How to Make Candied Yams

A recipe straight from my granny.

I associate summer and warm weather with visiting my granny in what is basically Gullah Gullah Island and eating her delicious candied yams. I wanted to learn how to make them myself, and to show you guys too (it’s really easy!), so with her permissions, may I present:

Granny Barbie’s Candied Yams

What You’ll Need:

Sugar ’n’ spice.

Sugar ’n’ spice.

• About 6 lbs. sweet potatoes/yams* (probably 5–7 sweet potatoes, depending on the size).
• A stick of butter.
• 2 cups sugar.
• Cinnamon.
• Nutmeg.
• A large pot (I used a 12-quart stainless steel one).
• A kitchen knife.
• A roasting pan—the ideal size for this 8×6 inches, 2½ to 3 inches deep.
• Rubber kitchen gloves.

How to Do It:

1. Preheat your oven to 400°F (~200°C).

2. Fill your pot about halfway with water and set it on your stovetop to boil.

3. While you’re waiting for the water to boil, wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly in cool water.

4. Put the potatoes in the boiling water and cover with a lid. Leave them alone for about 90 minutes. (You can check to see if they’re done by pressing—not poking or piercing—the surface of a potato with a spoon or by putting on a kitchen gloves and gently squeezing it. It should feel soft but not totally mushy.)

DSC_30955. When they’re done, take the potatoes out of the water immediately and put them on a heat-safe surface (like a baking sheet). (You don’t have to use them right away, but it is imperative that you do not leave them sitting in the water, or else they’ll get soggy and kinda gross.)

DSC_31096. My father likes to peel the hot sweet potatoes right away, using the kitchen gloves and some caution, but you can wait for them to cool down before handling them. Wearing kitchen gloves, peel the skin off of your first sweet potato (you can throw the peels out or use them to make “chips“).

DSC_32157. Use a knife to cut the potatoes into slices about ¾ inch thick. Place the slices in the roasting pan, crowding them together to minimize the gaps between them, especially around the edges. If you end up with smashed-up or very small pieces, you can use them to fill in large gaps. Your first layer should look a little like this:DSC_3218

DSC_31298. Sprinkle this layer with cinnamon and nutmeg.

DSC_31839. Cut your stick of butter into thirds—you’ll use one third on top of each layer of sweet potatoes. (Each third is a little over 2½ tablespoons.) Then cut one of those thirds into four or five little slices and distribute them more or less evenly across the top of this first layer.

DSC_318810. You’re about to add a lot of sugar—don’t freak out. Pour 23 of a cup of the stuff evenly over the top of everything.

DSC_332011. Repeat steps 6–10 for the last two layers: sweet potatoes, spices, butter, sugar.

12. Stick the pan in the oven. The amount of time it will take to cook everything depends on the size of your pan and the idiosyncrasies of your oven—mine took about an hour and 15 minutes. Since the sweet potatoes are already cooked, the time in the oven is purely for the caramelization, or “candying,” process.

DSC_334213. Be extremely careful removing this dish from the oven—the sugar and butter will still be boiling when it’s time for it to come out! When it’s cooled off a bit, it’s ready to serve!

I ended up buying too many sweet potatoes, so I used the extras to make a little mini-version of this dish. This is a good way to modify the recipe for friends with dietary restrictions—you can make it vegan, for example, by using orange and/or pineapple juice instead of butter. Some people like to use lemon juice, marshmallows, and maple syrup in their candied yams. Do whatever you want—experiment! I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do. (Oh and it’s not just for summer, obviously—it’s great at Thanksgiving or anytime.) ♦

* A note on tubers! The thing that we call a yam in the United States is actually a type of sweet potato. A real yam is a gigantic sticky root and is mainly found in Africa, South America, and the Pacific Islands. So if you’re in one of those three places, you can use real yams for this recipe—everyone else, get “ruby yams” or “garnet yams” (which are not yams) (confused yet?). Don’t use American sweet potatoes or Okinawan purple potatoes, which are too bland and dry for this particular situation.


  • sans.sheriff June 9th, 2014 4:49 PM

    holy cow that looks amazing
    definitely will be keeping this in mind for thanksgiving & then surprising everyone like “BAM! I cooked something”

  • emseely June 9th, 2014 7:19 PM

    my father is *literally* making me take a “cooking exam” (graded by him, of course) before I graduate so he can be confident that I’ll be able to fend for myself in college (along with a laundry exam, a gardening [???] exam…) so i’m just gonna make this and blow him away and i’ll for sure get an A+

    • umi June 10th, 2014 10:12 AM

      that’s so cute!!!! good luck on bein an adult and doin adult things!!! i just read your comment again and realized how cute a LIFE exam is….gosh…so cute!

  • janevtiamat June 9th, 2014 7:38 PM

    I was looking for a new recipe! My gf and I are always looking for new things to cook.

  • flapperhatgirl June 9th, 2014 10:17 PM

    I love it when rookie does recipes!

  • bonnie.mclovin June 9th, 2014 10:36 PM

    sweet mother of god that looks extraordinary

  • Japers June 10th, 2014 12:51 AM

    I recommend adding cocoa powder to the mix!!

  • Monq June 10th, 2014 1:08 AM

    They’re also really yummy with marshmallows!


  • Emily June 10th, 2014 3:08 AM

    This is a little off topic but purple okinawan sweet potatoes mashed with coconut milk is probably the most deserty thing you can get away with putting on your dinner table, and its such a pretty shade of purple too! (sprinkle some sea salt on it for absolute perfection). They take a while to steam so if you want to make this def have at least 45 minutes for it.
    If you peel them before you cook them don’t peel them wet because it allows (sap I guess?) to mix with the water and it makes your hands a bit sticky for a while :/

    They are super good in deserts too
    (cakes, pies, cookies, tapioca!!!)

    I am soooo about ube and you should be too! Spreading the love spreading the joy!

  • ElisabethGrace June 10th, 2014 3:38 AM

    so I was literally just in charleston on like, wednesday, and talking with my mom about gullah gullah island. crazy.