Sweet potatoes are a must-have on Thanksgiving, especially in the South. With its bourbon and pecans (two ingredients with Southern roots), this casserole is the epitome of Southern hospitality. The bourbon adds a depth of flavor to the maple-syrup sweetened potatoes, while the pecans add a buttery crunch. True to the Southern table (and palate) this dish is a little sweet, so feel free to cut back a bit on the maple syrup to satisfy your "savory tooth."
Put the sweet potatoes into a large pot along with the cider and water and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered over moderately low heat until tender, but not mushy, 20 to 25 minutes. Reserving 4 cups of the cooking liquid, strain the sweet potatoes, gently shaking out any excess liquid. Return the reserved liquid to the pot and boil until reduced to 2/3 cup, about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish. Add 8 tablespoons of the butter to the pot, along with the maple syrup and bring to a boil. Add the sweet potatoes and bourbon and toss to combine. Mash the sweet potatoes, then whisk until smooth. For super-silky mashed sweet potatoes, puree them in a food processor. Season with salt. Spread the sweet potatoes in the baking dish.
In a small skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add the pecans, chipotle powder or cayenne pepper and season with salt. Sprinkle the mixture on top of the sweet potatoes in the baking dish.
Bake until the pecans are toasted and the potatoes are heated through, about 25 minutes.
MAKE AHEAD: The sweet potatoes can be prepared through Step 3 and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Grace Parisi is a New York City-based food writer, cookbook author and food stylist. Her book, Get Saucy, was nominated for a James Beard award. Her latest book, Quick Pickles comes out in Spring 2016. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.