The Sweetest Thanksgiving Potatoes

Well, it’s Thanksgiving this week, which means that it’s time for the age-old debates: mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes – sweet potatoes, obvs – so, more importantly, candied, marshmallows, or…pecans?!

At heart (or, at least at stomach), I’m Southern. I stand firmly in the brown sugar and pecans camp. Many people disagree, until they try mine. So, if you’re a die-hard mashed or mallow fan, but are feeling a little bit adventurous this year – or, better yet, if you already agree with me – you should try this recipe.

Oh, and a quick Thanksgiving PSA…do not forget to make your own cranberries! They’re so much more delicious than canned. And, it’s possibly the easiest way to wow your friends and family at the holidays, since so many people think it must be impossible.

OK, back to sweet potatoes. Not as easy as cranberries, but certainly not complicated. I will say that my recipe has been an evolution over the years, and continues to change from time to time. When I went off to college and was hosting my first Friendsgiving, my mother sent me this very rough recipe for a super simple version:

Mix together:

1 – 40 oz. can of sweet potatoes
4 tsp softened butter
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 T brown sugar

Top with:

brown sugar
chopped pecans

Of course, she had made this recipe a thousand times, tossing ingredients in as she went. I had watched her so often that I knew to use softened butter for the topping, and to just get in there with my hands to mush it all up. Baking temp? Whatever worked for what it was cooking beside. Baking time? Until the topping melts.

Somewhere along the way, I stumbled upon a more refined recipe that I’ve been altering to suit my tastes ever since. I keep it tucked in a cookbook – obviously well-worn. I pull it out every year to use as my guide, and adjust as I go along.


You must know that there’s no chance I would use canned sweet potatoes now. Gross. You can boil them pretty quickly, but I think it’s well worth taking the time to roast them; it yields a more complex flavor.

My current evolution is more soufflé than straight up bake; though, as you can see from my mom’s recipe, omitting milk and eggs certainly won’t ruin anything. They key, really, is being generous with the streusel. After all, what better holiday than Thanksgiving for including dessert with your meal?! I promise, you will be popular.

Maple Sweet Potato Smash
with Spiced Pecan Streusel

Sweet Potatoes:

6 large sweet potatoes (4 lbs)
6 T butter (sliced in 1 T sections)
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 C whole milk
1/2 C real maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten


6 T butter, softened
1 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C flour (I use a gluten-free all purpose)
1 1/2 C chopped pecans
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line lower rack with foil. (You’ll thank me on this one.) Pierce tops of sweet potatoes several times with a fork. Roast directly on rack until knife enters center easily and cleanly – approx. 1 hr, but can vary between 45-90 mins depending on size and thickness of sweet potatoes.
  2. Reduce oven heat to 350F.
  3. Let sweet potatoes cool until skins pull away from flesh. This makes them much easier to peel.
  4. Transfer peeled sweet potatoes to mixer or large bowl. (Note: using a mixer creates a fluffier base, but it doesn’t make a difference whether you use a stand mixer, a hand mixer, a potato masher, or fork. I have used them all and it always turns out delicious, regardless.) Add butter and salt, mix until butter is melted.
  5. Add milk, maple syrup, and beaten eggs, beating between each addition. Mix until smooth.
  6. Transfer mixture to greased 9 x 13 baking dish, distribute evenly, and smooth top. img_0161
  7. Mix all topping ingredients in a small bowl (Note: This step can be done while potatoes are baking, if you’d like. Mama will tell you that using your hands to mush up the butter is the best way. If you don’t like to get brown sugar and butter under your nails, just use a fork. It’s fine!) img_0166
  8. Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the potatoes and bake, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes until streusel melts a bit and the pecans are toasted. If it browns too quickly, you can add foil to top to prevent burning while topping melts.
  9. I recommend letting it sit for 10-15 minutes after taking it out of the oven to give it time to set. The top will crisp up as it cools.
  10. Enjoy! You don’t even have to wait until Thanksgiving. We’re having my trial run with a pork loin roast tonight. Thursday…with turkey!

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