Sweet potatoes with orange-piloncillo syrup and chile de árbol


Sweet potatoes with orange-piloncillo syrup and chile de árbol

Our friends Tamara and Sean are crazy foodies and fans of the richness and versatility of chilies. So after receiving the invitation to join them next week for their Thanksgiving feast, I started playing with options on what to bring; with chilies of course.

This is one of the things I came up with and can’t wait for them to try:  creamy and soft sweet potatoes bathed in a buttery orange-piloncillo syrup sprinkled, with toasted chile de arbol. How good are they? That fork in the picture I just shot accounts for my third consecutive serving today. How easy are they to make? Read below…

sweet potatoes
I am fond of sweet potatoes. Called camotes in Mexico, and eaten since Pre-Hispanic times, they tend to be eaten with a sweet spin. The most popular versions are either steamed and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, honey or syrup as the plantains I recently posted; or cooked into a sweetened paste, molded, caramelized and turned into addictive candies.

However, they are also cooked in many other ways. Through my travels and research I have tasted them in soups, puddings, warm salads, purees and even flans. Yet one of my favorite versions is how my mother makes them.

syrup ingredients for sweet potatoes with chile de arbol

She boils, peels and slices them. Then she adds chunks of butter, brown sugar or piloncillo, chile de arbol and into the oven they go. I started from her idea, but opted to make a syrup with what you see in the photo above: butter, brown sugar or shredded piloncillo, orange and lime juice for an extra layer of flavor.

Its simple: just place those ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the butter dissolves, let the mix turn into a light syrup, which takes about 4 minutes of gentle simmer. This syrup is so good, it could be drank out of a cup…

Instead of drinking it all…  you can drizzle most of it over the sliced sweet potatoes in a buttered baking dish. For an incredibly earthy, deep and spicy kick, sprinkle some toasted and chopped chile de arbol on top.

If you are not familiar with the chile de arbol, this is what they look like.

chiles de arbol

Chile de arbol have become widely available outside of Mexico. They are thin, elongated, have a beautiful red/orange color, and are spicy with a rich, deep flavor.

To use them for this dish just remove the stems, make a slit down their sides and take the seeds off. See how I am opening them up? The seeds just come right off. It takes a minute.

opening chile de arbol

In an already hot dry skillet or comal set over medium-low heat (takes 3 to 4 minutes to heat up), toast the chilies for about 20 to 30 seconds on each side. Their inner skin will become opaque, they will let some aroma loose, and their outside skin will gain a toasty dark brown tan. Be careful not to let them burn all over.

They should look similar to this…

toasted chiles de arbol

Then, just give them a friendly chop. And after you do, wash your hands with soap and water… you don’t want to rub your eyes with chile de arbol. If you made more than you need, store them in a closed bag or container. They will keep forever.

Once you drizzle the syrup and sprinkle the chopped chile de arbol, add a bit of salt on top. Place in a 425 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. And you are set.

sweet potatoes with chile de arbole in baking dish

Ok, that’s before my fork went in!  These are sweet potatoes with a delicious citrusy sweet spin and a flavorful spicy kick.

By boiling the sweet potatoes before placing them in the oven, you are getting a creamy and soft texture that can’t be achieved by just roasting them in the oven. The quick finish in the oven, thickens the syrup further as it gives the already soft sweet potatoes a nicer outer finish. It is a great combination. I might as well finish what’s on the plate…

Sweet potatoes with orange-piloncillo syrup and chile de árbol

Camote con Jarabe de Piloncillo y Chile de Arbol
4 to 6 servings
Pati Jinich
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: chiles de arbol, lime, orange juice, piloncillo, Potato, Recipe, sweet potato, Vegetarian
Author:Pati Jinich
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
This is one of the things I came up with and can’t wait for them to try:  creamy and soft sweet potatoes bathed in a buttery orange-piloncillo syrup sprinkled, with toasted chile de arbol. How good are they? That fork in the picture I just shot accounts for my third consecutive serving today. How easy are they to make? Read below…


  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, preferably fresh
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 cup grated piloncillo or brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup 2 ounces unsalted butter
  • 4 to 6 chiles de arbol stems and seeds, removed, toasted and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste

To Prepare

  • Rinse and scrub the sweet potatoes. Place them in a large pot, cover them with water, over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and let it simmer for about 25 to 35 minutes. You will know they are ready, just like with boiling potatoes, when the tip of a knife can easily go through. Drain and let cool.
  • Remove the stems from the chile de arbol, make a slit down their sides and take out the seeds. On a preheated comal or dry skillet over medium-low heat, toast the chiles for about 20 to 30 seconds per side. Their inner skin will have become opaque and the outer skin will achieve a brown tan. Be careful to not let them burn.
  • To make the syrup, place the butter, piloncillo or brown sugar, orange and lime juice in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once the butter dissolves, let it simmer 4 to 5 minutes until it gains a light syrupy consistency.
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and butter a baking dish (I use a 9" x 13").
  • Once the sweet potatoes have cooled, peel and slice them into about 1/2 to 1 inch rounds. Layer them in rows, pour the syrup on top, sprinkle the toasted and chopped chile de arbol and sprinkle some salt on top. Place the dish in the oven and bake anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. Halfway through, spoon some of the syrup on top of the sweet potatoes. Bake them until the syrup has thickened to your liking and they have achieved a glazed crust. They are specially delicious if eaten while still hot.

26 comments on “Sweet potatoes with orange-piloncillo syrup and chile de árbol

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  1. I will make them YOUR way but my wife can’t handle HOT peppers. Would you recommend a tamer pepper (guajillo ???)
    BTW, I’ve made your green posole several times. We all love it !!!

    1. I’m so glad you love the pozole! You can absolutely adjust the spice level on the sweet potatoes. You can either use another pepper like guajillo or jalapeño or you can reduce the amount of chile de arbol used. Just use one or two chiles without the seeds.

  2. Yummy! Looks so tasty! The sweetness of the orange and potatoes coupled with the heat of the Arbiol is a match made in heaven! Maybe a dollop of creama or quest fresco would be a nice addition!?

  3. HOLA Pati! Love yams and this recipe sounds amazing. I never thought of putting Chile in the sweet glaze for yams.
    This is my trick for using piloncillo, which can be hard to grate. In a deep sauce pan, melt the cone(s) of piloncillo in a small amount of water (1 Tbl. +/- of water per 8 oz. cone) on low heat. Stir continuously until all is melted. Once piloncillo has turned into a syrup, store in a jar with a lid, in the fridge. At this point, it is easy to use, to sweeten your tea, pour over oatmeal, use as you would maple syrup.
    Hope this is helpful.

  4. i’ve always made the syrup with brown sugar, pineapple juice and cinnamon…candied it on high heat but my Uncle used Orange juice…I will try your version this year…thx

  5. Hi Pati,

    This looks wonderful! Just wondering what’s the advantage of sprinkling the toasted chopped chiles instead of mixing them into the syrup before spooning it over the sweet potatoes. Do they have better texture that way?

  6. Hi Pati,
    Are the Chile De Arbol spicy hot? I would like to make this but my wife (who is of Mexican and Spanish decent!) has problems with hot chilies making her have a coughing attack. Mildly hot chilies are OK with her.
    Thank you!

  7. Dear Pati, thanks for all your work! Can you share some ideas on how you actually “grate” the piloncillo? It took some work with a hammer to pulverize it… Any secrets? Thanks!

    1. Vera,
      I usually use a box grater when I grate the piloncillo. You can also use a very sharp knife, but i prefer the support that the box grater gives while grating.

  8. Do you personally prefer piloncillo or brown sugar?
    It´s been years since I tried piloncillo and can´t quite remember if I liked it or not hehehe, but I will try this recipe tomorrow cause I´ve been craving sweet potatoes for a long time and found your recipe extremely tempting 😉
    Thanks a lot, I´m new in your site and I´m really liking all the recipes!!!

    1. Hi Regia,
      Well depends for what. But in general I can say that I do prefer the taste of piloncillo. There are some baked things that work better with brown sugar though. But as for flavor, YES!

  9. Yum! They were a hit on our Thanksgiving table. I added in the zest from the orange and lime. They sounded so good I shared the recipe with friends in Palo Alto and Boston…rave reviews came in this morning. I bet these will be on the table menu again next year.

    1. Kim, I am so glad you liked them. And many thanks for passing the recipe around. There seems to be no bigger compliment to a dish, then when it is recommended!

  10. dear pati, I go for sweet food, as the one you just made. and I go for the mixture of sweet and spicy, sweet and sour…. this time I ate a kilo of this recipe along a whole roasted chicken,