Classic Sweet Potato Casserole
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Last week, in my Thanksgiving Menu 2021 post, I mentioned I might bring back my Great Aunt Phyllis’s candied yams. Here they are in all their glory, creamy, orange-scented, brandy-spiked sweet potatoes buried under a blanket of brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon-spiced pecans.
This is a very classic recipe, unapologetic in its use of butter and sugar, and I did not alter the recipe a hair, but for adding salt to the purée. Had I spoken with my mother prior to making them, I might have halved the brown sugar in the topping, which would have left it plenty sweet, and I might have omitted the small amount of brown sugar in the filling, too.
Friends, if you’ve been reading for awhile, you know this is not the sort of recipe that typically makes my heart sing, and in previous years I might be inclined to revisit it, to “healthify” it, to update it with less rich, more nuanced seasonings.
But not this year. If there is a time and a place for this sort of festive, nostalgic ensemble, it’s on the 2021 holiday table. One bite of the silky smooth, brilliant hued purée brought me back to Thanksgivings of yore, surrounded by siblings and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and dear family friends. I cannot wait to bust this classic out one week — eek! — from today.
I hope all of your holiday preparations are going well.
PPS: 25 Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Note: I’ve changed the title here to sweet potato casserole, because I have not used yams here, and it’s likely Great Aunt Phyllis didn’t either. The words yam and sweet potato are often used interchangeably, but they actually are different vegetables:
- Yams are starchy, not sweet root vegetables and have a rough, brown tree bark-like exterior.
- Sweet potatoes are — wait for it — sweet root vegetables and have a reddish skin and a creamier, darker interior.
- Most American supermarkets are selling sweet potatoes, not yams.
How to Make Sweet Potato Casserole, Step by Step
Gather 4 pounds of sweet potatoes. Give them a wash if they are dirty.
Transfer to a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a simmer.
Boil for 40 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are completely soft.
Meanwhile, zest an orange; then juice it. You’ll need 2/3 cup of orange juice.
Once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, purée them in a food processor or blender.
Transfer the purée to a large bowl.
Add the filling ingredients: orange zest and juice, butter, brown sugar, ginger, and egg yolks.
Whisk to combine.
Transfer to a 9×13-inch baking dish.
To make the topping, gather the ingredients: brown sugar, melted butter, cinnamon, and pecans.
Stir them together.
Then spread them over the sweet potatoes and transfer the pan to the oven for about 45 minutes…
… or until the top is beginning to caramelize at the edges.
Let sit 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Classic Sweet Potato Casserole
- Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
- Yield: Serves 10-15
This is my Great Aunt Phyllis’s classic sweet potato casserole, previously known as candied yams in my family. As noted in the post above, it is unlikely Phyllis used yams in this recipe, which are hard to come by in most American super markets, and much more likely she used sweet potatoes, which is what I’ve used here.
After speaking with my mother, I learned she has reduced the brown sugar in the topping to 2/3 cup sugar as opposed to 1 1/3 cup sugar, which I would recommend doing, and she also omits the brown sugar in the filling. The filling itself does not taste too sweet to me, but it is not wanting for flavor either.
For the sweet potato filling:
- 4 lbs. sweet potatoes, washed if very dirty
- zest of 1 orange
- 2/3 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if you are up for it
- 5 tablespoons brandy
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar, optional, see notes above
- 4 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted, room temperature
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
For the topping:
- 8 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
- 1 1/3 cup brown sugar, or less, see notes above
- 2 cups chopped pecans
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- Boil the sweet potatoes for 40 minutes. They should be very soft when pierced with a knife. Drain them and let them cool until easy enough to handle. Peel them and transfer them to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.
- Heat oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.
- In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, orange zest, orange juice, brandy, brown sugar, butter, yolks, and ginger. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I find these need at least a teaspoon of kosher salt — I add 2 teaspoons — but season to your liking. If tasting the raw egg yolks makes you nervous, you can leave them out until you get the seasoning right; then add the yolks. Whisk the mixture until smooth; then spread into the prepared baking dish.
- Melt the butter in a small skillet. In a large bowl combine the butter, brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon. Spread the mixture over the sweet potatoes. At this point the dish can be covered and transferred to the fridge for 24 hours or longer. Or, transfer to the oven immediately and bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 90 minutes
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Stovetop, Oven
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: sweet potato, casserole, classic, pecans
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
28 Comments on “Classic Sweet Potato Casserole”
If the brown sugar in the topping is reduced to 2/3 cup – do the other ingredients (butter, pecans, cinnamon) have to be reduced too to maintain the same balance/texture? Thanks!
Nope! Keep everything else the same!
I’m not accustomed to using Brandy in recipes. Could you tell me how much Brandy you use?
This recipe calls for 5 tablespoons, which is 1/4 cup plus 1 more tablespoon.
Hi, Ali looking so tempting in photo. i am dying to have make Classic Sweet Potato Casserole and going to have it with my family.
Yay 🙂 🙂 🙂 Hope you love it Patricia!!
This look really amazing and unique. Your pictures made me drool for this yummy dish. I have never heard about this earlier. i really admire the posts that you have shared each and every step how you made this. Your creativity towards this post is well-explained as this recipe looks so easy and quick by the way you explained it. Keep it up.
Thank you, Aria 🙂 🙂 🙂
Can you skip the brandy?
Made (used apple cider in place of brandy) and refrigerated, will cook tomorrow (on Thanksgiving). Tasted the potatoes and they taste heavenly and topping smells fantastic. And it looks beautiful! Thank you!
So wonderful to hear this, Nancy! I was amazed by both the flavor and texture — so silky smooth — of the sweet potatoes, too. Hope you and your family love them. Happy Happy Thanksgiving 💕
My kids love the recipe from their Southern great grandmother that includes the tiny marshmallows on top. The secret tip for hers? The canned yams… It grates against my self image to use them but they are so easy and really can’t taste the difference hahah
That’s so fun Bates! I think my kids would really really love a version of this with marshmallows… gonna hit you up for the recipe. How nice not to have to cook the yams from scratch?!
Made this for Thanksgiving and what a hit! Thank you Aunt Phylis! Followed the adjustments in the notes and will make it that way in the future. Ali’s recipes NEVER disappoint.
Awwww so nice to hear this, Cindy 🙂 🙂 🙂 Thank you. Aunt Phyllis would be so happy to read this. These were a hit at our Thanksgiving, too. There’s something about the classics on Thanksgiving that just make sense. Thanks for writing!
I tried this recipe for Thanksgiving. Excellent. I especially like the fact of boiling the potatoes without peeling and cutting first. The orange juice added a great flavor, also. Thank you!
Wonderful to hear this, Patty! It was such a hit with my family as well. I’m so happy it’s back in the rotation. Thanks for writing!
Hi, Ali! Question…..how prominent is the ginger? I’ve made a similar sweet potato casserole before, but never with ginger. I know its entirely optional, but wondering if that is like the “secret ingredient” that makes it so great, or does the ginger really stand out?
I have also made these in little ramekins and that is nice, too – and easy to freeze a few for later! I am always thinking “make ahead,” maybe I will make the sweet potato mixture only, store in those lovely plastic containers you recommend, then right before Christmas, defrost, put in a casserole dish, top and bake!
Hi Nancy! I would say the ginger is not at all prominent, but it is there in that it lends a warmth, if that makes sense. Love your ramekin idea! You can definitely freeze this. I froze the one I made for this blog post, and we thawed it and reheated it for our Thanksgiving — worked perfectly! Hope all is well 🙂 🙂 🙂
Ali, I made the sweet potato mixture and will freeze it for Christmas! I just wanted to say that the ginger is just perfect in it! And instead of brandy, I used Grand Mariner, and its amazing!!! Of course I was just “tasting” it off the spoon. Yum!!! Once its topped and baked, I’m sure it will be off the charts! But I do like that Grand Mariner in there – it complements the fresh orange juice and orange zest. Thanks for another winning recipe!
Yay!! So nice to hear this, Nancy! I LOVE the idea of using Grand Marnier here. It’s my favorite. So glad you liked the ginger, too. Have a wonderful holiday!!
We have made this recipe twice since Thanksgiving and is now a family favorite. There are lots of sweet potato casserole recipes but the flavors in this version are wonderful and really stand out!
So nice to hear this, Amy 🙂 🙂 🙂 Thanks so much for writing!
Ali, how far in advance can this recipe be done and to which step/stage? I’d like to include it in our Thanksgiving dinner next week. I’ll be using your tip to prep the stuffing and freezing it (SO BRILLIANT!) and am wondering if something similar can be done with this recipe. Can I make the filling and topping and freeze separately? Then on the day of defrost and assemble in a baking dish and bake and serve?
Hi! I think your plan sounds perfect: make the separate components, freeze, thaw, assemble, bake. Go for it!
Just made it with the modifications you recommended. The house smells so good and it is a wonderful dessert. Thank you
Great to hear, Heather 🙂 🙂 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving!!