Sweet potato casserole is the ultimate side dish to share during the holidays. The creaminess from the potatoes is the perfect contrast to the crunchy candied nut topping. My kids love the toasted marshmallows, but you can easily omit that part if you like.
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Sweet potato casserole is the one dish that my family always requests during Thanksgiving and Christmas. No matter how good the turkey or main course is, this orange side dish gets the biggest smiles and the most complements. It’s sweet and savory, allowing for a little prelude to dessert.
I start by roasting the potatoes using a cold-start method to elevate the natural sweetness. A baked candied nut topping covers the surface, followed by a blanket of toasted marshmallows on top. One bite delivers fluffy potatoes, extreme crunch, and a sticky s’mores-like texture.
Baking the sweet potatoes
Make sure to select similar-sized and shaped sweet potatoes. For this recipe, I use my baked sweet potato recipe as the base. Each tuber is individually wrapped with foil to lock-in the moisture and promote even cooking. I start with a cold oven and then bake at 375ºF (191ºC) until soft.
Creating the potato puree
To create a super smooth texture, I process the orange flesh in my food processor. The large blade easily breaks down the fibers, and the whipping motion makes the mixture light instead of dense. Alternatively, you can use a countertop blender. Depending on the size of your equipment, you may want to work in batches.
If working by hand, whisk the sweet potato mixture to lighten it up. For a chunkier texture, use a potato masher to break up the flesh.
Adding the seasonings
Since I take the time to bake the tubers to their peak sweetness, there’s no need to add extra sugar. Heavy cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla add warm baked notes and bold spices without overpowering the potatoes earthy taste. The fat from the dairy adds a luscious and rich texture.
Candied nut topping
Rough chop the pecans and combine them with crispy rice cereal, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar. The hollow cereal grains add a wonderful crunch. Trust me, don’t leave it out. Mix in melted butter to dissolve the sugar, and bind the ingredients together.
As it bakes for about 25 minutes, the sugars will harden and crystalize. The candied nuts will turn more caramel in flavor and become crunchy. It’s like the irresistible surface when you cut into a pecan pie.
Marshmallow topping (optional)
You might find that the pecan topping is sweet enough, but toasted marshmallows will certainly wow the crowd. Use the smaller mini-marshmallow size, so it doesn’t overwhelm the dish. The goal is to create a roasted smores-like melted layer on top. If you time it correctly, this part tastes the best straight from the oven.
Casserole dish size
For a generous layer of puree and just the right thickness of topping, I recommend a casserole dish 11-by-8-inches or 9-by-9-inches in size. You can use a larger container; however, the sweet potato-to-topping ratio will differ and taste sweeter.
Making components ahead of time
You can bake and mash the sweet potatoes up to 3 days before. You can even add the cream and spices, but it may lose some airiness as it’s stored and the spuds pack together. For the candied-nut topping, you can combine the dry ingredients up to 2 days before. Mix in the melted butter when ready to bake.
What to serve this with
The benefits of starting with a cold oven
The gradual increase in heat and extended cook time allows more starches to convert to a simple sugar called maltose. The enzyme conversion of the scratch begins at 135ºF (57ºC0 and stops at 170ºF (77ºC). This process naturally bumps up the sweetness level. This technique provides the casserole’s foundation and creates caramel-like notes, and enhances the dish’s flavor.
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Sweet Potato Casserole
- 4 pounds sweet potatoes
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup rice crispy cereal
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅔ cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups mini marshmallows
- Wash and dry sweet potatoes, then individually wrap them in foil. Place on a sheet pan lined with foil. Transfer to the center position of a cold oven.
- Heat oven to 375ºF (191ºC). Bake for 1 hour, then flip over to evenly cook. Continue to bake until they can be easily pierced in the center with a knife, about 15 to 30 minutes.
- Cool until they are easy to handle. Peel and transfer to a food processor or blender. Puree on high speed until relatively smooth, scraping the container as needed, about 1 minute. Alternatively, crush with a potato masher for a chunkier texture.
- Add heavy cream, vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and nutmeg to the food processor. Use a spoon to mix the ingredients to allow the cream to move to the container's bottom. On low speed, process the mixture until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Transfer the whipped potatoes into an 11-by-8-inch or 9-by-9-inch casserole dish and spread out evenly. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F (177ºC).
- In a medium bowl combine chopped pecans, crispy rice cereal, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅔ cup brown sugar. Add ¼ cup melted butter and stir to combine.
- Evenly spread the topping over the sweet potatoes. Place the casserole dish on a baking sheet and bake until the topping is golden brown and bubbling, about 25 to 30 minutes.
- Remove the casserole from the oven. Evenly sprinkle 2 cups of mini-marshmallows on top and bake until the surface is lightly browned and slightly melted, about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm.
- Make-ahead: The baked sweet potatoes and the dried nut mix can be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days in advance. Bake the pecan topping and marshmallows the day of serving.
- Storing and reheating: The casserole can be cooled completely, covered, and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Reheat small portions in the microwave until warmed through.
- MAKE IT DAIRY-FREE: Substitute heavy cream for canned coconut cream or coconut milk. Substitute butter for coconut oil.
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