YES is how I will start this post! Yes, as in calling these candied sweet potatoes for what they are, i.e. candied sweet potatoes vs. yams as they are frequently called. Don’t believe thy hype; they are not the same. For a breakdown check this link. This recipe for candied sweet potatoes will make you increase your consumption beyond just Thanksgiving celebrations so that you can enjoy these tasty candied tubers with a silky smooth spiced syrup on a more regular basis.
Growing up as a kid candied sweet potatoes were regularly on the menu for any holiday as well as many a Sunday family dinners. My cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, etc. would ring the phone after church on Sundays to learn if my grandmother was making them. I liked them, but I never really got the hype as for me they never lived up to expectations established by their name. I guess “Candied” meant something different to me, as I expected full blown dessert potatoes with a sweet silky syrup that didn’t separate. Greasy, soupy syrup though seemingly the norm, just didn’t sit right with me. As I got older and developed a slightly more sophisticated palate I also begin to realize that most of the versions I had had were just sweet, 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.
Over the years I’ve experiemented with different candied sweet potatoes recipes. My focus has been primariliy on getting the right syrup flavor and consistency as well as thinking about the overall dish as one entitity vs. two key components (syrup + sweet potatoes). My research led me to a style and technique favored in Mexico. The entire dish is cooked on a stovetop vs. baked in the oven. Sweet potatoes, water, sugar and spices are all cooked simulatenously in a pot. This accomplishes a few key things. One as the sweet potatoes start from a relatively low temperature this process can more effectively break down those starches into simple sugars as the guys at Serious Eats note. Two this occurs simultaneously with the formation of the syrup. So the spiced syrup gets imparted into the sweet potatoes as they breakdown creating a more unified dish. Three, and perhps most important the technique stays true to the simplicity of candied sweet potatoes; it’s actually more simple given you’re cooking all ingredients together at one time. Four, it’s much easier to clean a pot cooked on the stovetop vs. baked versions where the caramel like stickiness of the cooked sugar stuck to the bottom and edges of the pan.
What is the taste profile of Mexican style candied sweet potatoes?
These candied sweet potatoes are balanced and complex despite their 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 aperfect 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. Whiskey is still enjoying its run in the sun. 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.
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 the 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.
The sweet potatoes essentially absorb all the sweet, complex goodness of all the ingredients used to make the syrup. Additionally, the sweet potatoes lend its on flavor to the syrup, as the flavor sweats into the syrup when cooked. Be sure to use the reserve syrup for later with other foods like pancakes or waffles as well as a glaze for fruits and vegetables. It’s rich, spicy and totally addictive.
What are key tips for making candied sweet potatoes?
- Key is making sure the sugar dissolves fully when making the syrup. Be sure to use adequate amounts of water, not only to cook/boil the sweet potatoes but to completely dissolve the sugar which ensures the syrup won’t break down
- It’s likely that sweet potatoes will be done cooking before syrup in finished. If so remove the sweet potatoes and continue cooking the syrup down to remove excess water and reduce syrup to proper consistency
- 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.
Dope beats, fresh eats. Don’t wait to the holidays to try this recipe and up your candied sweet potatoes game with this simple yet sophisticated, indulgent version.
Mexican Style Candied Sweet Potatoes with Piloncillo Sauce
Mexican style dessert recipe for candied sweet potatoes cooked on the stovetop in a rich, complex syrup spiced with cinnamon, cloves, star anise, whiskey, and Mexican cane sugar - piloncillo.
- 1 large sweet potato peeled and cut into 2 inch thick rounds
- 1 medium cone piloncillo or 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 star anise
- 1 medium cinnamon stick
- 1 whole clove
- 1 teaspoon whiskey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a pot, combine sweet potatoes, 2 cups of water, piloncillo, star anise, clove, whiskey, and salt. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer and let cook for about an hour or until sweet potato is very soft and liquid is reduced and thickened
Serve with syrup spooned over the sweet potato
If the liquid is still runny when sweet potatoes are cooked, remove the sweet potatoes and continue cooking the liquid until it is reduced to more syrup like consistency Reserve any unused syrup and use on pancakes and waffles or as a glaze for roasted vegetables. It’s absolutely addictive.