maple bourbon candied sweet potatoes

I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to try a sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top. We never had them at our Thanksgiving table and I know my mom never made them. She did (and does), however, make these. The potatoes have an incredibly soft, creamy center and chewy caramelized exteriors. Somehow the spices and the suger actually permeate the potato and the whole piece becomes this sweet, spiced, creamy, chewy bite of euphoria. No, that is not hyperbole. 

Now, as you know if you've been reading my blog for a while, my mom can be a bit secretive when it comes to her favorite recipes. Her favorites are also, almost inevitably, my favorites, which can lead to some interesting conversations. My mom has been making these potatoes for years, and I have never seen her so much as chop a sweet potato. It's like she was hiding in the pantry while making them just in case curious minds might be hanging around the stove.

But this year, we're having a spatially challenged Thanksgiving (which is a gracious way of saying our family is celebrating at all corners of this country) and I had a feeling she might give me the recipe if I called and asked for it.

"Mom, can you tell me how to make those candied sweet potatoes?"

She laughs.

"No seriously, I want to make them for Thanksgiving this year."

She laughs again. "Sure honey, sure. First, you're going to need some sweet potatoes." No number given.

"Cut them up and boil them until they are almost cooked, like al dente potatoes".

At this point I interrupted and asked if she peeled the potatoes first. "Well, it's really up to you, isn't it?" she replied. "Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't." Secondly, I've never cooked a potato to 'al dente' in my life. What does an al dente potato feel like? Who knows. Apparently my mother.

"In a pan, mix together butter, brown sugar, spices, and honey. Pour that over the potatoes and cook them until they are caramelized." I asked what temperature and she said "somewhere between 300-350, I've done it lots of ways". 

Okay then. Armed with my new guidelines, I created this recipe for you. I made these potatoes yesterday and then shamelessly ate half the pan, by myself, at 2 in the afternoon. You don't need to add the bourbon, but it does add another depth of flavor to the potatoes. 

Here's the beauty of this recipe: it is super simple, uses ingredients you probably already have, and is SO DELICIOUS. You can make these up to three days ahead and then reheat them before serving, and they will be just as good as on day 1. I would make them in the 13x9 or other deep pan, then store them in a tupperware once they have cooled, and reheat them on a sheet pan for maximum crust-chewiness.

Here's the challenges with this recipe: In order to make them properly, you can't overcrowd the pan, which means it doesn't make very many. Which means your Thanksgiving guests might come to blows over the last candied sweet potato. Don't say I didn't warn you. Additionally, even though you may want to make more to avoid such an embarrassing incident, they have to be in a pan with 2" sides as the caramel will boil during cooking and coat the potatoes. If you happen to have a hotel pan laying around, you could use one of those and easily double the recipe. Or, you could make multiple 13x9's ahead of time, then reheat them on a single sheet pan. These are my ideas for your Thanksgiving prep. You're welcome.

So, here's how it's done: 

Preheat your oven to 300 and butter a 13x9 very well with soft butter.

Peel three medium sweet potatoes and slice them into 1/3" slices. 

Put the sweet potatoes into a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, or until you can just pierce the slices with a fork. Immediately pour the slices into a strainer and set aside to drain.

While the potatoes are cooking, make the sauce by combining the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and spices in a small saucepan.

Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Cook for three minutes more after it starts to boil, then remove from the heat.

Very carefully stir in the bourbon (it will bubble vigorously).  Now all you have to do is assemble!

Place the sliced potatoes in the prepared 13x9 in a single layer. You do not want them to overlap at all. If there are spaces between your potatoes, that's okay. Funny story: all of my glass and ceramic baking dishes are in storage still, so I used these two smaller pans. Whatever works for you.

Pour the caramel mixture over the sweet potatoes. You want there to be caramel on top of each potato but otherwise no finesse is needed here.

While the potatoes are baking, the caramel will boil and darken. It's okay. Everything will turn out great. This is why you want to use a glass or ceramic pan- if you use metal, I can't promise the caramel won't burn.

Bake the potatoes for 1 hour at 300. Then turn the oven up to 325 and bake another 20-30 minutes.

That's it! And my-oh-my you're welcome. Remember, you can make these totally ahead, then chill them and reheat them at 300 on a cookie sheet for dinner. That way, if you only have two ceramic pans in your house to bake with, they aren't tied up with candied sweet potatoes. I'm just saying.

Here's the recipe: