[Photographs: Vicky Wasik, unless otherwise mentioned]
Oversweetened sweet potatoes get a whole lot of flak. If you don’t feel me, go take a appear at the comments on my write-up about marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole. A glutton for punishment, I will wade into this controversial zone yet again, this time with the traditional Southern dish of candied yams, which are not yams at all but sweet potatoes. in an intensely sweet sugar sauce.
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but even I never completely comprehend the hate toward these dishes. Yes, as stand-alone creations, they are disgusting. But they’re not meant to be eaten on their own. Notably well-known as part of the Thanksgiving table, these are meals that are meant to be served in tiny doses alongside a assortment of other meals that are savory, tart, and wealthy. Just as I wouldn’t want to drink a glass of maple syrup, but nevertheless enjoy it on pancakes, added-sweet sweet potato dishes can function when they’re a tiny part of a more substantial, more complicated, and balanced total.
Candied yams are, on their face, very straightforward: sweet potatoes cooked with a spiced and buttery syrup. The humorous point is that regardless of this all round simplicity—after all, the only elements are the sweet potatoes and the syrup—my testing led me to deviate from nearly every other version of this recipe I’ve seen. I am convinced the adjustments I made end result in a superior model of candied yams, ones that are silky and tender, flavorful, and coated in a shiny shellac of syrup. They are also a lot more balanced in flavor, thanks to some cider vinegar that I sneak into the sauce for a pinpoint of tartness, which aids to pull all that sweetness into emphasis.
These incredibly sweet sweet potato dishes will not have to be cloying they just need to be made more thoughtfully.
Let’s start off with the most fundamental truth about this dish: Although they are commonly described as “yams,” which are native to Africa and Asia, the root in question right here is actually the sweet potato, native to the Americas. We could be far more exact and phone these “candied sweet potatoes,” and many folks do, but “yams” nevertheless seems to be the a lot more frequent phrase utilized (at least, according to Google search information).
[Photograph: Emily Dryden]
Most recipes get started with a par-cooking stage for the sweet potatoes ahead of combining them with the syrup and finishing them in the oven, so that’s exactly where I started my testing. I baked the potatoes complete, and I simmered them both entire (with and with out their skins) and precut.
Baking didn’t work nicely, since gauging the doneness of the potatoes was challenging, and the potential to accidentally cook them till they are over-soft is high.
The simmered potatoes showed marked distinctions straight out of the water: The skin-on whole potatoes had the most taste, although the pre-peeled, presliced ones had the least, as they misplaced it to the water. But, after the potatoes have been combined with the sugar syrup and baked, the distinctions disappeared.
I also played with both minimal- and large-temp par-cooking approaches, considering that we know that holding sweet potatoes at fairly minimal heat—between 135 and 170°F (57 and 77°C)—allows enzymes to much more fully break down their starches into basic sugars. After again, what ever was gained by utilizing that strategy was overshadowed once the syrup was extra.
After a whole lot of par-cooking testing, it became clear that the greatest approach was also the easiest: Cook the potatoes commence to finish in the oven. [Photograph: Emily Dryden]
Sooner or later, I began to question the par-cooking stage as a whole. Why, exactly, was absolutely everyone carrying out it? I ran a couple test batches in which I cooked the sweet potatoes from begin to finish in the oven, initial covered with foil right up until tender, then uncovered to finish. They came out much better than any of the ones I manufactured employing the par-cooking method so typical to other recipes. That’s excellent news, since it truly is a significantly simpler recipe when you never have a two-stage cooking method for the potatoes.
Sugar and Spice and Everything Good
A appropriately made syrup will not break in the oven.
The other component of this sweet-on-sweet equation is the syrup. I began exactly where most traditional recipes do, melting sugar with a couple of tablespoons of water plus butter, then pouring that mixture in excess of the potatoes. For the sugar element, I examined each granulated white sugar and light brown sugar, and there’s not a lot of a contest. The molasses in light brown sugar adds a depth of taste and hint of bitterness that plain white sugar can not hope to match. Offered the sweetness of this dish, any layers we can include past simply much more sweetness are welcome.
Early on, although, I started out working into problems. My sugar syrup always looked excellent in the saucepan, but once combined with the potatoes and baked in the oven, it usually ended up breaking into a thin and greasy soup, with the sugar forming a thick layer of caramel stuck to the bottom of the baking dish. From what I could inform by hunting at on-line photos of other renditions of the dish, this was a difficulty a good deal of folks were obtaining. For some reason, they appeared to feel this was an acceptable final result. It really is not. If we needed greasy baked sweet potatoes in caramel glue, which is what we’d call the dish. But these are supposed to be candied yams, and that, to me, suggests tender pieces of potato in a glossy lacquer of wealthy and buttery candied syrup.
I suspected that I required to increase the quantity of water in my sugar syrup, but I also knew that I function with pastry wizard Stella Parks, who’s far far more experienced about candy syrups than I am. She could assist get me to a good solution a great deal more rapidly than I could merely by way of trial and error. So I asked her—what gives, and do you feel more water will correct this?
Stella came back with some info: The problem with the amount of water I had been utilizing, and the sum of water in most candied-yam recipes, was that it was insufficient to completely dissolve the sugar. The syrup was by no means effectively forming in the first spot, even however all appearances in the saucepan stated otherwise. Since there wasn’t sufficient water, and as a result there was not a real syrup, the sauce was on the verge of falling apart the very first likelihood it received, which was specifically what was occurring in the oven.
The answer is to start with drastically much more water, about 3 occasions as a lot, to totally dissolve the sugar. Right after that, cook the syrup past 212°F, to about 220°F (104°C) or so, to drive off the excess water and develop a true syrup—one that won’t separate from the body fat with longer cooking.
Sure adequate, with that basic adjustment, the syrup came together, and stayed together, beautifully.
With that resolved, it was time for my final move: adjusting the taste of the syrup to maintain the sweetness in examine. In my marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole recipe, I did that by including sour cream and fresh ginger to the mashed-potato mixture, elements that include tang and pungency to stability out all the sugar. Here, I use a equivalent method, but slightly various elements. On leading of a traditional mix of warm cinnamon and allspice, I add a huge pinch of ground ginger for a hint of spiciness, and I spike the syrup with cider vinegar. The vinegar pairs truly nicely with the other flavors in the dish, while including a subtle sweet-and-sour impact that keeps the syrup from straying into sickly-sweet territory.
Allow the haters detest. It’s easy to flat-out reject something without having offering it far more than a passing considered. It is far far more rewarding to deal with the respectable shortcomings of a dish and flip it into some thing practically anybody would adore.