(Cheater!) Easy Sweet Potato Casserole with Candied Pecan Topping

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Not your grandma’s sweet potato casserole recipe! A couple of smart swaps make this Easy Sweet Potato Casserole with Candied Pecan Topping just as good as the classic, with none of the fuss. Pure maple syrup & cinnamon are folded into the creamiest, fluffiest mashed sweet potatoes you’ll ever make. Finish with a sprinkling of candied pecans & walnuts to add a sweet & crunchy topping without any extra work. Made with just 6 ingredients & in 40 minutes or less, it’s the perfect side dish for Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, or any comfort food dinners this fall & winter. Meal prep & make-ahead instructions provided.

Planning your Thanksgiving menu? Be sure to check out Sidesgiving! This year PWWB is doubling down on the BEST part of a Thanksgiving plate…the side dishes! Sidesgiving is a holiday side dish extravaganza, including traditional dishes you already know & love, as well as some new & fun takes on the classics.

Easy Sweet Potato Casserole in a white serving dish sprinkled with fresh herbs and candied nuts with a silver spoon nestled into the dish. The baking dish rests on a flat marbled gray surface next to a gray and white stripe linen napkin, a plate of sweet potato casserole dished up and candied nuts and herbs spread around.

Pin this Cheater Sweet Potato Casserole recipe for later!

Classic Sweet Potato Casserole…made EASY!

When it comes to holiday side dishes, sweet potato casserole is truly a staple – it’s well-known, well-loved & a must-have at many tables on Thanksgiving Day. Honestly, what’s not to like? – Tender & creamy mashed sweet potatoes meet butter & warm spices, plus a crispy-crunchy topping. Yes, please!

If you ask me, the only downside of classic sweet potato casserole is it’s a little cumbersome to make. Many recipes require 1+ hours of prep time, & that’s before anything even goes into the oven! It’s a lot of effort for a single dish…& if we’re being completely honest, that kind of effort is better spent prepping an epic scratch-made stuffing recipe, you know?

The perfect solution? Cheater Sweet Potato Casserole. Thanks to a couple of smart swaps, this easy sweet potato casserole recipe yields the silky smooth, buttery sweet potato casserole you know & love in this classic Thanksgiving dish in just a fraction of the time & with just a fraction of the effort.

The secret? The casserole topping is made with candied pecans & walnuts. Grab them ready-made at the store (let the store do the extra work this year!), chop ’em up fine, & sprinkle them all over fluffy, buttery, cinnamon- & maple-laced mashed sweet potatoes. It’s the perfect easy sweet & crunchy topping without any extra work.

A close up of creamy swirls of sweet potato casserole topped with candied nuts and green fresh herbs.

It’s truly the easiest sweet potato casserole recipe you’ll ever make – what’s not to like about that?! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Easy Sweet Potato Casserole with Candied Pecan Topping, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!

Key Ingredients for this cheater recipe:

This easy sweet potato casserole recipe calls for just 6 ingredients!

Easy sweet potato casserole ingredients: sweet potatoes, whole milk, unsalted butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, candied nuts, and fresh herbs for garnish.

Note: full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

You will need…

  • Sweet potatoes – Of course! I like using garnet or jewel sweet potatoes, which are also known as yams.
  • Milk – Mashed into the sweet potatoes for creamy texture. For this recipe, we reach for REAL deal whole milk, which makes the mashed sweet potatoes extra creamy & velvety.
  • Unsalted butter – Mashed into the sweet potatoes for rich flavor.
  • Ground cinnamon – For its cozy warmth!
  • Maple syrup – For a little bit of extra rich sweetness. Be sure to use pure maple syrup, not pancake syrup!
  • Candied pecans – The store-bought solution for a crunchy-sweet topping for this easy sweet potato cassserole recipe. You can also use candied walnuts, or a variety of candied nuts.

How to cook sweet potatoes for casserole:

With your ingredients gathered & prepped, it’s time to get cooking, & this is where the ease comes into the equation with this easy sweet potato casserole recipe. Simply boil, mash, & top, & it takes less than 40 minutes start-to-finish.

Sweet potatoes pureed in a food processor to make extra creamy sweet potato casserole.

Note: full Recipe Directions with step-by-step photos provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Prepping & Boiling:

Sweet potatoes are prepped & ready to boil with just 2 simple steps:

  1. Peel the sweet potatoes. A y-peeler will make peeling an especially easy task. It is my go-to kitchen tool for peeling root vegetables or squash.
  2. Dice the peeled sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces. They don’t need to be perfect by any means, though it is important that the pieces of sweet potato are generally uniform in size so they cook evenly.

Meal prep tip: Peeling & dicing sweet potatoes can easily be done in advance, cutting down on day-of prep. Simply peel & dice as described above, then pop them into an airtight container & store them in the fridge for up to 5 days. Easy!

Boiling sweet potatoes: Add the diced sweet potato to a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Submerge in cold, salted water. Bring everything to a boil, cooking until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. Easy!

Mash the sweet potatoes:

Mash the sweet potatoes to your desired consistency. For extra control over flavors & textures, I suggest adding the butter & milk little by little as you mash.

For extra creamy & smooth sweet potatoes, purée them in a food processor. Typically a no-no with regular potatoes, sweet potatoes don’t have the same starches that would cause them to become gummy. A food processor is the best way to get creamy, dreamy, totally smooth sweet potatoes.

Time for the pecan topping!

Once the casserole filling is complete, it’s time to assemble the sweet potato casserole with pecan topping! Transfer the fluffy mashed sweet potatoes to your favorite serving dish & finish them off with a generous sprinkling of candied nuts!

Candied nuts provide the absolute best crunch, complementing the creaminess of the sweet potatoes perfectly. To keep things as easy as possible, I let the store do all of the work & buy store-bought candied nuts. I usually reach for candied or glazed pecans, but feel free to use whatever candied nuts you love most – walnuts, pecans, or a combination of the two will work great in this dish! (If you really want to be a rockstar & DIY your candied nut topping, check out this Spicy Candied Nuts recipe…there may or may not be bacon involved!)

Sweet potato casserole with a marshmallow topping more your style? Easy. Sprinkle mini marshmallows on top & bake or broil for a few minutes, just until marshmallows are toasty & golden brown. Watch the dish closely to avoid burning!

Easy Sweet Potato Casserole in a white serving dish sprinkled with fresh herbs and candied nuts with a silver spoon resting on the flat surface near the dish. The baking dish rests on a flat marbled gray surface next to a gray and white stripe linen napkin and candied nuts and herbs spread loosely spread around.

Thanksgiving 2020: Meal prep, make-ahead, & portions.

In the spirit of flexibility – especially since the 2020 holiday season is unlike any other holiday season we’ve experienced before – all of our Sidesgiving recipes include guidance for meal prep & for scaling the recipe up/down based on the size of your holiday gathering.

Here’s everything you need to know about this Cheater Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Topping recipe:

  • Alternate cooking methods: If you’re worried about space on the stovetop as you plan out your Thanksgiving dinner timeline, know that you can prep this sweet potato casserole in a slow cooker or an Instant Pot. See Recipe Notes, below, for step-by-step guidance.
  • 10-Minute Meal prep: If you have a few minutes to spare, peel & dice the sweet potatoes up to 5 days in advance. See Recipe Notes, below, for step-by-step guidance.
  • Make-Ahead: Mashed sweet potatoes can also be made up to 3 days in advance, stored covered in the refrigerator, & reheated just before your Thanksgiving dinner. See Recipe Notes, below, for step-by-step guidance.
  • Portions: As written, this sweet potato casserole recipe serves up to 8 people as a side dish. If you are serving a larger or smaller crowd this year, there are a couple of options:
    • Scaled up: To serve up to 14 as a side dish, double the recipe. Be sure to cook the potatoes in a stockpot or a vessel large enough to cover the sweet potatoes with at least 2 inches of water. 
    • Make it a mini: To serve a cozy crowd of up to 4, simply halve the recipe. Sweet potato casserole for two, please!
Easy Sweet Potato Casserole in a white serving dish sprinkled with fresh herbs and candied nuts with a silver spoon nestled into the dish. The baking dish rests on a flat marbled gray surface.

This Cheater Sweet Potato Casserole is sure to be a hit at your Friendsgiving &/or Thanksgiving dinners – we can’t wait for you to try it!

If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know!: Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡

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Easy Sweet Potato Casserole in a white serving dish sprinkled with fresh herbs and candied nuts with a silver spoon nestled into the dish. The baking dish rests on a flat marbled gray surface next to a gray and white stripe linen napkin, a plate of sweet potato casserole dished up and candied nuts and herbs spread around.

(Cheater!) Easy Sweet Potato Casserole with Candied Pecan Topping

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 810 1x
  • Category: Side Dish Recipes
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Not your grandma’s sweet potato casserole! This Easy Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans is truly the easiest sweet potato casserole you’ll ever make – pure maple syrup & warming cinnamon are folded into the creamiest, fluffiest mashed sweet potatoes, & it’s finished with a simple pecan topping (candied pecans!) for a sweet & crunchy topping without any extra work. 


Scale

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 cup whole milk (or milk of choice)
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups chopped candied nuts
  • for serving, as desired: maple syrup, butter, fresh herbs, etc.

Instructions

Easy sweet potato casserole ingredients: sweet potatoes, whole milk, unsalted butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, candied nuts, and fresh herbs for garnish.

  1. Boil the sweet potatoes: Place the diced sweet potatoes in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and cover with 8 cups cold water, or enough to completely submerge the sweet potatoes. Season with 2 tablespoons Kosher salt. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover, cooking for 20 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. Carefully strain, then return to the pot.
  2. Mash the sweet potatoes: Mash the sweet potatoes to your desired consistency. For extra creamy mashed sweet potatoes, add the boiled sweet potatoes to a food processor & puree. As you mash or puree, slowly add in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, and the milk. Alternate as you go – a little butter, then a little milk. Once the sweet potatoes have reached your desired consistency, stir in the maple syrup and ground cinnamon. Taste and season with additional salt, to taste. I add ½ teaspoon, taste, go from there.Sweet potatoes pureed in a food processor to make extra creamy sweet potato casserole.
  3. Assemble the cheater sweet potato casserole: Transfer the potatoes to a casserole dish or a serving dish. At this point, you can serve them immediately or transfer to a 200 degree F oven to keep them warm until you’re ready to serve. Just before serving, top with a drizzle of pure maple syrup, extra pats of butter, and a sprinkling of candied nuts. Enjoy!Easy Sweet Potato Casserole in a white serving dish sprinkled with fresh herbs and candied nuts with a silver spoon resting on the flat surface near the dish. The baking dish rests on a flat marbled gray surface next to a gray and white stripe linen napkin and candied nuts and herbs spread loosely spread around.

Notes

  • Storage: Leftover sweet potato casserole will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for 3-4 days. Reheat in the microwave until warmed through. You can also freeze leftover sweet potato casserole. To freeze, transfer cooled sweet potato casserole to a freezer-safe container. Freeze up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. You may need to or want to add extra milk/butter as you reheat previously-frozen mashed sweet potatoes to doctor up the texture. 
  • Alternate cooking methods: If you’re worried about space on the stovetop as you plan out your Thanksgiving dinner timeline, you can prep the mashed potatoes in a slow cooker or an Instant Pot:
    • Slow Cooker Mashed Sweet Potatoes: Place the potatoes in the slow cooker, covering with 8 cups cold water (or enough to completely submerge the potatoes) & seasoning with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Slow cook on high for 2-4 hours, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. Strain & mash according to Step 2 of Recipe Directions, above. Serve immediately or hold in the slow cooker, using its “Keep Warm” setting for up to 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Top with the candied pecan topping just before serving.
    • Instant Pot Mashed Sweet Potatoes: Place sweet potatoes in the Instant Pot, covering with 8 cups cold water (or enough to completely submerge the potatoes) & seasoning with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Cook with manual high pressure for 8 minutes. Let Instant Pot naturally release pressure for 2 minutes before carefully manually releasing the remaining pressure. Strain & mash according to Step 2 of Recipe Directions, above. Serve immediately or hold in the Instant Pot, using its “Keep Warm” setting for up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Top with the candied pecan topping just before serving.
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: Up to 5 days ahead of time, peel & dice the sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces, storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. All you have to do on Thanksgiving Day get cooking – easy!
  • Make-ahead Sweet Potato Casserole: Mashed sweet potatoes can also be made up to 3 days in advance, stored covered in the refrigerator, & reheated just before your Thanksgiving dinner. Top with the candied pecan topping just before serving.
  • Portions: As written, this sweet potato casserole recipe serves up to 10 people as a side dish. If you are serving a larger or smaller crowd this year, there are a couple of options:
    • Scaled up: To serve up to 14 as a side dish, double the recipe. Be sure to cook the potatoes in a stockpot or a vessel large enough to cover the potatoes with at least 2 inches of water. 
    • Make it a mini: To serve a cozy crowd of up to 4, simply halve the recipe. Easy!

Keywords: easy sweet potato casserole with pecan topping, side dish, vegetarian, gluten-free, Thanksgiving recipe, Friendsgiving, side dish, fall, winter

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat

Love this Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Topping? Here are a few other classic Thanksgiving recipes you’ll love!

Easy Sweet Potato Casserole in a white serving dish sprinkled with fresh herbs and candied nuts with a silver spoon resting on the flat surface near the dish. The baking dish rests on a flat marbled gray surface next to a gray and white stripe linen napkin and candied nuts and herbs spread loosely spread around.

Ready for Thanksgiving?

Sidesgiving starts on Sunday, November 8th! Be sure to give @playswellwithbutter a follow on Instagram – I’ll be sharing step-by-step video demos & Q&As for each Sidesgiving recipe, so be sure to follow along! 

To make things even easier, we’re sending the recipes + more Thanksgiving tips to our email friends. Use the form below to sign up to have Sidesgiving delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe below! 

Hosting for the first time? No worries! If you’ve never hosted before, I encourage you to head over to our 3-Hour Thanksgiving, where we share all of our best recipes, tips & how to make this your EASIEST Thanksgiving yet!

Launched in 2018, I created the Plays Well With Butter 3-Hour Thanksgiving Guide with one goal in mind: simplifying Thanksgiving. 3-Hour Thanksgiving is the ultimate guide to your easiest (& tastiest!) Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving dinner yet.

3-Hour Thanksgiving is a free downloadable guide that contains everything you need to plan & host Thanksgiving dinner – a full Thanksgiving menu, turkey prep guidance, a grocery list, timelines, prep notes, checklists & more.

Sign up to receive your 3-Hour Thanksgiving Guide. It’s free & easy – simply fill out the form below!

Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, Facebook, & Pinterest for more easy, modern recipes & fun!

Thank you so much for reading & supporting Plays Well With Butter. This post includes affiliate links for products I truly love & use on the reg in my own home. All opinions are always my own! Should you make a purchase using one of these links, PWWB will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps me continue to bring you great original & free content.

Don’t forget to pin this Cheater Sweet Potato Casserole recipe for later!!!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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