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"Sweetest Taboo" Southern Candied Yams

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These Southern candied yams are cooked in a flavorful spiced syrup that will provide you with an amazing mouth experience and make your guests love it.

It is just one of those soul food dishes where everything comes together so well, from the warm spices to how sweet potatoes can take on some flavors while still maintaining their natural taste!

The best part about cooking this dish? After taking them off heat for a while (not too long though!), these babies start giving back what was put onto them - meaning there's more than enough flavor left over at finish time...

I'm a big fan of sweet and savory combinations; candied bacon is one of my favorite dishes, as is sweet and sour beets. I wanted to highlight the savory elements in this sweet potato dish which complement the sweet very well.

candied yams in a white baking dish

"Candied" for me means full-blown dessert potatoes with a sweet silky syrup that didn't separate making the sweetness damn near food taboos level. Most versions of candied yams I've experienced have been just sweet, but lacking in any complexity. I got a whole lot of sweet and a lot of nutmeg and maybe some cinnamon if it wasn't overpowered by the nutmeg. 

I love the way that sweet potatoes take on flavor when cooked with other ingredients. They absorb everything around them, from syrup to spices! The best part? You can actually taste these changes in your dish as well because of their own unique tastes- which means you'll never need another dessert after eating this one for years to come (I'm not sure if it's true but I've heard).

When it came time to make my version of this classic Southern side dish, “complexity” of flavor was priority number 1. I figured I’d use the Southern baked technique, but combine it with a Mexican style syrup common in the dessert dish “camote enmielado” to get the flavor complexity I was seeking. Camote enmielado consists of sweet potatoes boiled in a syrup infused with spices like cinnamon, star anise, and cloves.

I ain't saying these are the best candied yams ever, but they will be a hit at the dinner.

Despite the name, real yams are not used in this recipe or most for that matter. Though they are different root vegetables in Southern households, especially among black folks they are used interchangeably in this classic holiday side dish. True yams are a native African crop, but hard to find in the United States. Sweet potatoes are a close proximity visually so are substituted in the vernacular.

Whether the occasion is Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner I emphasize this is a side dish. And yes before you ask you will see two sweet potato dishes on the Thanksgiving table at a black family celebration. Candied Sweet Potatoes are a side and Sweet Potato Pies are a dessert. Both are served!

Candied Yams Ingredients

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Cloves
  • Star Anise
  • Piloncillo or dark brown sugar can be substituted.
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Bourbon Whiskey
  • Orange Juice
  • Water

How to Make Southern Candied Yams (step by step)

Step 1: Make the Syrup

In a medium saucepan add water and piloncillo, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Dissolve the piloncillo fully.

Heat a large skillet over low heat. Add the whole spices and heat for about 30 seconds. Add the butter melting fully. Increase the heat to medium heat and add the dissolved piloncillo, whiskey, and orange juice. to the butter mixture. Mix well, bring to a simmer, and let cook until the liquid is reduced and thickened.

Step 2: Bake the sweet potatoes

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Layer the sweet potato rounds in a baking dish or casserole dish. Add ¾ of the syrup, reserving the rest for later use. Mix the sweet potatoes in the syrup using a large slotted spoon making sure all the sweet potatoes are coated with the syrup. 

Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake covered 45 minutes. Remove the foil, add some of the reserve syrup, and bake uncovered another 30 minutes. Remove and let cool.

candied yams in a white baking dish

Serving Suggestions

Top the sweet potatoes with the remaining syrup. Add some vanilla ice cream and indulge 100%. These are a perfect Southern staple fit for a menu of Southern soul food classics like collard greensmac and cheese, and fried chicken.

Southern Candied Yams Recipe Notes

Cooking some of the sweet potatoes simultaneously with the syrup you help break down some of the starches into simple sugars which adds more of an intense sweet potato flavor to the syrup and makes it a more unified dish.

Cooking Tips and Considerations

  • Occasionally I like to double up on sweet potato flavor, so I infuse the syrup with sweet potato flavor and then top the sweet potatoes with the syrup.
  • Add a little orange zest to the sweet potatoes before baking to add more flavor.
  • Heat the cinnamon, cloves, and anise first to release their flavor and aroma.
  • Feel free to use ground cinnamon if you don't have cinnamon sticks around
  • Don’t slice the sweet potatoes too thinly. Strive for ½ inch thickness. Finished sweet potatoes should be fork tender
  • Do not use canned sweet potatoes in this recipe
  • If you don't have access to piloncillo (it's worth the time if you can find it) use brown sugar vs. white as the brown version has some bitterness and more complex flavor with the molasses presence.
  • Be sure to use adequate amounts of water to completely dissolve the sugar which ensures the syrup won't break down
  • Make the syrup ahead of time for all the different flavors to come together. This delicious sauce is everything. Save some and use in other dishes. It's great in oatmeal and on pancakes.
  • Don't wait to make these as part of your traditional holiday meal, this is great for Sunday dinner also.
  • Put this dish on the menu with any of these popular soul food meats.
  • For other ideas and ways of using sweet potatoes try my sweet potatoes guide.
candied yams in a white baking dish

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Making Candied Yams

What is the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?

Despite the recipe name, there are no yams in the dish so technically they should be called Southern candied sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are used so whether you hear Southern candid yams or candied sweet potatoes referenced, they’re the same dish. For a detailed breakdown of the differences check this article on yams vs. sweet potatoes.

Should I add mini marshmallows?

Marshmallows are typically included in Southern candied yams recipes, but are not necessary in this recipe. There is more than enough sweetness presence already, adding marshmallows takes this dish from dessert to pure candy.

What is piloncillo?

Piloncillo may be a mystery ingredient to most, but it is the core to making this dish work. If you're unfamiliar it is an unrefined Mexican sugar that is made from cane sugar made from boiling and evaporating cane juice. It's that brown block in the shape of a cone wrapped in plastic you may have seen in your local grocery store and wondered what it was.

It puts all sugars - brown, white, molasses, etc. to shame. It is sweet, but not as much as refined sugars and has both smokey and earthy elements like a good dark aged spirit, but also acidic notes that along with the whiskey helps the syrup avoid too sweet territory.

What is the taste profile of candied sweet potatoes?

This candied sweet potato recipe is balanced and complex despite its simplicity. The spice mix ensures a more balanced flavor that is neither too sweet nor overly highlights one flavor note. The cinnamon, piloncillo, cloves, whiskey and star anise all play varying roles in creating the balance and complexity. 

The cinnamon introduces a warm, subtle and agreeable sweetness that makes it a perfect contrast to the assertive, licorice-like notes from the star anise which also provides a fresh aftertaste. 

Cloves have a stronger pungent flavor so have to be used in smaller quantities, as a little goes a long way. 

I read somewhere that it is the alcoholic equivalent of salt in terms of how it brings out the flavor in food. Whiskey, in this dish, helps bring out the sweetness in the cinnamon and piloncillo to contrast the stronger flavors in the anise and cloves.

For other sweet potato based recipes you might like, try these:

Grilled Sweet Potato Wedges

Duck Fat Smashed Sweet Potatoes

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges w/ Yogurt Sauce

Black Rice Salad w/ Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Southern Sweet Potato Pie

Make This Classic Side Dish Recipe

This sweet potatoes recipe is the perfect addition to any holiday meal. It's a delicious recipe - Sweet, sticky, and full of flavor, these yams will have your guests asking for seconds. So what are you waiting for? Get in the kitchen and give this soul food dish a try!

If you make this candied yam recipe with bourbon or any other from the site, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.

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candied yams in a white baking dish

Southern Candied Yams

Simple Southern candied yams recipe to enjoy the taste of soul food in a modern way. The perfect side dish to complement any holiday meal.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Soul Food
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 93kcal
Author: Marwin Brown

Ingredients

  • 2 large Sweet Potatoes sliced ½ inch thick
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 3 whole Cloves
  • 2 whole Star Anise
  • 1 medium cone Piloncillo or ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick stick Butter
  • ½ oz Bourbon Whiskey
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups Water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

Step 1: Make the Syrup

  • In a medium saucepan add water and piloncillo, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Dissolve the piloncillo fully.
  • Heat a large skillet over low heat. Add the whole spices and heat for about 30 seconds. Add the butter melting fully. Increase the heat to medium heat and add the dissolved piloncillo, whiskey, and orange juice. to the butter mixture. Mix well, bring to a simmer, and let cook until the liquid is reduced and thickened.

Step 2: Bake the sweet potatoes

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Layer the sweet potato rounds in a baking dish or casserole dish. Add ¾ of the syrup, reserving the rest for later use. Mix the sweet potatoes in the syrup using a large slotted spoon making sure all the sweet potatoes are coated with the syrup.
  • Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake covered 45 minutes. Remove the foil, add some of the reserve syrup, and bake uncovered another 30 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Occasionally I like to double up on sweet potato flavor, so I infuse the syrup with sweet potato flavor and then top the sweet potatoes with the syrup.
  • Add a little orange zest to the sweet potatoes before baking to add more flavor.
  • Heat the cinnamon, cloves, and anise first to release their flavor and aroma.
  • Feel free to use ground cinnamon if you don't have cinnamon sticks around
  • Don’t slice the sweet potatoes too thinly. Strive for ½ inch thickness. Finished sweet potatoes should be fork tender
  • Do not use canned sweet potatoes in this recipe
  • If you don't have access to piloncillo (it's worth the time if you can find it) use brown sugar vs. white as the brown version has some bitterness and more complex flavor with the molasses presence.
  • Be sure to use adequate amounts of water to completely dissolve the sugar which ensures the syrup won't break down
  • Make the syrup ahead of time for all the different flavors to come together. This delicious sauce is everything. Save some and use in other dishes. It's great in oatmeal and on pancakes.
  • Don't wait to make these as part of your traditional holiday meal, this is great for Sunday dinner also.

Nutrition

Calories: 93kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 5mg | Sodium: 450mg | Potassium: 254mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 10747IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 39mg | Iron: 1mg
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Recipe Rating




Michele

Thursday 24th of November 2022

These yams look heavenly! Loving all of the spices in this recipe. So excited to try this for Christmas dinner. Thank you for sharing!

Anna

Monday 21st of November 2022

I added a little bit of orange zest to mine and they came out utterly delicious! Easy and super tasty recipe that I will be saving to make again for sure!

Katie Crenshaw

Sunday 20th of November 2022

These candied yams came out perfect! They are sweet and delicious. I will be making these all winter.

Leslie

Sunday 20th of November 2022

For years I thought I didn't like sweet potatoes...until I tried them candied. Ha! It's hard not to like them when they are served like this AMAZING recipe!

amy liu dong

Sunday 20th of November 2022

Wow! This sweet dish looks absolutely yummy! A perfect treat for everyone to enjoy! An instant favorite too! Loved it!