Candied yams are a must-have side dish for your Thanksgiving dinner that satisfies sweet and savory cravings. This recipe uses an easy two-step baking method that ensures fork-tender slices, while a combination of maple syrup, brown sugar, and warm spices creates a flavorful glaze.
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This candied yams recipe (also called candied sweet potatoes) allows the beloved bright orange root vegetable to shine. This version is a lighter alternative to those sugar-heavy recipes out there.
To save you stove space, active cooking time, and clean up, I use a simple two-step baking method to cook the sweet potatoes. For this technique, you only touch the potatoes once. A final brushing of spiced syrup adds just the right amount of glaze for an absolutely delicious side dish to steal the attention at your holiday meal.
Sweet potato selection
Grab the darker reddish-brown skinned potatoes (the Jewel or Beauregard variety) with bright orange flesh. They’re usually sweeter and moister. The deep orange color is due to the abundance of beta-carotene in the flesh, bumping up the nutrient levels!
Sweet potatoes or Ipomoea batatas are part of the Convolvulaceae family. They come in different varieties and flesh colors like orange, purple, yellow, and white. Any type can be used, but the texture and sweetness amounts will vary. For example, white-fleshed sweet potatoes tend to be more mealy and less sweet.
Bake the yams
After tossing the peeled and sliced yams or sweet potatoes with oil and salt, place the slices in a greased baking dish. Cover with foil; this will trap the moisture released from the vegetable and steam it. Bake at 425ºF (218ºC), and cook the yams until fork tender.
Make a sweetened syrup glaze
A sugary syrup is concentrated on the stovetop to make these potatoes candied. A combination of pure maple syrup, water, dark brown sugar, and salt is boiled until the solids are reduced.
Cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract add a hint of spiced aroma to the sugar mixture. Boiling off some moisture makes the syrup slightly thickened so it can better cling to the surface of the potatoes.
If you like southern candied yams, you can add some orange juice to the syrup to add a citrusy flavor. Use about ½ cup, and reduce the syrup to 1 cup.
Where are the yams?
True yams have a gray to brown thick barky skin and off-white flesh. They are drier, less sweet, and starchy in taste. They have origins in Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America and are primarily found in international markets. You can use them in this recipe if you can find them.
Typically when you pick up a yam at the grocery store in the United States, it’s really a sweet potato. The confusion is that the USDA requires any labeling of yams to include the term sweet potato.
A one-pan baking method
To soften the tough sweet potato rounds, they first cook covered with foil in a hot 425-degree oven. This creates a steamy environment that cooks the flesh in about 30 minutes.
The potatoes are then coated with the sweet spiced syrup and baked once more, uncovered, to reduce the glaze further. The sweet potatoes get one final brush with the syrup right before serving.
If you can’t resist miniature marshmallows, you can add them on top to make the recipe more like a sweet potato casserole. Evenly cover the cooked potatoes with marshmallows after the baking step with the syrup.
Bake at 425ºF (218ºC) until the topping is melted and lightly browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on it! I also like to chop some pecans and sprinkle them on top for extra crunch, with or without the marshmallows.
Making this dish ahead of time
- The potatoes can be cooked and then refrigerated for up to 2 days. When ready to use, add the syrup on top and bake at 425ºF (218ºC) until the potatoes are warm and the sauce is bubbly for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- The entire recipe can also be made up to 2 days in advance and then rewarmed in the oven at 350ºF (177ºC) for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Reheat leftovers or small batches in the microwave on high power for 60 to 90 seconds.
What to serve with candied sweet potatoes
Frequently asked questions
Reduce the sugar cinnamon syrup on the stovetop to 1 cup before adding it to the yams. Once the potatoes are cooked and tender, add the glaze on top, and cook uncovered in a 425ºF (218ºC) oven. This reduces the syrup’s liquids and thickens the sauce’s consistency on the candied yams.
No, candied yams are cooked in spiced sugar syrup until meltingly tender. Some sweet potato casserole recipes use mashed or pureed spuds and add egg to lighten the texture.
Yes, yams and sweet potatoes can be peeled up to 3 days before cooking. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or foil to prevent them from drying. It can also be sliced or diced, and stored in an air-tight container, or submerged in water and covered in the refrigerator.
Enhance the sweetness with heat
Even before the syrup is added, you can naturally enhance the sweetness of the potatoes by starting the cooking process in a cold oven. When making my roasted sweet potato recipe, I learned that gradually increasing the oven temp converts more of the starches into simple sugar maltose. The longer the potatoes stay between 135 to 175ºF (57 to 79ºC), the better.
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- Prepare Yams – Wash and peel sweet potatoes or yams then cut them into ½-inch thick slices. Place in a large bowl and combine them with olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt.
- Bake Yams – Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish (or a 2-quart dish) with olive oil. Overlap the slices so they fit layered in the baking dish. Tightly cover the dish with foil. Set the oven rack to the center position. Place the potatoes inside and heat to 425ºF (218ºC). Bake until fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the glaze.
- Make Glaze – In a small saucepan, heat the butter, maple syrup, water, brown sugar, and ⅛ teaspoon salt over medium-high heat. Frequently whisk until it has reduced and slightly thickened to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. The mixture should be bubbling as it reduces.Turn off the heat and whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Reserve ¼ cup (60ml) of the syrup, it will thicken as it cools.
- Glaze Yams – Remove the foil from the potatoes and evenly pour ¾ cup (180ml) of the glaze over the potatoes.Bake the potatoes uncovered until the syrup bubbles along the edges and slightly reduces, about 10 to 15 minutes. Slightly tilt the pan to check the thickness.
- To Serve – Brush with the remaining syrup glaze right before serving.
- Storing: Cool, cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Cover and microwave on high power in 30-second increments until hot. A full tray can be covered with foil and rewarmed in the oven at 350ºF (177ºC) for about 10 to 15 minutes
- Make in Advance: The potatoes and syrup can be cooked and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Add the syrup on top and bake at 425ºF (218ºC) until the potatoes are hot and the sauce is bubbly about 10 to 15 minutes. The entire recipe can also be made up to 2 days in advance and reheated in the oven.
- Make it Paleo: Substitute the brown sugar for maple syrup. Omit the vanilla extract.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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