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Sweet Potato Buns

Learn about this recipe from our historic foodways staff, then try it at home

This bread recipe incorporates mashed white potatoes, spices and sugar. It is a potato bun that is sweet, not a sweet potato bun. Though not a typical white bread, it is moist. When toasted, resembles an english muffin.

18th Century

Boil and mash a potato, rub in as much flour as will make it like bread; add spice and sugar to your taste, with a spoonful of yeast; when it has risen well, work in a piece of butter, bake it in small rolls, to be eaten hot with butter, either for breakfast or tea.

— Randolph, Mary, “The Virginia Housewife,” 1827.

21st Century


  • 2 large white potatoes (should yield around 2 cups or so of cooked mashed potatoes)
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¼ tsp. each of nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon
  • 1/2  cup sugar (sweeten more if you like)
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • ½ cup warm water
  • ¼ to 1/2  stick of butter, softened


  1. Preheat oven to 360°
  2. Peel and boil your potatoes in a medium stew pan with enough water to cover them. Test them with a fork to make sure they are done. Drain them in a colander and let them cool to room temperature.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, mash your potatoes with a hand masher or electric mixer. Add 1 cup of flour to the potatoes and blend well with your hands.
  4. Add the yeast to the warm water and stir in 1 tsp of your sugar. Stir well until yeast is blended. Set aside for around ten to fifteen minutes until the yeast foams, or activates.
  5. Add the rest of your sugar and spice to the potato mixture. Blend this well with your hands.
  6. After the yeast has become foamy, add it into the main mixture and again blend well with your hands.
  7. Add flour as you need to in reaching a nice bread dough consistency. It should be bouncy, not too stiff and not flowing everywhere.
  8. Allow the dough to rise about a half an hour, then take the butter and work it into the dough in small bits at a time.
  9. Form into rolls a little bigger than a golf ball and let them rise on a floured sheet tin in a draft-free space until they near double in size.
  10. Bake them at 360° for about 25 minutes. Remember they will be moist and chewy.
  11. Eat with butter, jam or just plain — you make the choice.

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