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Easy Sweet Potato Casserole

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Sweet Potato Casserole is an easy, iconic side dish perfect for the holidays with a smooth, velvety texture and sweet distinctive flavor. Topped with a crunchy pecan streusel and a hint of citrus, it’s a classic favorite for your Thanksgiving table.

Side view of Sweet Potato Casserole in Oval Baking Dish

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In fact, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving or even Christmas for most of us without a Sweet Potato Casserole on the table.

This is one we’ve made and perfected over the years… and absolutely love.

I’ve opted for a nutty pecan topping, which provides a wonderfully delicious crunchy contrast to the creamy mashed sweet potatoes.

History of the Sweet Potato Casserole

Often, there is a side dish you most look forward to during the holiday feast. For many, that dish is sweet potato casserole.

But did you ever wonder what its origins are?

Much of them lie in the topping.

Celebrating the 100th year of the Sweet Potato Casserole, the Smithsonian writes:

“In the United States, sweet potato recipes can be found as far back as 1796, when Amelia Simmons published American Cookery.”

However, the Smithsonian notes, “The oldest recipe for candied yams is from 1889… Fannie Farmer’s 1918 recipe for ‘Glazed sweet potatoes’ calls for boiling the potatoes before coating them in a sugar syrup with butter and baking ‘until brown, basting twice with the remaining syrup’.”

Top view of Sweet Potato Casserole with bite missing

Marshmallows or Pecans?

As I mentioned, much of the Sweet Potato Casserole’s origins lie in the topping.

The Smithsonian notes that a marshmallow-topped casserole is only a “thing” — thanks to Cracker Jacks.

Marshmallows were introduced into American households in 1907 by Angelus Marshmallows, the original maker of Cracker Jacks.

A decade later, and in an attempt to drive sales, they contracted Boston Cooking School founder Janet McKenzie Hill to write a cookbook featuring marshmallows. From fudge to hot cocoa, and yes, the first documented appearances of a marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole.

The sweet potato casserole with pecans originated in the South and often contains milk or cream, brown sugar, and eggs.

For me, I like pecans a bit better than marshmallows.

What is the difference between Sweet Potato Pie and Sweet Potato Casserole?

Well? Not a whole lot. They’re both sweet, both incredibly delicious, and in my opinion, each has its own place at the Thanksgiving table.

A Sweet Potato Pie is served on the dessert table and generally has no topping. It’s also most often made with granulated sugar.

Sweet Potato Casserole, on the other hand, is considered a side dish and is served alongside mashed potatoes, stuffing, roasted vegetables. It usually has a topping of a nut streusel or sometimes marshmallows.

Why Do People Eat Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving?

Sweet potatoes have been popular in the American South since the founding of this country.

“The tropical region of Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and West Africa is called the ‘yam belt,'” said Frederick Opie, Ph.D., Professor of History and Society at Babson College in Boston. “When Africans came to the new world as enslaved people, they substituted sweet potatoes for yams.”

In later years, a Sweet Potato Pudding or “Pone” became popular following the Civil War. Shortly thereafter, love for the beautiful orange tuber began traveling to the Northern regions of the U.S.

Today, whether we’re serving a Sweet Potato Soup, a Sweet Potato Pie, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, or this casserole, know that you’re continuing a beautiful heritage for Thanksgiving.

Unbaked Sweet Potato Casserole in Oval Dish

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I switch out the pecans for marshmallows in this Sweet Potato Casserole recipe?

Yes! Simply replace the topping with mini marshmallows; the cooking time should be about the same, you just will know it is done when the marshmallows are puffed and golden.

Can I make this Sweet Potato Casserole ahead?

You can make this casserole up to 12 hours ahead and keep it in the fridge ready for baking. Keep the topping separate to keep things crisp and sprinkle it over just before placing the casserole in the oven.

Side view of Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Topping

More Thanksgiving Side Recipes to Try

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Side view of Sweet Potato Casserole in Oval Baking Dish

Easy Sweet Potato Casserole

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Sweet Potato Casserole is an easy, iconic side dish perfect for the holidays with a smooth, velvety texture and sweet distinctive flavor. Topped with a crunchy pecan streusel and a hint of citrus, it's a classic favorite. 

Ingredients

Sweet Potato Filling

  • 3 to 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup orange juice

Pecan Topping

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Instructions

  1. For the sweet potatoes: Add the chopped sweet potatoes to a large pot of salted water to cover by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and maintain a simmer until the sweet potatoes are very tender; about 15 minutes. Drain and mash the sweet potatoes. Set aside.
  2. For the filling: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 2-quart baking dish.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, mashed sweet potatoes, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, beaten eggs, and orange juice. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
  4. For the topping: Combine the flour, brown sugar, butter, and salt in a bowl until combined and beginning to clump. Stir in the pecans and spread the topping over the sweet potatoes in an even layer.
  5. Bake until the sweet potatoes are mostly set in the center and beginning to brown on top; 25 to 30 minutes.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 379Total Fat: 22gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 74mgSodium: 340mgCarbohydrates: 43gFiber: 4gSugar: 25gProtein: 6g

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