Add Cornflakes to Your Sweet Potato Casserole

Bon Appétit

Should cranberry sauce be canned or homemade? Should turkey be dry-rubbed or wet-brined? These are just a couple of the Thanksgiving debates we’ve tackled here at Bon Appétit. And this year, we’re breaking down another: Should sweet potato casserole have marshmallows or nuts on top?

And how did marshmallows land on the Thanksgiving table to begin with? In the 19th century, glazed and candied sweet potatoes made their debut as holiday sides. Then in 1917, recipe developer Janet McKenzie Hill published the first recipe for sweet potato casserole—which, yes, featured marshmallows on top. The recipe was actually commissioned by a candy company as a scheme to sell marshmallows. The more you know!

Marketing ploy aside, I can’t imagine Thanksgiving without the marshmallow-topped casserole. My grandma used to make the casserole with canned yams, blitzed in the blender and topped with a puffy coat of marshmallows. As a kid with an aversion to vegetables, I didn’t mind that this dish teetered toward dessert territory. Even now that I’m willing to eat green beans, the sweet and nostalgic casserole provides a welcome foil to turkey, gravy, and mac and cheese.

Many argue that marshmallows have no place on the Thanksgiving table. Plenty of cooks, particularly in the American South, top the casserole with toasty pecans and buttery brown sugar streusel, as in Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s sweet potato casserole recipe from The Gift of Southern Cooking. The craggy nuts add pops of crunch to the spoonable casserole.

The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks

Though I’m not willing to give up the marshmallows—I just can’t—I will admit that the sweet potato casserole I grew up with lacked textural contrast. Silky sweet potatoes and gooey marshmallows are begging for a crisp component. The simple solution would be topping the casserole with both marshmallows and pecans, which lots of people do. The problem is I’m allergic to tree nuts, as are nearly 4 million Americans. So I set out to find a nut-free way to bring a crunchy factor to my favorite Thanksgiving side.

As it turned out, the quick fix was already in my cereal cabinet. Inspired by Milk Bar founder and cookbook author Christina Tosi, who uses cornflakes in all sorts of baking recipes, I always keep a box around. With their earthy-sweet flavor and chemically engineered crispiness, cornflakes add a pop of textural contrast to snickerdoodles and corny brown butter cake. So why not use them as a casserole topping?

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Author:Zoe Denenberg |

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