I’m not sure that there has been a holiday when I haven’t made this dish. It is a standard, and it is easy. And, it makes me so happy. This is the first time I have used the oats in the topping and I like the extra bit of texture it provides. But, I never use marshmallows. Sometimes I bake the potatoes first, to enhance the flavor. And, sometimes I peel and boil the potatoes as I did this time. Some people use spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. I only use vanilla. I like the assertive tone of vanilla, but you could consider adding a little of those if you like. Someday I will also try making it with real maple syrup as the sweetener, and with maple sugar nuggets baked into the topping. I think that would be an amazing offering.
It seems every family has some version of this dish. In fact, my Aunt Betty makes a similar mixture with regular sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and then bakes it in a pie shell as a Sweet Potato Pie. That would be awesome with this topping.
Sometimes I make this a day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator until an hour before baking time. If you do this you need to increase the baking time. And sometimes I cook it a few hours ahead and bake the topping at the last minute (see note). You need to do what suits your schedule. But, do know that if you prepare this only a few hours before baking and serving, it will not have sufficient time to cool enough to bother putting it in the refrigerator. I just let the mixture sit sans topping on the stove for a while. This casserole retains heat like nothing I’ve ever seen. And it is difficult to mess up. So play and create a version that is uniquely yours. Or try mine. I must say that having made it so many years, I now have it just the way I like it.
Recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole: (serves 8)
4 pounds sweet potatoes
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
⅔ cup milk
⅔ cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
½ cup butter, melted
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup oats (not quick-cooking oats)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large stockpot of water to boil on the stove top. Rinse, peel and chop the sweet potatoes into roughly 1 inch pieces. Place the sweet potatoes in the water and bring them to a low boil. Allow them to cook for approximately 25 minutes or until they are easily pierced by a fork. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let them sit there for several minutes so that all of the water drains off and excess moisture evaporates.
2. Return the potatoes to the empty stock pot. Add the butter and brown sugar and mash the potatoes thoroughly with a masher while incorporating the sugar and butter. In a measuring cup, combine the eggs, vanilla and milk, and stir to combine. When the potatoes are smooth, slowly stir in the milk and egg mixture, and continue to stir until it is thoroughly combined.
3. Place the potato mixture into a buttered 9” by 13” casserole dish and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
5. Spread the topping evenly over the top of the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Take care that the topping doesn’t burn by covering the dish with foil after 25 minutes, if needed.
Since this dish uses raw eggs (I am totally over-thinking this), I wanted to assure myself that I wasn’t creating any bacteria issues leaving the casserole sitting out warm before baking it. So, I whipped the sweet potatoes, milk, eggs, butter and vanilla in the same stock pot that I used to boil the potatoes. I then put the mixture on the stove top and heated the mashed potatoes up past 160 degrees, stirring constantly. Then I spread it in the casserole and let it sit at the ready until I was prepared to proceed. It worked great. Obviously this is not an issue at all if you proceed straight to baking. It might not be an issue at all, anyway. I just try to be careful with eggs.
If you choose to bake instead of boil the potatoes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake the rinsed potatoes with their skins on for 1 to 1-½ hours, or until a fork easily pierces the potato all the way through. Once the potatoes have cooled, the flesh can be spooned right out of the skin or the skins simply slipped off. Then proceed with the recipe.
Remember that a cooled or refrigerated casserole will take significantly longer to cook than one that is already warm.