to the United States until the 1930s.

Sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams by enslaved Africans because they resembled the yams that they cooked with back in Africa - hence the confusion.

The yams that you buy in US grocery, like garnet yams, stores are usually different varieties of sweet potatoes. So are candied yams technically a thing? Yes, just not for this recipe. BUT I grew up calling them candied yams AND candied sweet potatoes because that's why my family did. My kids will probably do the same.

Variations

candied sweet potatoes in a serving dish with a silver spoon.
  • Add mini marshmallows on top. Make this dish even more decadent by adding a marshmallow topping.
  • Brighten it up with citrus! My mom likes to add little orange juice or orange zest to her sweet potato casserole and she also adds pineapples to her candied sweet potatoes. It's delicious! Add either to
  • Go nuts! I like to add chopped pecans for garnish, but you can also add chopped walnuts too.
  • Add a little cream. This dish is already very creamy, but some like to add heavy cream to the sauce to play up that caramel flavor.
  • Dairy Free and Vegan Options: use vegan butter to make this dish both vegan and dairy free. Also, if you'd like to use heavy cream, use a full fat coconut milk instead.

Expert Tips

  • This is the perfect make-ahead dish. I like to prepare my candied sweet potatoes a day in advance because the longer they sit in the brown sugar sauce, the more they soak in the flavor.
  • Allow the sweet potatoes to cool before serving. The candied mixture forms a delicious golden brown buttery syrup in the casserole dish that's piping hot fresh out of the oven. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes prior to serving!
  • Using a vegetable peeler to peel the sweet potatoes saves a ton of time! I highly recommend it!

How to make Candied Sweet Potatoes

  • Preheat the oven 375 degrees F.
  • Wash the sweet potatoes and cut into thick slices. Then cut each slice into large chunks. Add to a 9x13 casserole dish and set aside. (Image #1)
sweet potatoes cut into chunks and placed in a bowl.
  • Melt butter to a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Brown the butter. Once browned, reduce to low and add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. Whisk together gently and cook for 5 minutes, allowing the mixture to come together.
  • Remove from heat and add maple syrup and vanilla extract. Continue to stir until combined. Sauce should be thick. (Image #2)
buttery brown sugar syrup in a medium saucepan.
  • Pour the brown sugar mixture mixture on top of the sweet potatoes. (Image #3)
sweet potato chunks in a casserole dish covered in candied glaze.
  • Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes - until the sweet potatoes are fork tender and syrupy. Allow the dish to cool for 10 minutes.

That's it! See, I told you this was an easy candied yams recipe! Bookmark this delicious recipe for the perfect holiday dish!

What to Serve with Sweet Potatoes

My favorite part. These classic recipes are some of my favorite dishes to enjoy with old fashioned sweet potatoes. Let's fill up your plate with all of the holiday classics:

Make-Ahead, Storage, and Reheating

Make-Ahead Instructions: candied sweet potatoes can be made up to a day in advance. I actually recommend making them the day before Thanksgiving day so that they have time to soak in all of the flavors from the buttery syrup. Option #2: Make this recipe up to step #5, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake. (see the full recipe at the bottom of this post)

Storage: allow the sweet potatoes to cool completely, then cover leftover candied yams with plastic wrap or add to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Reheating: the best way to reheat is to add to a baking dish covered with aluminum foil and bake in the oven at 350 degrees until warmed and syrupy, about 20-30 minutes.

Recipe FAQs

Can I use canned yams?

I do not recommend using canned yams as the don't have much flavor and tend to be rather mushy. For the best candied yams, use fresh sweet potatoes.

How do you know when candied yams are done?

When the potatoes are fork tender and sugary syrup has formed at the bottom of the baking dish, they're done.

What do candied yams taste like?

Although there's only a few simple ingredients, these sweet yams have a buttery, sweet flavor with hints of spice and warm vanilla.

Should I boil my yams before baking?

Nope! It's really not necessary and just adds an extra step and makes more dishes. Just peel the potatoes, cut them up, and bake them.

More Holiday Dishes

More Soul Food Recipes

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candied sweet potatoes in a casserole dish with a serving spoon.

Candied Yams Recipe

Old Fashioned Candied Sweet Potatoes are a classic soul food dish. Melt-in-your-mouth sweet potatoes baked in a buttery brown sugar glaze with warm spices and vanilla make this great recipe unforgettable! With the caramel notes and luscious texture, this dish is a must for holiday dinners.
Serving: 8
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Calories: 500kcal

Equipment

  • 9x13 Baking Pan
  • Medium Saucepan
  • Potato Peeler

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs Sweet Potatoes (about 6 medium sweet potatoes)
  • 10 tbsps Salted Butter
  • 1 ½ cups Brown Sugar
  • 2 ½ tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • ½ tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • tsp Ground Ginger
  • ½ tsp Kosher Salt
  • 2 tbsps Maple Syrup
  • 1 ½ tbsps Vanilla Extract

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Wash, peel, and cut sweet potatoes into chunks. Add chunks to a 9x13 baking dish and set aside.
  • Melt butter to a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Brown the butter. Once browned, reduce to low and add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. Whisk together gently and cook for 5 minutes, allowing the mixture to come together.
  • Remove from heat and add maple syrup and vanilla extract. Continue to stir until combined. Sauce should be thick.
  • Pour butter sauce over the sweet potatoes and use a spoon to mix together and make sure all of the sweet potatoes are coated. Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, until fork tender.

Notes

  • This is the perfect make-ahead dish. I like to prepare my candied sweet potatoes a day in advance because the longer they sit in the brown sugar sauce, the more they soak in the flavor.
  • Allow the sweet potatoes to cool before serving. The candied mixture forms a delicious golden brown buttery syrup in the casserole dish that's piping hot fresh out of the oven. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes prior to serving!
  • Using a vegetable peeler to peel the sweet potatoes saves a ton of time! I highly recommend it!

Nutrition

Calories: 500kcal | Carbohydrates: 90g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 38mg | Sodium: 395mg | Potassium: 842mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 53g | Vitamin A: 32615IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 119mg | Iron: 2mg
Course: Dinner, Holidays, Side Dish, Soul Food
Cuisine: African-American, American, Soul Food

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