Bacon and Brown Sugar-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole

When you say sweet potato casserole, the first thing that comes to mind for so many people is the classic toasted marshmallow-topped version. I have to tell you guys, before I started reading food blogs I’d never even heard of this dish, and to the best of my memory it’s never been served at any of our Thanksgiving meals in my 30+ years. As a lover of all things sweet, it does sound pretty awesome to me – almost like sneaking dessert into the main course :) I’m not sure everyone else would agree with me though, so when I made the decision to test out a sweet potato casserole this year, I went a slightly different route.

This version is still sweet, but also a little more savory and yes, there’s bacon because bacon makes everything better, right?! It’s a simple side dish to pull together, and you can even prep it ahead of time so there’s one less thing to do on Thanksgiving morning. Sweet potatoes are cubed and then baked in a foil packet with a little brown sugar. Once tender, they head to the food processor along with some butter, cream, orange juice and zest, cinnamon and other seasonings where they are whipped to a super smooth, creamy and light consistency. At this point, the potatoes can be refrigerated for a few days in case you’re trying to get ahead.

Bacon and Brown Sugar-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole

And then comes the good part – crispy bacon and brown sugar are pulsed together in the food processor to make the topping for the potatoes. This sweet and salty combo is sprinkled on the potatoes and then the whole dish heads for the broiler, where the topping is browned and caramelized, creating almost a crisp crust for the fluffy potatoes below. It’s out of this world good! The dish isn’t overwhelmingly sweet either, so it doesn’t scream dessert.

Just to test it out, I halved this recipe and portioned it into two smaller ramekins. I mostly mention this to let you know it’s an option if you’re having a smaller gathering. When I stopped and thought about it, I realized sweet potatoes rarely make an appearance at all on our table at Thanksgiving but I just might buck the trend and surprise people this year :)

Bacon and Brown Sugar-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole
from Cook’s Country, October/November 2012

3 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup packed brown sugar, divided
5 slices bacon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lay two large sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil (perpendicular to one another) on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the potatoes in the center and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar. Fold the foil to create a tight packet for the potatoes. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack. Preheat your broiler.

While the potatoes bake, add the bacon to a large skillet set over medium heat and cook until browned and crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and allow to cool until it can be handled. Crumble the bacon and add to the bowl of your food processor. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of brown sugar to the food processor with the bacon, then pulse about 10 times, or until coarsely ground. Remove from the food processor and set aside.

When the potatoes have finished baking, very carefully open one end of the foil packet (the steam will escape and it’s very hot!). Tilt the packet to dump the potatoes and any accumulated juices into the bowl of your food processor. Add the butter, heavy cream, orange zest, orange juice, salt, cinnamon, and both peppers to the food processor. Process the mixture until completely combined and very smooth, about 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Transfer the sweet potato mixture to a 2-quart (broiler-safe) baking dish. Top with the bacon-brown sugar mixture then place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized and browned.

{Note: You can prep this recipe ahead of time. After making the sweet potato mixture, you can refrigerate it without the bacon-brown sugar topping for up to 2 days. When you’re ready to serve, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and cook for 30-40 minutes in a 400 F oven. Once the potatoes are hot, remove the foil and sprinkle the top with the bacon-brown sugar mixture and broil as described above.}