How to Make Candied Yams
We're sweet on these tubers.
Candied yams are as sweet as dessert, but on Thanksgiving they become a featured side dish during the main meal. The traditional version makes sweet potatoes even sweeter and adds in the fall spices we love. It's easy to make on the stovetop, freeing up much-needed space in the oven on a holiday when we are often starving for it!
How to Make Classic Candied Yams
This Classic Candied Yams recipe takes less than an hour to whip up and should serve eight people.
- Cut the sweet potatoes. You'll start with 4 pounds of sweet potatoes (that's about 8 medium potatoes), peeled. You'll cut the sweet potatoes crosswise so they're about 1 inch thick. Halve or quarter any extra-large pieces so they'll all be similar in size and cook more evenly.
- Melt butter. Next, melt butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven.
- Add sugars and spices to the butter. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt to the melted butter and whisk it until it becomes a paste.
- Coat the sweet potatoes. Add in the sweet potatoes, stirring well and spooning the mixture over the potatoes so that they are evenly coated.
- Cook the sweet potatoes. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and cook the sweet potatoes, stirring occasionally but taking care to not break up the potatoes. You'll know they're ready when the potatoes are just tender (pierce them with the top of a knife) and the sauce has turned to a thin syrup. It should take around 25 to 30 minutes.
- Make the candied pecans. While the potatoes are cooking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and toast until dark brown (looking for that delicious warm-nut smell) for about 8 minutes. Season the pecans with some salt while warm. Once they are cooled completely, coarsely chop them.
- Serve the sweet potatoes. Transfer the sweet potatoes and sauce to a serving dish, top with pecans and serve.
How to Make Healthier Candied Yams
We all know that with the deliciousness of the candied yams come a few extra calories. This version lightens them up in a big way. It's a detour from the classic but still offers that great sweet potato flavor plus sweetness and spice.
- Boil the sweet potatoes. You'll boil these sweet potatoes.
- Combine yogurt and maple syrup. While they're boiling, you'll mix together some Greek yogurt and maple syrup.
- Process the cooked sweet potatoes, yogurt and sweetener. You'll then put the cooked and drained potatoes in a food processor with most of the maple syrup-yogurt mixture, plus brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, and process until smooth.
- Serve the sweet potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and top with the rest of the maple-yogurt mixture.
How to Customize Your Candied Yams
The great thing about Thanksgiving traditions is that there is no right or wrong way to observe them. Over the years different families and chefs have put their own twists on the traditional sweet potato dish. For instance, this version skips the pecans and instead adds a gingersnap crunch on top.
Chef Tim Hollingsworth of Otium in Los Angeles cooks his sweet potatoes like baked potatoes but first peels the skin, slices them open and adds brown sugar before baking. Once they're baked he adds candied pecans or brown-butter pecans with marshmallows and blowtorches the topping for caramelization. Chef David Nayfeld, chef-owner of Che Fico and Che Fico Alimentari in San Francisco, makes a few swaps to tweak the traditional version. Instead of brown or granulated sugar, he uses honey, and adds hazelnuts and a gremolata of fresh herbs, lemon zest and garlic.
What's the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?
Technically sweet potatoes and yams are not the same. While they're both root vegetables, yams are African in origin and have a different taste, texture and appearance. However, it's rare to find true yams in the United States, and recipes use the terms "yams" and "sweet potatoes" interchangeably. For more info on the differences, head over to our story What's the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?.