Side Dishes

April 24, 2021

Sweet Potato Casserole - The Perfect Make Ahead Side Dish

Are sweet potatoes a staple on your family's holiday dinner table? Do you have a family favorite recipe that you make every year? Traditional sweet potato casserole was not a tradition in our home, nor was green bean casserole. It was usually a ham or turkey with a mix of traditional German and Mexican holiday dishes. Picture a turkey stuffed with a Bavarian bread dumpling mixture, flour tortillas, and refried beans next to the cranberry sauce. I am not complaining. I love that I was raised in a family who made many tasty dishes, but as I've grown and created my own traditions, some version of sweet potatoes is always on our holiday menu. 

It wasn't until I stopped by a friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner in my early twenties that I found a love for that perfect sweet potato mixture served in a casserole dish. I still remember her Mom using her potato masher to make the casserole base. My friend's Mom was also not used to this type of holiday meal, she had come to the states from Korea during the war, and her husband was from the south, so she learned how to make favorites of American households. Have you ever had kimchi and sweet potatoes on the same plate? Just a beautiful collision of cultures that I love.

Over the years, I have tried variations to create the best sweet potato casserole recipe that I would be proud to share with my friends and family. An easy sweet potato casserole that wasn't too sweet had texture and paired well with the various holiday dishes gracing the table. I also wanted something pleasing to the eye and could stand out from traditional sweet potato casserole dishes. There is also one thing that makes this such a great recipe; you can make it ahead of time and finish it right before it's time to sit down to dinner. Letting it sit overnight makes it even better. So please do yourself a favor and make it the day before you plan to serve it.

I tested variations of preparations for the sweet potatoes and decided roasting chunks of sweet potatoes or using a creamy mashed potato was not the overall texture I desired. So I took a note from Potato Au Gratin and Scalloped Potatoes and decided to do thin cuts layered in a baking dish. I loved the look of the white and orange sweet potato layers, and this also offers a difference in sweetness and texture, which is what I desired. Please remember that any fresh sweet potato you find in your grocery store will work well with this recipe.

Four Common Sweet Potato Varieties

Jewel (deep orange flesh): Jewel Sweet Potatoes are mildly sweet, have a firm texture, and have minimal moisture, making them an excellent option for mashes, cakes, and sweet potato pie.

Garnet (light orange flesh):  Garnet sweet potatoes have much more moisture than the Jewel variety. Because of the high moisture level, these are perfect for roasting. They will also be less sweet than the Jewel potatoesGreat for casseroles, pies, and sauces.

Japanese (white flesh): Japanese sweet potatoes are very dry and starchy. They are not sweet and are an excellent substitute for regular white potatoes. I love using these for oven-baked fries and gnocchi.  

Hannah (creme-colored flesh): Hannah sweet potatoes naturally have a sweeter taste and starchy texture. This type of potato works excellently with the recipe, and I suggest trying this type for your next sweet potato mash.

The sauce you will make to pour over your sweet potatoes is a simple base of pure maple syrup, which is a much better option than white sugar or dark brown sugar. Pure maple syrup is less processed and is lower on the glycemic index, minimizing blood sugar spikes. It also provides antioxidants and vitamins that sugar cannot. I believe the pure maple syrup tastes better with the butter and spices in this sauce, making this a healthy sweet potato casserole.

The topping ingredients are a simple pecan crumble that helps create the perfect nutty crumb for the top of the casserole. Feel free to add mini fluffy marshmallows to the top of this dish, along with the streusel topping, if you want it to be sweeter. 

For a vegan option, you can substitute the butter with vegan butter or coconut oil in the sauce and for the topping in your vegan sweet potato casserole. 

Need it to be gluten-free? Substitute the all-purpose flour with a gluten free flour mix, or use almond flour for a grain-free version. 

If you are looking for a sweet potato casserole recipe that will treat your taste buds well, this could be your new favorite holiday dish or just a perfect side dish for any occasion.

Sweet Potato Casserole - The Perfect Make Ahead Side Dish

An easy sweet potato casserole that wasn't too sweet had texture and paired well with the various holiday dishes gracing the table. You can make it the day before and finish it right as it's time to sit down to dinner.


2 orange sweet potatoes (about 1.5 pounds)

2 white sweet potatoes (about 1.5 pounds)


1/4 cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt


1/4 cup all-purpose flour or all-purpose flour substitute

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup melted butter

Optional: 1 cup mini marshmallows


Preheat oven to 375˚  

Butter a 9x13 baking dish and set aside. Peel all your sweet potatoes and place them in a large bowl filled with cold water; this will keep your potatoes from browning. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut each sweet potato into 1/2 inch sliced rounds. Place slices back in the water until ready to layer in the baking dish.

In a small pot, add all the sauce ingredients. Whisk together until butter is melted and set aside.

Drain potatoes and lay them on a clean dish towel. Dry the potatoes, removing any lingering water.

In the buttered baking dish, add the potato slices. Lay all the potato pieces flat in the baking dish. Pour the sauce mixture over the sweet potatoes. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake the sweet potatoes for 50 minutes. While the sweet potatoes bake, begin making the pecan topping.

In a medium bowl, add the topping ingredients and mix until the melted butter is combined evenly and a crumble is created. When the potatoes are fork tender, carefully remove the baking dish from the oven.

MAKE AHEAD NOTES: Let the sweet potatoes cool to room temperature, cover them tightly and place them in the fridge overnight. Two hours before serving, remove from fridge and bring to room temperature (this will take about an hour).

Preheat oven to 375˚. Add the topping in an even layer over the top of the sweet potato casserole. Bake covered for 20-25 minutes until potatoes have warmed. Uncover potatoes and bake for 10 minutes uncovered. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Storing: Store leftovers in an airtight container or cover the baking dish with plastic wrap to enjoy the next day. You already know thanksgiving sides are even better after the holiday.


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