A creamy, dessert-like whipped Sweet Potato Casserole with the light tang of buttermilk and gentle spice of cinnamon. Top with your choice of toasted marshmallows or crunchy pecan streusel.
Visiting from Pinterest? This post was originally published on November 24, 2013 (Striped Spatula’s first post!) and updated in 2019 with new photos and commentary.
Confession: every year, I eat leftover Sweet Potato Casserole for breakfast on the day after Thanksgiving. I honestly don’t remember how or why this started, but it’s become my own delicious little tradition.
Some people wake up early to shop on Black Friday; I wake up to heat a bowl of Sweet Potato Casserole.
This recipe has been a staple on my family’s Thanksgiving table for as long as I can remember. I’m sure my initial attraction to the dish had nothing (everything) to do with the novelty of getting to eat marshmallows for dinner (“jackpot” to a four-year-old)!
As an adult, I dive fork-first into this Southern-style casserole every year. It’s incredibly delicious. The whipped potatoes are creamy and gently spiced, while the buttermilk lends a light tang to complement the sweetness. It’s a win-win for guests of all ages.
What You’ll Need to Make This Recipe
My mother adapted this recipe from Mrs. Jim Hendrick’s “Holiday Sweet Potatoes,” as featured in the Junior League of Jackson’s excellent cookbook, Southern Sideboards. Published in 1978, this book remains one of my favorites on my mother’s shelf for classic, gracious southern cooking.
When I was a teenager, Mom started our tradition of topping the casserole with a pecan streusel crust. (Mrs. Hendrick’s wonderful recipe tops the potatoes with marshmallows and includes optional pecans folded into the potatoes themselves.) The brown sugar crust makes the dish very much like the classic sweet potato casserole you’ll find on steakhouse menus.
Here’s what you’ll need to make the casserole with a pecan streusel topping:
- Cooked Sweet Potatoes
- Granulated Sugar and Brown Sugar
- Baking powder
- Unsalted Butter
- Ground Cinnamon
- Buttermilk (we like to use whole, but low-fat works also)
Tips and Techniques for Making the Best Sweet Potato Casserole
This recipe couldn’t be easier to make. The casserole itself starts with cooked sweet potatoes. Use whatever cooking method you prefer for tender potatoes, such as boiling, microwaving or baking.
I most often pop the sweet potatoes in the oven, like for my Brown Butter Whipped Sweet Potatoes, or use an electric pressure cooker. Cooking the sweet potatoes in the Instant Pot frees up the stove and oven for other uses.
Tip: To easily cook sweet potatoes in the Instant Pot, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes. Add them to the insert with 1 cup of water, seal, and cook on High Pressure for 8 minutes. Quick release the steam, drain the potatoes well, and proceed with the casserole.
If you’re using a water-based cooking method, it’s important to drain the potatoes as much as possible before mixing the casserole. You don’t want it to be watery!
Beyond that, the process is little more than Mix-Bake-Eat, leaving plenty of time and energy left to tend to your turkey.
For a creamy, fluffy texture, I like to use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or an electric hand mixer to mash the sweet potatoes. If you prefer for your potatoes to have a very smooth texture, you can also use a food processor.
Sweet Potato Casserole Toppings
Let’s talk more about the topping options: toasted marshmallows and pecan streusel (also sometimes called pecan praline topping). Both are classic choices, and it really comes down to your family’s personal preferences. We still make both toppings, depending on the year!
Toasted marshmallows are delicious and make me nostalgic for my childhood. They’ll lend a bit of a sweeter finish than the pecan streusel, which adds a crunchy, toffee-like flavor to contrast the creamy sweet potatoes underneath.
Tip: It might look like you’re sprinkling a lot of topping over the gratin dish, but go with it! The crust bakes to just the right proportion for the amount of sweet potatoes, reminiscent of the classic steakhouse side.
Instructions for both the marshmallow and pecan streusel topping are in the recipe card, so you and your family can choose your favorite.
Yes. Two, 40-ounce cans of cut yams (plain, not candied) can be substituted in this recipe. Be sure to drain them very well.
Canned yams tend to be sweeter than sweet potatoes and might require less sugar. If using canned, start with 1/2 cup sugar and taste before adding eggs, adding the additional 1/4 cup if needed.
Gently warm the yams before mixing to help them whip up nicely with the other ingredients.
Since it contains baking powder, I tend to make and bake it fresh. You can, however, cook the sweet potatoes and make the pecan streusel ahead to have them ready to go.
Just like with the canned yams, if using chilled sweet potatoes, gently warm them before whipping for the best texture.
I use a 3 to 3-1/2 quart gratin. You want to use something that has a large enough surface area to create a nice ratio of topping to sweet potatoes.
If, for example, you use a round deep baking dish, you’ll have a lot of sweet potatoes with not a lot of streusel area.
More Thanksgiving Side Dishes:
- Cranberry Pecan Stuffing
- Brandied Cherry Cranberry Sauce
- Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage and Chestnuts
- Haricots Verts with Lemon-Herb Brown Butter
- The Creamiest Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole
For the Sweet Potatoes
- 5 pounds sweet potatoes
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter , softened, plus extra for buttering casserole dish
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup shaken buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
For the Pecan Streusel
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar , lightly packed*
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar , lightly packed
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
For a Toasted Marshmallow Topping
- 2 cups miniature marshmallows
- Cook sweet potatoes until soft (see notes for cooking methods). You should have about 8.5 cups of potatoes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in middle position. Butter a 3-quart gratin dish.
- Place cooked sweet potatoes into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a bowl with an electric hand mixer). Add 1/2 cup softened butter, baking powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar. Whip until combined.
- Beat in buttermilk. Add eggs and continue whipping until smooth. Transfer mixture to the prepared gratin dish and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
- In a small bowl, stir together pecans, flour, and sugars. Stir in melted butter until combined.
- Crumble brown sugar and pecan mixture over the top of the unbaked sweet potatoes.
Bake the casserole:
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until sweet potatoes are hot in the center and topping is lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
To use marshmallows instead of pecan streusel:
- Bake the un-topped sweet potatoes for 30 minutes, or until the center is hot. Top casserole with marshmallows and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until marshmallows are melted and lightly-toasted.