Sweet Potato Pecan Cake

published Nov 24, 2019
Sweet Potato Pecan Cake
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne; Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

This recipe is a part of our Ever-Evolving Southern Thanksgiving package. See all the recipes here.

Latria Graham, Spartanburg, South Carolina

My dad was a fifth-generation South Carolina farmer and our family land was 100 acres. My grandmother lived on a big parcel and so did one aunt and another uncle. Our families always had gardens, we had hogs, we did the farm-to-table thing before it was a thing. All of that taught me to respect the work that goes into food.

When I was in college, I started to realize the rest of the country did not grow up the way that I grew up or ate the way that I grew up eating. I remember taking a coffee maker with me to make sweet tea and I’d have my family mail me jars of chow chow and bags of cornmeal and grits because I couldn’t find those things. I come from a culture, and it’s a culture worth preserving. 

After my dad’s death in 2013, I started to feel like my legacy in South Carolina — and my family’s legacy — was dying. I’ve started to compile oral histories from my family members and have come to see my writing and cooking as a way of preserving our culture and history. Because, let’s be real, people love to forget history — especially the Indigenous foodways and labor stolen from enslaved people that make up what we now think of as “Southern cuisine.” People might not look at me and see me as a farming expert, but I have 100 years of history behind me. My knife skills are trash, but I have history and intuition on my side. 

This recipe is for my parents, and it merges the best of both of them — my mother’s whimsical nature and desire to create beautiful things, and my father’s ties to our heritage and the land. My mother is an incredible baker, but we don’t see eye-to-eye on what makes a great cake. She loves making heavy, complex creations I don’t try to replicate because they usually have 50 steps and ingredients that I can’t find at my local grocer. So when I started making cakes, I wanted them to look like hers — beautiful and sophisticated, but with an emphasis on regional ingredients.

I started tinkering with the idea for this cake about 10 years ago and I finally think I have a handle on the way I want it to make people feel: warm and comforted, as if the person who made this cake cared about them. And a generous amount of alcohol doesn’t hurt!

Sweet Potato Pecan Cake

Prep time 45 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes

Makes 1 (9-inch) layer cake

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info


For the white chocolate icing:

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 8 ounces

    high-quality white chocolate (not white chocolate chips or coating chocolate)

  • 2 cups

    cold heavy cream, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    Grand Marnier

For the cake:

  • 2 pounds

    sweet potatoes 
(approximately 2 1/4 cups when mashed)

  • 1 1/2 cups

    toasted coarsely chopped pecans, plus more for topping

  • 1 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

  • 2 cups

    cake flour, plus more for dusting

  • 2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon


  • 1 tablespoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground nutmeg

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cloves

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 1 1/4 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    packed dark brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup

    Grand Marnier

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract


  1. Make the icing: Cut 2 tablespoons unsalted butter into small pieces. Finely chop 8 ounces white chocolate into small, uniform pieces and place in a medium bowl.

  2. Bring 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Add the butter pieces and stir until completely melted. Stir in 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier.

  3. Place the remaining 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream in a large bowl or stand mixer and beat until stiff peaks form. Add the white chocolate mixture and gently fold to combine. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. Meanwhile, make the cake.

  4. Make the cake: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF. Place 2 pounds sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Roast until knife tender, 40 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the oven. If needed, toast 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans in the oven. Once cool enough to handle, peel the sweet potatoes, then mash the flesh into a coarse purée.

  5. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF. Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans or 3 (8-inch) round cake pans with 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. Dust the pans with cake flour and tap out the excess; set aside.

  6. Sift 2 cups cake flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves into a large bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.

  7. Place 4 large eggs, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, and 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the remaining 1 cup vegetable oil and beat until combined.

  8. Add the mashed sweet potatoes and beat until well combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the pecans. Add 1/4 cup Grand Marnier and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and beat until just combined. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans.

  9. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean or the center of the cake springs back when gently pressed, 40 to 50 minutes. Let the cakes cool on wire racks for 10 minutes, then invert onto the racks and cool completely before frosting.

  10. Assemble the cake: If making a 2-layer cake, divide the frosting into 2 portions; divide into 3 portions if making a 3-layer cake. Top each cake layer with a portion of frosting, spreading it all the way to the edges. Stack the cake layers (there is no frosting on the sides). Top with more pecans if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be lightly covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Contributed by Latria Graham, Spartanburg, South Carolina.