The winter holidays seem to evoke the strongest food memories from many of us. Certainly there are family Thanksgiving dinner traditions, and the plethora of other delights that come with the rest of the season – pumpkin pie, homemade eggnog, savory soups, and gingerbread cookies. When I was a child, potato candy was one of the treats that only made an appearance in the days and weeks before Christmas. It is hands-down the strangest of holiday treats, but perhaps the delicacy was more delicious as the wait from year-to-year seemed immense.
To those who have never eaten potato candy, the concept may seem a bit odd. But those who have eaten it know that it is incredibly sweet, much like fudge or caramel. In retrospect, perhaps this dessert is reserved for the holidays because it contains so much sugar. It is possible that the adults chose to ration the candy in order to contain rambunctious children. (I know that I am guilty of that.)
I have tried to find the origin of this recipe, but every old cookbook I can find tells the same story: The recipe for potato candy was passed down from one generation to another. Potatoes were brought to the Americas with European settlers, so it makes sense to believe that potato candy’s origins may lie across the ocean. Still, most people believe that this particular version is a Depression-era candy. It costs almost nothing to make and requires few ingredients.
(There is another recipe for Irish Potato Candy that is not at all the same thing. In fact, that type of candy is made from coconut and cream cheese and does not even contain potato.)
So, below is my recipe for Potato Candy. You can choose to serve it year-round or reserve the treat for the holiday season, as was the tradition in my family. If you have never tasted this dessert, do not be turned off by the idea of savory potatoes and sugary sweets. We guarantee that this treat will surprise you with its sweetness and unique flavor.
1 small Russet potato or sweet potato
1 pound of confectioner’s sugar, sifted (though I have seen recipes calling for as much as 2 pounds)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
Boil your unpeeled potato until done. Cool and peel, then mash in a medium bowl until smooth. Add vanilla and salt. Slowly work in the powdered sugar until a dough forms. An electric mixer works well here; just make sure not to over-mix your dough.
The mixture will be runny at first, but it will thicken as you add the powdered sugar. Continue adding sugar until your mixture has a doughy consistency. Like many doughs, this recipe requires you to feel things out a bit. Add a little more or less sugar to compensate for the level of moisture from the potato.
Roll out on a flat surface that has been sprinkled with powdered sugar until the dough is about 1/4” thick. Spread the dough with peanut butter, then roll into a log shape. Chill for at least an hour before serving. Slice into 1/2” pieces and add a few flakes of Maldon Sea Salt before serving.
Makes about 40-50 pieces of candy. You can store the candy in an airtight container for about a week. Feel free to substitute chocolate or Nutella hazelnut spread for the peanut butter.
Served above on our Alabama Chanin @ HEATH Ceramics dinnerware.