This Sweet Potato Casserole with Coconut Pecan Topping might change the way you do sweet potato casserole this year. Thanks to the addition of coconut milk and coconut flakes in and on the casserole, it has a nutty, tropical vibe. My pumpkin pie spice blend adds a hint of spice to the creaminess, as well. This is a side dish for all your holiday and year-round dinners.
If you are like me and can’t stand the cloying taste of most sweet potato casseroles, and you’d rather starve than eat the sickeningly sweet marshmallow-topped version, read on.
Sweet potato casserole is a baked dish consisting of mashed sweet potatoes folded together with spices, sugar, and, sometimes, a binding agent like eggs. It’s essentially glorified mashed potatoes. Some people top their sweet potato casseroles with streusel topping, marshmallows, or with nothing at all.
I’ve never been a fan of traditional sweet potato casseroles. Growing up, whoever made them in my family always chose violence via the amount of sugar they would put into their casserole. It might’ve been just one old auntie, but to me, it seemed like everyone in my family used the same vile recipe. As a result, I tended to avoid anything that resembled sweet potato casserole.
When I became an adult and started developing my own recipes, I realized that sweet potato casserole didn’t need to make me sick to my stomach. I cut back the amount of sugar added to it, but I also switched up the sugar I used in mine. Likewise, I took advantage of the fact that there is more than one spice available in the world and added a more exciting (to me) blend of them. I really altered my family’s recipe by topping mine with a coconut pecan topping instead of plain pecan topping or, God forbid, that ghastly marshmallow topping.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t judge people who like their sweet potato casseroles topped with marshmallows, but I just find it’s overkill when it comes to the sweetness.
Are Sweet Potatoes the Same as Yams?
Noooo. Sweet potatoes are not the same as yams. Most people in the United States have never even seen a yam before. Even my husband, who didn’t grow up in the States, never realized that the ñame that he’d been eating all his life in Puerto Rico is a yam. Yams are more commonly used in African, Asian, and Hispanic cuisine. The sweet potato you might be most familiar with is rotund and orange. Yams, on the other hand, are more slender and have white flesh.
Many of the enslaved peoples in the United States related the sweet potato they were now cultivating in the southern parts of the United States to the yam they knew back in Africa. Somewhere down the line, the sweet potato became synonymous with yam even though they are two different tubers. As a result of the new name given to sweet potatoes, many people grew up eating “candied yams” that were really just sweet potatoes in a syrupy sauce.
The weird thing is sweet potato casserole was always sweet potato casserole instead of being called yam casserole. Just something that I’ve always thought was random.
What do I need to make Sweet Potato Casserole?
You need sweet potatoes, coconut milk, brown sugar, eggs (which I forgot to photograph but are also optional), vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, kosher salt, unsalted butter, pecans, almond flour, and sweetened coconut flakes. The brown sugar can be dark or light brown, and you’ll be splitting it up between the sweet potato and topping. Same with the unsalted butter. I prefer to use full-fat coconut milk. You can use lite if you need to, but the casserole won’t taste as rich. You can also use sweet potato puree for this. You’ll need about 6 cups (1 1/2 kilos) of sweet potato puree for this recipe.
You need a stockpot for boiling the potatoes in and a masher to mash them up. The sweet potato casserole is baked in a baking dish.
Is Sweet Potato Casserole Gluten-Free?
I wanted a gluten-free sweet potato casserole for no other reason than I had almond flour that I needed to use up. You can omit the almond flour or replace it with all-purpose flour. If you prefer, you don’t have to add any flour, but you will need to replace it with oats.
Sweet potatoes themselves are gluten-free, so no other alterations need to be made to this recipe if you’re looking for a gluten-free one. Of course, make sure the coconut flakes and the rest of the ingredients are labeled gluten-free. Some may be made in a facility where cross-contamination may occur.
How long do I boil the sweet potatoes?
Lightly butter 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set it aside.
Peel, then cut the sugar spuds into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Add them to a large stockpot and cover them with 6-inches of water. Bring the spuds up to a boil over medium-high heat and cook the potatoes until they’re fork-tender. This usually takes 30-35 minutes on my stove.
Once they are soft, drain the water using a colander. Dump the hot sweet potatoes back into the empty pot. After you drain the sweet potatoes, turn your oven on to 350°F (177°C).
Add the first quantity of butter to the pot and use a potato masher to mash them together until slightly chunky. Make sure you scrape the sides of the pot down with a rubber spatula to ensure you mash all of the spuds well. While you can do this with a food processor or a ricer, I find it’s too much work to pull them out and set them up. It also leaves me with more dishes. Whichever method is easier for you, though, feel free to do it.
Can I boil them ahead?
You can boil the sweet potatoes a day or two ahead and mash them without the butter. Mash and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to make the recipe.
Once the spuds are mashed, add the coconut milk, brown sugar, pumpkin spice blend, vanilla extract, and salt to the pot. Use the masher to continue mashing and stirring the ingredients into the potatoes while you do so.
Once the coconut milk is fully mixed in, add the beaten eggs to the pot. Use a rubber spatula or spoon to mix these in well. I add eggs to my sweet potato casserole because they make it lighter and puffier. You can totally omit them if you don’t eat them.
Can I replace coconut milk with cow’s milk?
If you don’t have coconut milk or are allergic, you can replace it with evaporated cow or soy milk. I use coconut because it gives the sweet potato casserole a much better flavor than plain milk does.
How do I make the topping for this Sweet Potato Casserole?
The coconut pecan topping is super simple to make. Dump the coconut flakes, pecans, brown sugar, almond flour, room temperature unsalted butter, and pumpkin spice blend into a medium-size mixing bowl. Use your fingers or a fork to mash and mix everything together.
If you don’t want to mash too long, you can also melt the unsalted butter, and things will go quicker.
Can I make it without the coconut?
If you have a coconut allergy… and decided to click on a sweet potato casserole with coconut and pecan topping… you can replace the coconut with more pecans. You’d mix everything the same way.
When finished, the mixture will clump together. When you squeeze it in your hand, it will hold its shape. You want to break it into crumbles, though, so the mixture bakes evenly and is crunchy.
Can I make the sweet potato casserole topping without pecans?
If you don’t like pecans (and clicked on this recipe), you can replace them with your favorite nuts: walnuts, cashews, or pistachios would go best here. If you have a nut allergy (but are okay with coconuts), replace the pecans with old-fashioned rolled oats. Allergic to both? Replace them with old-fashioned rolled oats.
Once the coconut pecan topping is mixed, scrape the mashed sweet potato mixture into the greased baking dish. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the sweet potatoes into an even layer in the baking dish.
Can I make the sweet potato casserole ahead?
If you want to make this recipe ahead, I would keep the mashed sweet potatoes and the coconut pecan topping separate. Just assemble it right before you plan to bake it. If not, the sugar in the topping will start to dissolve and create sugar pools on the surface of the sweet potato mixture. You can store both components separately in covered containers in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Sprinkle the coconut pecan topping over the sweet potato layer. Make sure the topping is evenly distributed and in an even layer. This will ensure the casserole bakes properly.
How long do I bake the casserole?
Put the baking dish into the preheated oven and bake the casserole for 35-40 minutes.
The top will be a dark, golden brown color, and the edges of the casserole will be slightly crusty.
Remove the casserole from the oven and allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. You can technically scoop it out right after removing it from the oven, but you’ll burn the roof of your mouth eating it. I know because I’m greedy and just did it to myself. I do these tests to ensure your safety.
How do I serve this casserole?
Because of the eggs and the almond flour, this sweet potato casserole serves just like a cake would. Use an offset spatula or a spoon to portion out your servings and scoop the casserole right out of the baking dish.
Truth be told, I’ve eaten this side dish as an entree for many a meal. So, that’s another serving suggestion. Make it dinner instead of a side dish.
How do I store leftovers?
Store leftover sweet potato casserole in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To reheat, just pop the portion you plan to eat into the microwave and heat on high for 1 1/2 minutes (or until warmed through). This sweet potato casserole tastes amazing cold. Just putting that out there.
Can I freeze Sweet Potato Casserole?
You can freeze this sweet potato casserole after baking.
Cool it completely, then wrap it well in plastic wrap or foil. Freeze the casserole for up to 4 months. Thaw it under refrigeration and reheat as instructed above. Assemble it in a disposable aluminum baking pan if you plan to make this ahead for the holidays. After thawing, pop the pan into the oven, covered with foil, and reheat for 20 minutes on 200°F (93°C) until warm in the center.
What other recipes go well with this one?
If you want to serve this as a side and need ideas for an entree, here are some recipes that I always serve with this sweet potato casserole:
- Ham with Spiced Brown Sugar and Pineapple Glaze
- Pernil (Puerto Rican Roast Pork Shoulder)
- Citrus Dry Brined Roast Turkey
It also goes well with all sorts of grilled or baked meats.
Whatever you decide to serve this Sweet Potato Casserole with Coconut Pecan Topping with, at least you know you won’t get a sugar high. This recipe is sweet in all the ways right ways.
Make sure you pin this recipe for easy finding. Share it with your word and, if you make it, let me know what you think in the comments below.
Sweet Potato Casserole with Coconut Pecan Topping
- 9" x 13" baking dish
- potato masher
- large stockpot
For the Sweet Potato Mixture
- 4 medium (1 1/2 kilograms) sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 13.5 ounces (400 milliliters) coconut milk
- 1/2 cup, packed (110 grams) dark brown sugar
- 3 teaspoons (6 grams) pumpkin pie spice blend
- 1 teaspoon (6 grams) kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs beaten until smooth
For the Coconut Pecan Topping
- 1 cup (80 grams) coconut flakes
- 2/3 cup (70 grams) chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup (55 grams) almond flour or all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (85 grams) dark brown sugar
- 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon (2 grams) pumpkin pie spice blend
Boil and Prepare the Sweet Potato Mixture
- Lightly butter 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set it aside. Add the cut sweet potatoes to a large stockpot and cover them with 6-inches of water.
- Return the hot sweet potatoes back to the empty pot. Add the first quantity of unsalted butter to the pot and use a potato masher to mash the sweet potatoes and butter together until the potatoes are slightly chunky. Scrape the sides of the pot down with a rubber spatula to ensure the potatoes are free of lumps.
- Next, add the coconut milk, brown sugar, pumpkin spice blend, salt, and vanilla extract to the pot. Use the masher to continue mashing and stirring the ingredients into the potatoes while you do so.
- Once the coconut milk is fully mixed in, add the beaten eggs to the pot. Use a rubber spatula or spoon to mix these into the sweet potato mixture well.
Prepare the Coconut Pecan Topping
- Add the coconut flakes, pecans, almond flour, brown sugar, unsalted butter, and pumpkin spice blend to a medium-size mixing bowl. Use your fingers or a fork to mash and mix everything together until the mixture clumps when squeezed in your hand.
Assemble, then Bake the Sweet Potato Casserole
- Once the coconut pecan topping is mixed, scrape the mashed sweet potato mixture into the greased baking dish. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the sweet potatoes into an even layer in the baking dish.
- Sprinkle the coconut pecan topping over the sweet potato layer, ensuring the topping is evenly distributed in an even layer. Put the baking dish into the preheated oven and bake the casserole for 35-40 minutes.
- When baked, the top will be a dark, golden brown color, and the edges of the casserole will be slightly crusty. Remove the casserole from the oven and allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- You can replace the full-fat coconut milk with lite if you need to, but the casserole won't taste as rich.
- To replace the sweet potatoes with sweet potato puree, you'll need about 6 cups (1 1/2 kilos) for this recipe.
- You can omit the eggs if you don't eat them or are allergic.
- If you don't have coconut milk or are allergic, you can replace it with evaporated cow or soy milk.
- Replace the coconut with more pecans.
- If you don't like pecans, replace them with walnuts, cashews, or pistachios.
- You can omit the almond flour or replace it with all-purpose flour or old-fashioned rolled oats.
- If you have a nut allergy (but are okay with coconuts), replace the pecans with old-fashioned rolled oats.
- Replace both the coconut and pecans with old-fashioned rolled oats.
Tips and Techniques:
- If you don't want to mash too long, you can also melt the unsalted butter and the coconut pecan topping will mix quicker.
- You can boil the sweet potatoes a day or two ahead and mash them without the butter. Mash and store them in the fridge until you're ready to make the recipe.
- Keep the mashed sweet potatoes and the coconut pecan topping separate and assemble the recipe right before you plan to bake it.
- You can store both components separately in covered containers in the fridge for up to 2 days.
- Store leftover sweet potato casserole in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Reheat the portion you plan to eat into the microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes (or until warmed through).
- To freeze Baked Sweet Potato Casserole:
- Cool the casserole completely.
- Wrap the dish well in plastic wrap or foil and freeze the casserole for up to 4 months.
- Thaw it under refrigeration and reheat as instructed above.
- After thawing, put the covered (in foil) dish into the oven and reheat for 20 minutes on 200°F (93°C) until warm in the center.