Candied yams are a must-have holiday side dish that satisfies both 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 the flavorful glaze.
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 to steal the attention at your holiday meal.
How to make candied yams
- Toss peeled and sliced yams or sweet potatoes with oil and salt.
- Shingle the slices in a baking dish.
- Cover with foil and bake at 425ºF (218ºC) until potatoes are tender.
- In a small saucepan add maple syrup, water, butter, and brown sugar, bring to a boil.
- Reduce the syrup, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened.
- Whisk the cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract into the syrup, reserve ¼ cup.
- Evenly pour the syrup over the cooked sweet potatoes or yams.
- Bake uncovered until the syrup bubbles in the pan.
- Brush potatoes with the reserved syrup.
Sweet potato selection
Grab for 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 variety 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.
Where are the yams?
True yams have a gray to brown thick barky skin, off-white flesh, drier, less sweet, and are starchy in taste. They have origins in Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America and are mostly found in international markets. If you can find them, you can absolutely use them in this recipe.
Typically when you pick up a yam at the grocery store in the United States, it’s really a sweet potato. The confusion lies in that the USDA requires any labeling of “yams” to also include the term “sweet potato.”
Make a sweetened syrup
To make these potatoes truly candied, a sugary syrup is concentrated on the stovetop. A combination of pure maple syrup, water, dark brown sugar, and salt is boiled until the solids are reduced.
Cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract adds a hit of spiced aroma to the syrup. Boiling off some of the moisture makes the syrup slightly thickened so it can better cling to the surface of the sweet potatoes.
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 further reduce the glaze. The sweet potatoes get one final brush with the syrup right before serving.
If you just 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 then refrigerated for up to 2 days. When ready to use just add the syrup on top and bake at 425ºF (218ºC) until the potatoes are warm and sauce is bubbly 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), about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Reheat leftovers or small batches in the microwave on high for 60 to 90 seconds.
What to serve with candied sweet potatoes
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 can stay between 135 to 175ºF (57 to 79ºC) the better.
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- Wash and peel sweet potatoes or yams. Cut into ½-inch thick slices.
- In a large bowl combine the slices with olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt.
- Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish (or 2-quart dish) with olive oil.
- Overlap the slices so they fit layered in the baking dish, and tightly cover 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 syrup.
- In a small saucepan heat the butter, maple syrup, water, brown sugar, and ⅛ teaspoon salt over medium-high heat. Frequently whisk until the syrup 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.
- Remove the foil from the potatoes and evenly pour ¾ cup (180ml) of the syrup 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 of the syrup.
- Brush with the remaining syrup right before serving.
- Make it Paleo: Omit the brown sugar and vanilla extract, the syrup will be less sweet.
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