Sweet potatoes often get overlooked as a dessert ingredient. They typically show up in sides and mains because they’re rich in nutrients and boast a natural sweetness, even in savory dishes. They’re also economical and easy to source year-round.
When sweet potatoes cook in an oven, their starches convert to sugar. This is why a sweet potato seems to leak syrup when it’s roasted. Now, imagine that level of naturally sweet moisture going into a cake. Good stuff, right? Yup, we think so too! Enter sweet potato cake.
There are two different camps when it comes to baking with sweet potatoes: using sweet potato puree versus using grated sweet potato. In the pureed camp, recipes often recommend baking and then mashing sweet potatoes to encourage density and creaminess. If you’re a fan of pumpkin cookies and pies, you’ll feel right at home with pureed sweet potatoes (or substituting canned puree in a pinch).
The grated camp is more of a carrot cake-like situation. Peel and shred the raw vegetables, then mix them into the batter for a light, fluffy, slightly textured cake. This recipe follows the grated method, saving you lots of time since you don’t need to be baking sweet potatoes, then waiting for them to cool, then pureeing them.
Sweet Potato Cake Ingredients
- Sweet potatoes: Raw shredded sweet potatoes increase this cake’s loft and keep it soft. Orange-fleshed varieties, sometimes incorrectly labeled as “yams,” will be sweeter and moister than white-fleshed ones. Learn more about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes.
- Eggs: Room-temperature eggs combine more easily with oil than cold ones. They also become lighter and fluffier as you beat them.
- Sugar: When a recipe just calls for “sugar,” assume it means white granulated sugar. Granulated sugar has a neutral flavor and a fine texture that breaks down when heated, making it ideal for cake batter. You’ll want confectioners’ sugar, also called powdered or icing sugar, for the frosting because it dissolves readily without heat.
Step 1: Prepare the cake pan
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan.
Step 2: Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla until blended; set aside. In another bowl, use a clean whisk to whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and salt.
Step 3: Mix the batter
Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Stir in the sweet potatoes and walnuts until combined.
Step 4: Bake the cake
Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
Step 5: Make the frosting
In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until combined. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth.
Editor’s Tip: Butter will soften faster and be easier to beat into the cream cheese if you cut the cube into smaller chunks before letting it soften. When beating here, using a low mixer speed will smoothly incorporate the sugar while minimizing air bubbles.
Step 5: Frost the cake
Spread the frosting over the cooled cake. Slice into squares, and serve. Cover and refrigerate leftovers.
- Make a sweet or spicy frosting: For an easy flavor variation, replace the cream cheese frosting with a rich caramel frosting. A cinnamon frosting, like the one used for this pumpkin cake, will bring out the sweet potato batter’s spices. Sprinkle the top with toasted chopped walnuts for a decorative touch.
- Go for double-orange cake: Beyond their shared color, oranges and sweet potatoes make a natural flavor pair. In this recipe, replace 1/4 cup of the oil with Grand Marnier, and add 1 tablespoon orange zest to the frosting.
- Nix the nuts: Replace the nuts and 1/2 cup of the oil with finely diced dried fruit soaked in warm water or another liquid. Soaking apricots in vermouth or white wine or dates in coffee softens the fruit and builds flavor.
How to Freeze Sweet Potato Cake
Sweet potato cake can be frozen frosted or unfrosted, whole or as slices. An unfrosted cake freezes and defrosts more quickly than a frosted one, and you’ll pick up fewer crumbs if you frost a semi-frozen cake. If you want a ready-to-serve cake in your freezer, go ahead and spread on the cream cheese frosting, which will hold up well against the cold temperature. Set the frosted cake in the freezer for about an hour, until the frosting is firm, before wrapping it.
Sweet Potato Cake Tips
Can this sweet potato cake recipe be made into cupcakes?
Oil-based cakes convert easily to cupcakes. Just mix up the batter as written, and divide it evenly among greased or paper-lined cupcake cups (each cup about two-thirds full). The batter for a 13×9-inch cake like this one typically fills 24 standard, 12 jumbo or more than 48 mini cupcake cups. Keep the oven temperature the same, but bake standard cupcakes for just 18 to 23 minutes. Jumbo ones will take a bit longer, and mini ones will need less time. The cupcakes are done when the tops have risen, the cake springs back when gently poked, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Can I substitute canned sweet potatoes for fresh ones?
This recipe starts with raw, grated sweet potatoes that soften as the cake cooks. If you substitute this with canned sweet potato puree, start with one-third to one-half as much puree, and expect the cake to turn out heavier and denser. Avoid canned yams, which have added sweeteners and spices.
How do I prevent my sweet potato cake from being too dry or too moist?
This cake keeps releasing moisture as the raw sweet potato cooks, so it’s more likely to be overly moist than dry. If the cake fails the toothpick test but looks done on top, tent the pan with aluminum foil and bake for a few more minutes. Overmixing the batter can lead a cake to settle with a gooey center, and covering it before cooling completely can make the top tacky. To avoid a dry cake, keep an eye on the oven temperature and time. If your oven runs hot or the cake bakes too long, even a moist batter can become overdone and dry.