By contributing author and my sister, Maya:

We’ll be posting a few Thanksgiving recipes leading up to the holiday…recipes that feature real, uncanned (no BPA), unprocessed ingredients (no genetically modified ingredients or additives).  I say, why not start with dessert?

Sometimes you find a recipe that just works.  No adapting, adjusting, tweaking or tinkering necessary.  This is one of those recipes.  I have been making this cake since 2000, when Bon Appetit first published the recipe in their Thanksgiving issue.   It is my favorite fall dessert.  I have made it countless times for holidays, potlucks, and parties, and people rave, swoon, and request the recipe every time.   It has a moist, dense crumb, which is warmly flavored with autumnal spices, and beautifully hued from the sweet potatoes.   Not to mention, it’s a dessert that contains real vegetables!  So when you stand at your kitchen counter eating the leftovers, which I’m pretty sure will happen, you can offset the guilt by reminding yourself that you’re getting beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamin C in every bite!

The consistency is what blows my mind.  Unlike most cakes, it is virtually unbotchable* (see icing note below).  I’ve made it on two different coasts, in at least three cities, five different ovens, several different Bundt pans, and it is perfect every time…every time!  I am eating a 3-day old slice of it as I write, and I think it’s as good as the day it was baked.  Don’t be tempted to skip the icing.  While this cake is delicious on its own, the rich, creamy, caramelly icing takes it to a whole new level.

So if you’re trying to get away from canned foods or shortening-laden pie crusts at Thanksgiving this year, give this one a try!  I’ve made some very minor adjustments to the original recipe (roasting the potatoes instead of microwaving them, increasing the vanilla in the icing), but I can’t take any credit for this recipe…I think it’s perfect as is.  Bon appetit!  (Pun intended.)


Spiced Sweet-Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Icing  1

 A few notes:

-The recipe calls for red-skinned sweet potatoes.  If you use sweet potatoes or yams with paler skins and flesh, the cake will be just as delicious, but its color won’t be as vibrant.

-*While the cake itself consistently turns out, the icing can be only slightly trickier.  I did manage to ruin the icing for the first time ever last Sunday (only once in 12 years, so not bad).  I was in a hurry, got distracted by my kids, and let it boil a bit longer than the three minutes.  When I poured it over the sifted powdered sugar and began stirring, it seized up into a dark, useless, sugary clump.  I paid very close attention the second time, which yielded much better results.  This was a reminder after making it so many times that not getting too comfortable during this step really makes a difference.  Additionally, gauging the right point at which to pour the icing over the cake may take some practice.  Pour it too soon and it runs down the side and pools at the bottom (I assure you, this is not a horrible thing); let it sit too long and it becomes stiff and won’t drip smoothly and prettily down the sides and into the cake ridges.

-I have only made this with all purpose flour, but I think you could successfully swap some of it out for whole wheat flour.

Cake Ingredients (use organic when possible):

4 8-oz red-skinned sweet potatoes

Nonstick vegetable oil spray (Spectrum makes a non-GMO nonstick baking spray).

2 ¾ cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 ¼ teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil (I use safflower)

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Icing Ingredients:

1 cup powdered sugar

¾ cup (packed) dark brown sugar

½ cup whipping cream

¼ cup (1/2  stick) unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (I sometimes increase to ½ teaspoon; I once accidentally used 2 teaspoons, which was also fine)


For Cake:

Pierce sweet potatoes with fork.  The original recipe says to microwave them on high, about 8 minutes per side; however, I roast them in the oven at 400 degrees until tender (about 50 minutes).  Cool, peel, and mash sweet potatoes.

Position rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 325 degrees.  Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray, then generously butter pan.  Sift flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl.  Measure 2 cups mashed sweet potatoes and transfer to large bowl.  Add sugar and oil; using electric mixer, beat until smooth.  Add eggs 2 at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add flour mixture and beat until just blended.  Beat in vanilla.  Transfer batter to prepared pan.  Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes.  Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes.  Run knife around sides of pan and center tube to loosen cake.  Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely.


For icing:

Sift powdered sugar into medium bowl.  Stir brown sugar, whipping cream, and butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves.  Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil.  Boil 3 minutes, occasionally stirring and swirling pan.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Pour brown sugar mixture over powdered sugar.  Whisk icing until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute (I whisk very vigorously at this point, to avoid little white clumps of powdered sugar in the finished product).  Cool until icing is lukewarm and falls in heavy ribbon from spoon, whisking often, about 15 minutes.  Spoon icing thickly over top of cake, allowing icing to drip down sides.  Let stand until icing is firm, at least 1 hour.  (Can be prepared 1 day ahead…I say even 2.  Keep in an airtight container at room temperature.)




  1. Bon Appetit – November 2000