Photo Credit : Elizabeth Cecil | Styling by Molly Swift
After years of making baked yams for the holidays, I’ve found a recipe that I swear by, the sine qua non of the form. And now I won’t make them any other way. They are simply the best baked yams ever.
What makes them so great? They’re crisp-edged, caramelized with brown sugar and butter, and warmed with ginger and black pepper. They also make a stunning presentation.
The inspiration for the dish (officially known as Crispy Caramelized Sweet Potatoes) comes from two sources. The first is my mother, who has always made great baked yams for the holidays, which she halves lengthwise and dots with brown sugar and butter before baking. I love the crisp, caramelized bits that form at the edges, and I wanted to see if I could increase the crispness without losing any of that delicious caramel flavor.
Turns out, it wasn’t so easy. Yams — the common name for what are really sweet potatoes — have a high water content that make them soft when baked. More sugar and butter alone didn’t work. French fry-style batons were mushy. I tried Hasselback potatoes — a technique that involves thinly slicing whole potatoes without cutting all the way through — but the yams continued to steam rather than crisp.
Then I came across my second inspiration: a recipe on Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen blog. By thinly slicing her potatoes all the way through and standing them upright, Perelman was able to get enough air circulating around the slices to crisp their edges. It was a lovely dish, but intentionally savory. Once I added a ginger–brown sugar glaze, I had it: the crispy, caramelized top I needed.
If you think this technique looks too time-consuming, it needn’t be. I use a simple ceramic-bladed mandoline that I purchased at my local hardware store for less than $10 to slice the yams in just 10 minutes. It’s an extremely useful tool for this dish — or for slicing cucumbers, onions, shallots, and zucchini.
Serve these baked yams with some other great Yankee holiday recipes, such as our Fresh Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Shallots, Cornbread and Sausage Dressing, and Lobster Mashed Potatoes. And happy holidays!