My friend Jenny Mandel at Workman Publishing raved about a sweet potato casserole she enjoyed at family Thanksgiving dinners in Brooklyn. So I pressed her for the recipe, thinking it might be a New York version of the sweet potato casserole we know Down South. When Jenny searched for the source of that recipe she found out it was a Southern recipe after all. Here’s just such a Southern casserole, filled with mashed sweet potatoes and topped with a crunchy brown sugar and pecan topping.
Yield: Serves 8
For the sweet potatoes:
2 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed
Vegetable oil spray, for misting the baking dish
1 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest, or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
For the pecan crunch topping:
¾ cup finely chopped pecans
¾ packed cup light brown sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Prepare the sweet potatoes: Peel and quarter the sweet potatoes. Place them in a saucepan, add cold water to cover and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat, cover the pan, and let simmer until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then mash them with a potato masher.
2. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly mist a 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with vegetable oil spray and set the dish aside.
3. Place the mashed sweet potatoes, granulated sugar, 8 tablespoons of melted butter, milk, eggs, vanilla, and either orange zest or cinnamon, if desired, in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until just combined, about 2 minutes. Spoon the sweet potato mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top with a spoon or spatula.
4. Make the pecan crunch topping: Place the pecans, brown sugar, flour, and 3 tablespoons of melted butter in a small bowl and stir with a fork to combine. Scatter the pecan mixture evenly over the top of the sweet potatoes.
5. Bake the sweet potatoes until the pecan topping begins to brown and the potatoes are bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes.
BIG BATCH: Boil twice as many sweet potatoes and double the remaining ingredients to make two casseroles.
Sweet potato casserole is pretty forgiving, so it’s no wonder it has been a “What can I bring?” favorite for years. The trick is to bake it before you leave home, then cover the casserole with aluminum foil and wrap it in a towel to keep warm. Your Thanksgiving host will thank you—oven space on this holiday is always hard to find.
Because it’s a little sticky, what with brown sugar in the topping, place the casserole in a box lined with a towel to keep it from shifting in the car.
If you do need to reheat the casserole, cover the top with aluminum foil and bake it in a 300°F oven, for about 15 minutes.
To serve a hot sweet potato casserole right from the oven, assemble the casserole in advance and refrigerate it, covered; it will keep for one to two days. Tote the unbaked casserole and bake it when you arrive. If you transport the unbaked casserole in a cooler straight from the refrigerator, you may need to add 10 minutes to the total baking time.