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Behind the Recipes

The Magic Temperature for the Creamiest, Sweetest Sweet Potatoes

Holding orange-fleshed spuds at 200 degrees produces rich, almost fudgy flesh with deeply complex flavor. 
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Published Nov. 28, 2023.

Sweet potatoes are very different from white potatoes, with more sugar and far less starch. So, if you simply bake them like you might bake russets—until they’re just tender, about 200 degrees—they’ll be chunky, dense, and full of water that dilutes their flavor.

But weve got you covered. Senior Editor Annie Petito took a deep dive into the world of sweet potatoes and came up with an innovative method that produces interiors that arent just tender but are downright plush, and a flavor that is concentrated to the point of tasting caramelized, with hints of molasses. In fact, theyre unlike any sweet potatoes I’ve ever eaten.

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The Magic Temperature for Baked Sweet Potatoes

Before I get to her method, here’s a little background information on what happens when you bake a sweet potato. As the potato approaches 200 degrees, the pectin that gives its cell walls structure begins to break down so that the flesh softens and allows free moisture to escape. At the same time, starch granules within the cell walls take up free water and gelatinize, which makes the potato appear smooth and creamy.

But it turns out that at 200 degrees and up to about 212 degrees, the pectin breakdown becomes more rapid, leading to greater softening. It also leads to moisture loss, which causes the spud’s sugars to both concentrate and caramelize, leading to more-complex flavor. And the longer the potatoes hover in that 200-plus zone, the creamier and more flavorful they become.

To keep the potatoes in this magic range without tying up the oven all day, Annie came up with hybrid approach. First, microwave the spuds until they reach approximately 200 degrees at their cores. Then, transfer them to the oven to linger in the sweet spot for a full hour. This method produces a texture that’s creamy, almost fudgy; their flavor is complex and sweet, and their skin nicely tanned but not burnt.  

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How to Make the Best Baked Sweet Potatoes

1. Parcook the potatoes in the microwave until they reach 200 degrees, about 10 minutes. This speeds the initial cooking stage so they can spend a full hour in the oven, where evaporation and flavor concentration take place.

2. Transfer the potatoes to a wire rack set in a foil-lined baking sheet. This will help air to circulate around the potatoes; the sheet will also catch any sugary syrup that inevitably oozes from the potatoes as they cook.

3. Bake the potatoes at 425 degrees for another hour. This causes their cell walls to break down and their starches to gelatinize, yielding a smooth, plush texture. Much of their moisture also evaporates during that time, so their flavor concentrates.

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