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Sweet Potato Gratin with Vanilla Bean and Bay Leaves

8 Servings

3 hours 50 min active

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For many families, Thanksgiving isn’t complete without a sweet potato casserole, that sticky-sweet concoction more appropriate for the dessert table than the main event. It’s a classic for good reason, though we felt the gooey marshmallows had to go. We started by roasting the sweet potatoes, a simple, hands-off process that can be done a day ahead. Roasting rather than boiling produces cleaner, deeper flavors and a better, less watery texture. In lieu of marshmallows we infuse cream with vanilla bean and bay leaves and add a dusting of black pepper for an overall effect that hints at marshmallow but is far more nuanced, compelling and aromatic. A crunchy topping of dark brown and white sugar with a touch of cayenne keeps the dish adults table-appropriate. We found that using a mesh strainer to sift the sugar over the potatoes produced even browning and an attractive crust. But strainers with very fine mesh tended to clog. If yours does this, just sprinkle the sugar by hand, smoothing it into an even layer with your palm.




Don’t get distracted while the gratin is broiling; all broilers are different, and the difference between browned and burnt can be a matter of seconds.

3 hours

50 min active


  • 5

    pounds sweet potatoes

  • 1

    cup heavy cream


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Thomas F.

I had accidentally commented on the wrong recipe before, but I wanted to say I highly recommend this recipe. One of the best milk street recipes I’ve made. I’ll be insisting on making this on future holidays for a while.

Lynn C.

Hi Diana. -

No, this is not a dessert, it's our twist on a traditional Thanksgiving side.

The Milk Street Team

Laeticia C.

Can I substitute the dark brown sugar for light brown? Does this affect the amount of white sugar I use if I do so?

Lynn C.

Hi Laeticia -

Substituting with light brown sugar probably won't make a huge difference in this case. It just won't have as strong a "caramel-like" flavor.

The Milk Street Team