How Sweet It Is! Candied Yams Are a Thanksgiving Requirement


My husband and I won’t be cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. Instead, we're invited to the home of his brother, sister-in-law and three teen-age nephews, who live in a suburb north of the Twin Cities.

“What could we bring?” we asked. The Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Zest we served when we had Thanksgiving dinner at our house? Or the Classic Cranberry Sauce made from scratch? Or the heritage turkey we smoked in our Big Green Egg?

“No, thanks,” we were told. This year's host and hostess were looking for more of a sure-thing, a crowd-pleaser that would appeal to every guest, even the ones too young to sit at the grown-up table:  “Could you just bring that yam and marshmallow dish that the kids all love?”

Ah, yes. Candied yams. No Thanksgiving would be complete without them. There are many different versions of this classic, but the majority of them are made with canned yams, which are then mixed with butter or margarine, brown sugar or maybe maple syrup, then pressed into a casserole dish, baked, and then topped with marshmallows.

But ours are different. First, we only buy fresh yams. (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that canned vegetables will never, ever be as delicious or nutritious as fresh, so please don't buy yams in cans!) Most grocery stores carry either jewel or garnet yams; you can’t go wrong with either. (By the way, if you want to know the difference between a yam and a sweet potato – spoiler alert: there is none – read this blog post by Twin Cities’ own Zoe Francois, as in Zoe Bakes.) We just clean them, poke them a few times with a fork, bake them, cool them, peel them, and mash them into a casserole dish that has been rubbed with olive oil, which adds a hint of flavor and prevents sticking.

Then we heat the mashed yams again, pull them out of the oven, and rub a thin layer of olive oil on top of them. This provides a foundation, of sorts, for the next ingredient:, the piece de resistance, the miniature marshmallows! (Can you hear my kids screaming with excitement?) We spread an entire bag of these marshmallows on top of the yams.  (NOTE: This is the only time each year when anything containing corn syrup, modified food starch, pork-skin gelatin, something called tetrasodium pyrophosphate, plus artificial color and artificial flavor, is allowed in my kitchen! Egads!) Then, just before serving, we put the dish under the broiler – briefly, you’ve got to keep your eyes on it – until the marshmallows are toasted a golden-brown. It is now a warm and gooey side dish that can also double as dessert. 

Of course, if this recipe is too pedestrian for you foodies out there, I certainly understand. That’s why I offer these more sophisticated alternatives:

The New York Times’ Mark Bittman writes, “Skip the Marshmallows and Give Heartfelt Thanks,” and highlights several yam/sweet potato recipes, including this one: “Grated sweet potatoes combined with nuts in a dish or pan, drizzled with a mixture of butter, cream, ginger and orange.”

The World’s Healthiest Foods web site has an entire section about yams/sweet potatoes, including this recipe, which I’m sure my kids will love: “Purée cooked sweet potatoes with bananas, maple syrup and cinnamon. Top with chopped walnuts.” offers a version of candied yams that uses only top-quality ingredients, like freshly squeezed orange juice, chopped ginger root, cinnamon sticks and maple syrup.

The Weston A. Price Foundation offers a Sweet Potato Casserole that is intended to “maximize the use of real milk and cream.” The author says it is her one-year-old’s favorite dish.

Finally, The Wedge co-op in Minneapolis combines yams with parsnips and pecans for a chunky, sweet-tasting side dish that doesn’t need marshmallows to make an impression.

Do you have a favorite recipe for yams or sweet potatoes? Or a Thanksgiving memory that includes marshmallows? Share it here, by posting a comment.

This article was proudly submitted to Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday.


I just started making these a year or so ago in an effort to change up our holiday meal. They were a total hit and it seems I'll be making them again. I might try to make them a bit healthier...but maybe not. Thanksgiving only comes once a year, right?

My wife would divorce me if I even thought about skipping the marshmallows on top.

Is nobody going to come to the defense of the limp canned greened beans slathered in mushroom soup and covered in crispy onion ringy things? (Um, I ain't gonna, no way.)

Candied Sweet Potatoes
Bake the potatoes with skin on until half or 3/4 baked. Cool enough to handle and peel. Cut into single serving pieces. Layer them in a glass baking dish, single layer. In a large pot, melt 100% pure corn oil margarine, one stick for each glass dish you have with potatoes. Add 1 1/2 pounds of brown sugar for each stick of margarine. Add 1/3 cup maple sugar for each stick margarine. Add one tsp vanilla extract for each stick margarine. Add 1 cup water for each stick margarine. Bring to a vigorous boil and stir to mix well. The margarine will "go into" the sugar. Boil this well. It will be a syrup. Pour it over the potatoes to almost cover them. The syrup should almost come to the top of the pieces. If you need to make more syrup, make it or add a little water to the syrup. Cover tightly with foil and place in 350-degree oven and allow to come to a boil for 30 minutes then uncover and allow to boil away to create a very thick syrup and caramelize the sugar. You should baste the potatoes every 20-30 minutes. It will take hours to cook the moisture off but the final potatoes will be shining and sweet and the sweetness will have cooked into them. Don't stop the in-the-oven evaporation until the syrup is thick. When it cools it will thicken more. Cool and reheat when you need to serve. I always make them the day before Thanksgiving and reheat them, and reglaze them.

Thank you so much, Stuart, this recipe looks great. All that sugar! For those of us who don't use margarine, I'm assuming butter will do the trick just fine, yes? Have a Happy Thanksgiving.


I've never really done the marshmallow version cause we're all addicted to these from an 80's "From Minnesota With Love" cookbook. I have always used canned but will try fresh this year in your honor. :)

Sweet Potato Souffle

2 pounds canned sweet potatoes or cooked fresh sweet potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup pecans

Beat sweet potatoes, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, 1/4 cup of the butter, 2 eggs, vanilla and white sugar together with mixer until fairly smooth. Place in a buttered 2-quart soufflé dish. Mix remaining 1/4 cup butter, brown sugar, flour and pecans together. Sprinkle on top of sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until done.

Thanks Jenny, this recipe looks terrific. Thanks so much for sharing it. Have a great Thanksgiving.

Last year, somebody made a yam dish with goji berries and candied ginger. no marshmallows! I'm making my own version now, using Earth Balance and organic maple syrup to give it flavor, along with some cinnamon chips, a chopped apple, and toasted walnuts. even a little fresh ginger, minced, to give it that warming effect around the body- great for the cold weather.

That sounds terrific, Andy, thanks for the tip. I haven't tried that Earth Balance stuff (locally we have Parkers peanut butter and others) - how is it?

OK, too little, too late, but here's my recipe. Peel and gently boil until soft 2-3 lbs. of yams. Drain. Cut them into large pieces - 2" chunks. Mash about 1/4th of the chunks in a saucepan, add 1/4 c. water, 3/4 c. butter (sorry, cholesterol sufferers!), 3/4 c. sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt (1 tsp if Kosher), and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring very frequently to prevent scorching. Place the chunks into a casserole pan, pour the sauce over all, and bake at 350-400 until bubbling. No marshmallows.

Oops - BROWN sugar in the previous recipe!!!

Sounds great, thanks Chuck! In plenty of time for Hanukkah and Christmas!

My sweet potato or should I say yam recipe is super easy, but also very delicious... bake, peel and mash the fresh yams-- I used the food processor this year to mash the potatoes..then add 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of shallots that have been sauteed in olive oil. If you would like, you can add crumbled maple bacon on the top.

No marshmallows included and the kiddos even liked it!

Thanks Stephanie, that sounds great. Unless we're talking about hot cocoa, bacon ALWAYS trumps marshmallows in my book. :-)

My mother made them this way and I still consider her recipe the none, and I've tried others. My mother was famous for her cooking and in fact did a lot of catering for large dinner parties in Southern California.

Anyone who used canned yams should be shot in the ass with a paint gun!!! It's so easy to cook with the real thing.

These can be made up a few days ahead of time and set aside... then the final baking can be on Thanksgiving.

I use yams, not sweet potatoes. Try to buy the same size yams so they will cook evenly.

6 large yams...about 6 or 7 lbs
1 full rounded cup C&H sugar (pure cane sugar not from sugar beets)
3/4 of a cube of real butter cut into pieces
1 bag miniature marshmallows
1 cup of water

Poke yams with a fork five or six times all around.

Bake on a baking sheet at 425 degrees for about 50-60 minutes until soft but not full on mushy. Test using potholder so you don't burn your fingers.

Baking in a regular over and not microwaving or boiling will bring out the natural sugar in the yam and you can see the difference after the're baked. How you cook the yams does make a big difference in the end.

Let cool for a bit. They peel easily. Slice into 1 inch slices not 1 inch a baking dish or pan.

Distribute cut up butter on top of the yams and set aside.

In a heavy pan or skillet, pour the sugar and heat on high and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is melted and looks like caramel. This step is what makes them candied when you hear the term "candied yams".

Be very careful and pour about 1 1/4 cups of water into the pan or skillet set on med/high and it will harden immediately upon contact with the caramelized sugar. Continue to stir with a wooden spoon and the hardened sugar will eventually dissolve. Continue to heat and stir until some of the water evaporates and the sugar becomes thickened just a bit and let cool for about 5 or 6 minutes.

Pour the caramelized sugar over the yams and top with the mini marshmallows until completely covered.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 30-40 minutes or until the marshmallows are lightly browned. best to check after the first 25 minutes as oven temps vary. Don't let burn!!

I've also used C&H brown sugar using the same technique and the candied yams also turned out great.

Besides the baking, the prep time is only about 20 minutes.

Enjoy! don't take any short cuts. My son who hates every fruit and vegetable known to man absolutely loves my candied yams. Or rather, my mother's candied yams.

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