Despite having a decent reputation for cooking, a killer turkey recipe and not one but TWO autumnal table runners, I haven’t hosted Thanksgiving since 2004, and I’m thrilled about that. One of the reasons we moved to Los Angeles back in the day was to give our (then unconceived) children the experience of growing up with family holidays, and for Thanksgiving we always have a place at the table at the house of my parents, my grandmother, or one of my aunts. And since family meals in my family are always pot luck, I get the fun of cooking what I want for Thanksgiving without the stress of worrying that I don’t have enough wine glasses, or bringing in extra chairs from the garage.
My contribution to the family Thanksgiving varies – sometimes I make pecan pie, sometimes old school bread stuffing with sage – but I always always make these sweet potatoes. They are not gooey with brown sugar, or covered in marshmallows. What they are is creamy and spicy and sweet and smoky. They’re also easy and practically foolproof and, depending on how liberally you apply the cayenne, almost universally popular.
I never understood why so many sweet potato recipes added additional sweetness, in the form of brown sugar, or orange juice, or marshmallows. Sweet potatoes are already sweet — what I want is to balance the sweetness with saltiness. I like plain baked sweet potatoes with butter and salt, but this dish, with the layers of flavor from the spices, and the richness of the butter and cream and the mellow background of sweet potato, just sings.
Fortunately, making them is a snap. I like to use my Benriner Japanese Mandoline Slicer, which makes the slicing quick and the slices uniform, but PLEASE use the finger guard or you will do what I did LAST Thanksgiving and slice the tip off your finger. True story. Once the potatoes are sliced, you just layer them in a buttered gratin dish, dab each layer with a little more butter (holiday food, not health food), sprinkle with cayenne, smoked paprika, salt and pepper, then pour cream over the whole thing and bake.
A few years ago my grandmother, who is a very, um, traditional cook, hosted Thanksgiving. I told her I was bringing these sweet potatoes and she balked. “My friend Jeannie is coming, ” she said. “And Jean is midwestern. Why don’t you make them with some nice orange juice?” Well, Jeannie is midwestern like Annie Oakley is midwestern, and she had second helpings of sweet potatoes. And even my grandmother enjoyed them.
- 3 medium sweet potatoes
- 3-4 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- ½-1 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1-2 teaspoons sweet Spanish smoked paprika
- salt and pepper
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Peel the sweet potatoes, and using a mandoline, a food processor or a sharp knife and a lot of patience, slice them thinly into even rounds. Set some of the prettiest and most perfect rounds aside for the top layer.
- Butter a 14 inch gratin dish. Layer the sweet potatoes in concentric overlapping circles (or ovals) over the bottom of the gratin dish. Dot with a few dabs of butter, sprinkle with cayenne (more is obviously spicier), smoked paprika, a pinch of salt (go lightly on the salt -- the smokiness of the paprika adds a salty impression) and a few grinds of black pepper. Repeat with the next layer, and the spices and the butter, until you reach the top, where you'll use your reserved sweet potatoes.
- Pour the cream over the dish, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove the cover, bake an additional 30 minutes. Serve warm. (I happen to love this cold, but it doesn't reheat well because the cream tends to separate. You can make it entirely in advance except for the baking part, and pop it in the oven an hour before dinner is served).
This sounds so good, I may want to make it this Thanksgiving. I don’t like sweet potatoes with extra sweetness…or marshmallows on top–even worse!
I completely with you about sweet potatoes- never knew I liked them until I tried them with some salt and chili powder! I’m definitely going to try this recipe out to expand my tiny repertoire of sweet potato dishes.
Couldn’t agree with you more that sweet potatoes are sweet enough themselves and are complemented more by salty and spicy flavors.
This looks fabulous!
wow what a great recipe. thanks!
This gratin looks wonderful!!!
This sounds awesome. I love sweet potatoes but not so much when they are sweetened beyond the natural level. The addition of cayenne and smoked paprika is right up my alley!
This looks absolutely wonderful! I’m a sucker for sweet potatoes in any fashion – with added sweetness or not! Never had any that I didn’t like. Definitely bookmarking this one, thanks!
Looks really delicious, beautiful and yummy
I ordered a cut resistant glove from this site — would not dare use mandolin without it (easier not to use the finger guard — this glove works!)
YUM – what a great recipe. Going to save this one.
It looks like a whole clutch of us who like our Thansgiving sweet potatoes without the sticky sweetness added. My mother would always boil a potato just for me which I would mash with my fork, and add butter, salt and pepper. Now in my 70’s that’s still the way I like it. So of course, I’m trying your recipe for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how I feel about it when it comes out of the oven. Thank you, thank you.
That giant splash of heavy cream is amazing!! Love the idea of your sweet potato casserole over the marshmallow take. Hope your Thanksgiving was grand 🙂 xo
When the sweet potato recipe came out of the hot oven, it looked and smelled delicious. The potato flavor was not as intense as I like, but the two flavors of cayenne, along with the cream made a tasty dish. I will definitely make your recipe again
I made this for Thanksgiving and it was SO good! Thank you for the recipe!
Let me just say that I made this for Christmas…twice. It is fabulous and my love affair with smoked paprika continues. Delicious.
My husband makes a recipe almost exactly like this except he uses adobo sauce rather than the cayenne. We are southern and too eat sweet potatoes baked with just butter. This is a hit in our family. So glad someone else is on the no marshmallow/extra sugar/orange juice bandwagon. Hope y’all have a Happy Thanksgiving!
this was soooo good. I am a lover of sweet potatoes with butter, salt and pepper. I also add sour cream and crumbled cooked bacon.
Hello! Thank you for this great recipe!! I have done it a few times already, such a nice dish! Fond regards from South Africa.