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.
Many years ago I catered our local independent bookstore’s Christmas open house for several years–one year I had to replace divinity because of the rainy weather. I chose potato candy. Mrs. Earline got so many comments about it, from memories to new converts, that she had to have it every year thereafter, even after I no longer did the food for her! She closed the bookstore this year (she’s in her 80s), and when I saw her a day or two ago, she still commented on it.
My Pennsylvania Dutch grandma would make this for me from leftover mashed potatoes. I loved it when there were still potatoes in the bowl after dinner!
Omg I’m so glad to see this recipe! And the sweet potato variation is a great idea. My mom made this candy when I was a kid but I when I tried to make it it never worked for me, I finally figured out you have to wait for the potato to cool completely . Duh. Anyway, I’m going to make this today.
You got the potato backwards–it originated in South America and traveled around the world from there.
Ever heard of lefse? It’s what Norwegians make from leftover potatoes. We spread it with butter, sprinkle on sugar, and roll it up. MMM!
Yes, I was thinking the same thing. Potato candy may have come from Europe, but the potato is native to the Americas. Writing from Nicaragua where we are not eating potato candy. Other goodies will make their appearance tonight. Happy holidays, all.
My grandmother made this recipe when I was a child in the 1940’s. I don’t know its origin either, but It can’t be ancient as powdered sugar and peanut butter are (relatively) recent additions to our food supply. I remember it fondly and think I will make a batch this week. Thanks for the reminder.
I have never heard of this, but my husband and daughter love potatoes, so we always joke that some Thanksgiving or some other celebratory time, we will have an all-potato meal. Now that we have this recipe, it’s a done deal! We can have a main course AND a potato dessert! Thanks!
This post brought back memories from my childhood. Potato candy was indeed a Christmas treat never made the rest of the year. My mother supplied it for our classroom Christmas party over fifty years ago. She coated her candy logs with a chocolate glaze before chilling and slicing.
Thank you for the memory.
Like Kim I’ve always thought potatoes came to Europe from the Americas. I’ve never heard of potato candy before but it makes a kind of sense – supposedly potatoes are almost sugar anyway! (Gram for gram, baked potato apparently raises blood glucose faster than table sugar.)
I never thought potato candies where made ouside of Québec! How wonderful to share a traditiona reciepe so full of childhood memories. It’s been years since I ate one, but I can still remember the taste.
I was told by a gentelman who made it that it was a polish tradition. That us what his grandmother told him.
I got this recipe over 30 yrs ago from a southern friend she called it pioneer potato candy. I make it with my grandkids who love to take it to school with the story that pioneers made it . New version is mix into balls and dip in chocolate, keeps them from getting hard. Also for a change leave out the peanut butter and add 1/2 cup or more of coconut .
My grandma made potato candy for back in the 50’same but it was more like divinity if I remember correctly. I do remember that it was quite a treat.
I am sure it was Daniel! Thanks for sharing.
why is one of the rolls brown and the other white?
Thank you for your question, Dorothy. The white roll is made with Russet potatoes, whereas the brown one is made with sweet potato.
Commenting here because after wondering about the history of this recipe, I finally tried to Google it (why did I wait so long). In short, I found in this comment section exactly what my anecdotal observations about it have been. I grew up eating this in Québec, I moved to PA where someone insists it is PA Dutch, and stumbled upon someone from the Plains states who believed it was from their neck of the woods. We need a map of the migration patterns of the potato candy.