5 Ways To Spice Up Your Sweet Potato Casserole

Even if you think of yourself as a fairly good cook, you know better than to call any culinary creation "foolproof." But certain dishes, especially if they're accompanied by a detailed recipe, come amazingly close. Take your family's favorite sweet potato casserole, for example — a treat so straightforward, you often wonder why you don't make it throughout the year rather than just around the holidays.

A standard approach to this satisfying side dish may sound familiar: peel and cut the potatoes into 1-inch cubes, laying them in a sprayed baking dish. Then, in a separate bowl, mix olive oil, honey, cinnamon, and a little pepper. Once you pour this mixture over the potatoes, you roast them until they're tender (via Food Network). It's so simple yet so good.

After making a standard sweet potato casserole a few times, your thoughts may turn to how you might spice things up, both with the ingredients and your methods. Sometimes the smallest tweak can make such a difference that you'll want to incorporate it in your casserole forever. As long as you're game for a change, see if these five ideas are tasty enough to make your mouth water.

Mix it up the night before

One approach in particular could alter the way you prepare a big family or holiday dinner in a big way: the make-ahead method. Combine the casserole ingredients the night before and refrigerate the dish overnight. The next day, all you'll have to do is pop it in the oven and bake it (via Southern Living).

To ensure that your make-ahead sweet potato casserole doesn't miss a beat when it comes to taste, cover the casserole with two layers of aluminum foil to seal in the flavors before storing it in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight. When you're ready to bake, pop your casserole in the oven for about 20 minutes so that it's fully cooked, according to A Sweet Pea Chef

The make-before method won't necessarily save you time, but it will clear your schedule a bit so that you can use your energy when it's needed — the hours and minutes before your guests arrive. 

Plug in your slow cooker

What busy cook couldn't use some extra oven space on a holiday, even if it's for a quick reheating round?

This is why you'll be glad to know you can make most sweet potato casserole recipes in a slow cooker. The total cooking time equals about three hours on high or six hours on low, Southern Living advises, so this can easily be started early in the day and left to do its thing. If you're worried about the potatoes losing their shape, avoid the urge to stir regularly and instead, let them cook undisturbed. 

It's also important to keep the top on your slow cooker so that heat doesn't escape. By some estimates, it can take slow cookers about 30 minutes to restore the inside temperature once the top has been removed. This is another reason slow cookers feature glass tops: so you can easily take a peek inside.

Swap the marshmallows for meringue

If you're someone who swears by marshmallows on the top of your sweet potato casserole, why not take things up a notch? Swapping the marshmallows for a creamy meringue topping will elevate the dish to a level that even the pickiest eaters are likely to enjoy.

Yes, "meringue" may sound complicated — and it's certainly not as quick as plopping a few handfuls of mini marshmallows over the top of the casserole before baking it. Still, creating meringue is as simple as whipping egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Then, spread the concoction over the casserole and bake it (per Martha Stewart).

Meringue is an ideal solution to a "problem" you may not have realized you had: The marshmallows add sweetness to the casserole, but even when they're melted, they still look like marshmallows, conveying the "rushed amateur" look. By contrast, meringue looks elegant. It may even make your guests wonder if you've been to culinary school.

Imbue your casserole with a touch of class

If you love the idea of "classing things up" but make it a rule to avoid digging out and then plugging in a mixer, turn to a sweet potato soufflé. It can solve both issues at once.

Soufflé, which comes from the French word "souffler," means "to inflate," MasterClass explains. Combining two eggs, some milk, and flour with your mashed sweet potatoes can bring about this reaction when mixed carefully. Adding 2 tablespoons of orange juice and 1 teaspoon of grated orange rind will enhance the flavor of the casserole — err, soufflé (via MyRecipes). These additions will also highlight the natural color of the sweet potatoes, making them a can't-miss attraction.

Follow the lead of a classic

It's the highest compliment any cook can hear: a guest asking to take a picture of your spread before everybody digs in.

First, they need something photogenic to capture, and commingling a traditional dish like sweet potato casserole with a classic ought to do it. Martha Stewart suggests Potatoes Anna, a layered French dish in which the potato slices are joined by melted butter.

To follow the lead of this classic while giving sweet potato casserole its due, make the dish with a combination of sweet potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes. It shouldn't be long before you hear a French-inspired question: "Puis-je prendre une photo?"