Sweet Potato Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting


The first step of this cake involves a microwave.

Sweet Potato Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting decorated with a sprinkle of chopped pecans on the bottom
Photo: Photo: Antonis Achilleos Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall Prop Styling: Matthew Gleason
Active Time:
40 mins
Cool Time:
1 hrs
Total Time:
1 hrs 15 mins

Southerners love sweet potatoes any time of year, but they're especially favored in the fall, when they're harvested all over the region. Like their name implies, sweet potatoes are an excellent addition to fall cakes, thanks to their naturally sweet flavor and the moisture and tenderness they can add when incorporated properly.

And while it's hard to beat a classic sweet potato pie or sweet potato casserole, it's high time you tried a rich slice of this Sweet Potato Cake. Slathered with a deliciously thick layer of cream cheese frosting, it's the perfect addition to your spread of Thanksgiving desserts.

What's in Sweet Potato Cake?

In addition to the classic cake components of eggs, flour, butter, and sugar, sweet potato cake calls on the same warm spices and deep Southern sweeteners that are often paired with sweet potatoes: Ginger and nutmeg add cozy, spicy notes, while vanilla lends its signature soft floral flavor.

To deepen the sweetness and accentuate the subtle caramel notes of the sweet potatoes, this recipe calls for a generous 1/4 cup of molasses, which also adds rich, smoky undertones.

What Sweet Potatoes Are Best for This Cake?

Basically any sweet potatoes you can find at the market are great for this cake, but try to stick to orange or red-skinned varieties. Purple or lighter skinned sweet potatoes tend to be drier varieties, and moisture is important in this recipe.

If you're at the farmers' market and aren't sure which variety is best, quiz the farmer. Their wisdom is invaluable when it comes to specialty varieties.

Do You Have To Bake Sweet Potatoes for This Recipe?

While you certainly can bake sweet potatoes for this cake, why go to the trouble? Simply prick them with a fork, place them on a microwave-safe plate, and pop them in the microwave for about 10 minutes, turning them halfway through.

Be sure to use tongs though—those suckers get quite hot!

And although all of this talk about sweet potato deliciousness make have you wanting to rush, take a break and give those sweet potatoes time to cool. You don't want to have to deal with burned fingertips when you have a lot of Thanksgiving cooking to do.

Can You Use Canned Sweet Potato Puree?

If canned sweet potato puree is available at your local grocery store, feel free to use it. Be sure to avoid canned yams, or any product that has added sugar or spices, which will impact the flavor and texture of the cake. When in doubt, opt for real sweet potatoes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

What's the Secret to Creamy Frosting?

Making cream cheese frosting is super simple, but there is one very important step to remember when making it: It's extremely helpful to let the cream cheese and butter soften completely before whipping up the frosting.

If the cream cheese or butter are too cold, the powdered sugar will have a tough time getting incorporated, resulting in a pebbly frosting instead of a smooth one. Sifting the powdered sugar first helps, but the quickest and easiest way to smooth cream cheese frosting is starting with soft butter and cream cheese.

If you're in a huge rush, fight the urge to use the microwave for softening—it's far too easy to go too far and melt the butter and cream cheese into a messy puddle. Instead, beat the butter and cream cheese with a mixer for a few minutes until they heat up slightly and start to soften.

Can You Make this Cake Ahead of Time?

Yes! The cake lakers can be made two days ahead, cooled, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature.

The frosting can also be made two days ahead, but let it come to room temperature for at least an hour before using so that it spreads easily.

The cake can also be assembled a day ahead, covered, and stored in the refrigerator overnight. Give it an hour or so at room temperature before slicing and serving.

How Do You Decorate Sweet Potato Cake?

We opted for a simple skirt of chopped pecans, which are so easy to gently press around the sides of the cake. If you want to get a little fancy, you can arrange some pecan halves around the top of the cake, or even buy some candied pecans, chop them, and sprinkle them over the top for more flavor.


Cake Layers

  • 1 large (12- to 14-oz.) sweet potato (makes about 1½ cups mashed)

  • Baking spray with flour

  • 2.5 cups bleached cake flour (such as Swans Down)

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt

  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger

  • .5 teaspoon baking soda

  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

  • ¾ cup whole milk

  • ¼ cup molasses

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 ½ (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

  • 4 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted

  • Chopped pecans, for garnish (optional)


  1. Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°F with oven rack in center of oven. Pierce potato several times using a fork, and place on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave potato on HIGH 4 minutes. Flip the potato with a pair of tongs (it will be hot), and microwave for 5 minutes. Check for tenderness with a fork, and continue to microwave in 1-minute increments until cooked through, if needed. Let cool enough to be handled, about 10 minutes; peel and mash in a small bowl.

  2. Coat 2 (9-inch) cake pans with baking spray. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, ground ginger, baking soda, and a generous pinch of nutmeg in a medium bowl. Whisk together milk, molasses, vanilla extract, and mashed sweet potato in a large glass measuring cup.

  3. Beat sugar and butter in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix just until combined. Reduce speed to low; blend in one-third of the flour mixture. Add half of the milk mixture; blend until smooth. Repeat procedure, alternating dry and wet ingredients, blending fully between additions.

  4. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake in pre-heated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center of each cake comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in pans 15 minutes. Very carefully turn out Cake Layers onto a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

  5. Prepare the Frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and salt, and beat well. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add ½ cup of the powdered sugar. Beat until well blended. Gradually add remaining powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating until smooth between additions. Continue to beat until frosting is light and fluffy.

  6. Place 1 cooled Cake Layer on a serving plate. Cover generously with frosting; top with remaining layer, and frost top and sides of cake. Garnish with pecans, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Mashed sweet potatoes give this cake an earthy flavor and a moist texture. You don't even need to spend time baking the potatoes in the oven; microwaving is a far quicker method with equally tasty results. While the cake is plenty irresistible with just the Cream Cheese Frosting, a sprinkling of chopped pecans or walnuts certainly doesn't hurt.

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