I always try to make my food a little bit healthier; candied yams are no exception, even though they are traditionally a sickenly sweet health abomination. Most candied yam recipes call for butter and copious amounts of either brown sugar or dark corn syrup. I keep the butter but swap out the less healthy sweeteners for a combination of orange juice and maple syrup. I steep the mix with real vanilla beans to add complexity of flavor. I top the whole thing with natural vanilla marshmallows I get from a local bakery. The result is somewhat decadent, somewhat healthy and completely delicious. I like to bake the candied yams in my toaster oven while my main dish is in my full-sized oven. This way everything is hot and ready at the same time.
4 large jewel or garnet yams (any yams will do, but these have the most beautiful colors)
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice (Valencia oranges work well in this recipe)
1/2 cup of grade B maple syrup (grade B maple syrup costs less and tastes better than grade A)
1 stick (4 ounces) of butter, preferably from grass-fed cows (it really does taste a lot better)
1 real vanilla pod
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of ground mace (you may substitute ground nutmeg if you can't find the mace, but lower it to 1/8 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
12 ounces of natural vanilla marshmallows
Heat your toaster oven to 400 degrees F.
Peel the yams. Cut the yams into 1/2 inch cubes and place them into a shallow baking dish that will fit into your toaster oven. Combine the butter, orange juice, maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon, mace and sea salt in a small saucepan. Carefully split the vanilla bean lengthwise and use the back end of the knife blade to scape out the seeds. Put both the vanilla pod and vanilla seeds into the saucepan. Heat over low heat for 30 minutes, try to avoid letting it boil or simmer during this time. Remove the vanilla pod and pour the sauce over the cubed yams. Gently stir to coat all the cubes. Bake until the yams are soft all the way through; this should take about 45 minutes. Remove from the toaster oven and evenly distribute the vanilla marshmallows over the top. Return the yams to the toaster oven and turn the temperature up to 475 degrees F. Bake until the marshmallows are slightly browned; this should take about 8 minutes. This is one area where a toaster oven is very useful. The close proximity of the heating elements leads to quick and even browning.
You may have trouble locating natural marshmallows and the ingredients in normal store-bought ones are far from natural. Here is my suggestion: go to a local bakery and ask if they would be willing to make them for you. Chances are, someone at the bakery also took a few candy making and confectionary classes while at culinary school. Most locally owned small businesses are more than willing to provide their customers with whatever they are looking for. The bakery around the corner from me makes mine as long as I give them a 48 hour notice.