Sweet Potato Bake

Boiling Sweet Potatoes

Twenty Thanksgivings ago, I had to come up with a potluck dish for a dinner with friends. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of making a Sweet Potato Pie as I had done the previous year (and whose recipe I first attempted for a Potato Party (no, really) five years before.)

I was out of school and working at my first permanent, full-time office job. In response to my dilemma of What To Bring To The Table, Jane, a co-worker, emailed over a recipe for this Sweet Potato Bake (that could also be made with butternut squash if desired.) I tried it out and it was a big hit with everyone (mostly twentysomething gay men, BTW) at that Thanksgiving dinner.

Boiling and mashing fresh sweet potatoes (or yams, if you prefer, though I can never tell the exact difference) is key—never tried it with the canned variety, never will unless there’s an unlikely shortage of fresh taters. However, I think the real secret to the dish’s success is the crumbly topping: equal parts chopped pecans, brown sugar and flour mixed together with melted butter.

I’ve made this dish nearly every Thanksgiving since. Oh, there was that one year I thought I’d try something different, a similar dish involving maple syrup, but we shall not speak of it again. Because the boiling and mashing takes up considerable time, I only make this once a year, and usually the night before so that I can focus on the Turkey on the holiday itself. Here’s the recipe—if you like sweet potatoes, it will never fail you.


  • 3 cups cooked sweet potatoes mashed
  • ¼ cup sugar*
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup butter (softened)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup milk (or 1/3 cup heavy cream)
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 3 tablespoons butter (melted)

(*The recipe originally called for 1 whole cup of sugar (under which Jane wrote in parentheses, “You can tell right here it’s going to be good with a ratio like that!”), which may explain its instant popularity. Over the years, I’ve determined that a ¼ cup is more than sufficient.)


  • In a large bowl, blend boiled, mashed potatoes, sugar, salt, eggs, ¼ cup softened butter, vanilla and milk.
  • Place in a greased 1 ½ quart casserole dish (or 9 x 13” pan.)
  • In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, pecans and remaining butter; top casserole with this crumbled mixture.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

A Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sweet Potato Bake is the dish furthest on the right.