sweets for the sweet: grandmother’s potato candy

My grandmother, Alice, moved in with my parents close to two years ago now. She had recently been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it just made sense for her to move in with family while she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She had been living alone in a small town nearby, in the same little house she and my grandfather lived in before he died in 2004. She liked her independence – and still does – so moving in with her daughter and son-in-law was a big adjustment for her.

Over the months that passed, the move proved to be a good thing for all three of them. My dad and my grandmother seemed to bond in a way they never had before, actually learning to like – and actually love – each other. My mother adjusted to her mother’s quirks, or at least found ways to cope with them. And my grandmother got used to having her own space within theirs, relying on my parents for many things, but still asserting her independence in her trademark fashion.

Since the end of January, when my father had his first of several health crises, my grandmother’s presence in my parents’ home has become increasingly important to my mother. For a long time, Mom has considered herself my grandmother’s caregiver, and she very much is. But this year, the roles reversed in an unexpected and surprising way. My grandmother has become an emotional caregiver – a steady and reliable friend, a confidant, and often a happy distraction – for my mom. This has been a very hard year for Mom – for all of us, truthfully – but knowing that Grandmother is there for her is more comforting to me than I can put into words.

Over the past few months, my grandmother decided she would be a permanent resident in my mom’s home. Of course, we assumed this, but it needed to be her decision. When my mom and her two sisters and brother cleaned out Grandmother’s little house recently, I inherited a box filled with Grandmother’s old cookbooks and recipe collections.

So, basically, I inherited a box full of treasure.

This recipe for Potato Candy was one of the yellowed scraps of paper I found shoved into a recipe binder in that cardboard box. The recipe was scrawled in blue ink in my grandmother’s slanted cursive, with brown stains at the corners – really, just how you’d want an old family recipe to appear.

I altered the recipe just a tad, decreasing some of the amounts just enough to feel good about the finished product but not so much that it did not feel like the original. The mashed potato in the recipe is really just a binder for the butter and confectioners sugar, so you don’t have to worry about tasting potato in the finished product. With its sweet vanilla-flavored creaminess paired with a swirl of peanut butter in the center, the recipe marries sweet and salty together in an addictive manner.

I  made a batch for Thanksgiving, and I have been a hero in my kids’ eyes ever since.

Maybe just as much of a hero to them as my grandmother is to me, even.

Yield: plenty

Old-Fashioned Potato Candy

This old fashioned candy is incredibly easy to make – and quite addictive. Use leftover mashed potatoes to make your life easier. It’s messy, but I recommend mixing the dough with your hands rather than a spoon. It’s quicker, easier, and much more fun.


1 cup mashed potatoes, room temperature or cold
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 pounds confectioners sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, divided


In a large mixing bowl, stir together mashed potatoes, butter, and vanilla. Add confectioners sugar, one pound at a time, and stir together well. The dough will be very wet, but it will come together into a more firm dough after you incorporate the last pound of confectioners sugar. Once the dough is thoroughly mixed, divide it into two halves.

On a sheet of wax paper, and using your hands, flatten out one of the halves of dough into a rectangle. Cover the dough with a second sheet of wax paper and, using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is roughly 13-14 inches long and 10 inches wide. Lift the wax paper and dough carefully, place on a baking sheet, and chill for about 5-10 minutes only. Remove from refrigerator and spread 1/4 cup peanut butter evenly onto the dough. From the long side, carefully roll into a log and wrap well in wax paper. Repeat with other half of dough. Chill the logs for at least 2 hours before slicing. Once chilled, slice into 1/2-inch pieces and serve.

Make ahead: Store prepared potato candy, layered between sheets of wax paper, in the refrigerator in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.

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27 Responses to “a personal challenge: potato gnocchi”

  1. 1
    Winnie — May 5, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

    Your gnocchi are lovely!

  2. 2
    Bibi — May 6, 2010 @ 1:47 am

    They look pretty.

    I never made Gnocchi myself, but I love when my hubs makes them. He’s the Italian the the family and his grandma’s recipe is the best. Too bad he makes them only few times a year.

    Congrats on finishing your first challenge.

  3. 3
    Julia — May 6, 2010 @ 5:04 am

    I married Pete based on a really good gnocchi recipe. The summer before I met him, my friend and I traveled to Europe and discovered gnocchi. We ate it everywhere. Then I came back – no gnocchi. (I was not much of a cook). Then I met Pete and he made gnocchi for me and all of my friends. I had no idea that he was using this delicious soft potato pasta to break down my guard but it was VERY effective. Now that I thnk about – no gnocchi since. I made giada’s sweet potato gnocci at Thanksgiving – not so great. Need the real stuff. I’ll have to get Pete to make me some. Use the pregnancy to my advantage, much like he used the gnocchi to his.

  4. 4
    Sara — May 6, 2010 @ 9:07 am

    Great Recipe! You have inspired me to make Gnocchi at home!

  5. 5
    Jennie — May 6, 2010 @ 9:54 am

    You’re too kind, and those gnocchi up there look absolutely lovely.

  6. 6
    SMITH BITES — May 6, 2010 @ 10:58 am

    Potatoes . . . happy sigh . . . never met one I didn’t absolutely fall head-over-heels in love with! So proud of you MJ, setting goals and ACHIEVING them – AND that even though being in the kitchen doesn’t come easily, you keep at it!!! These look absolutely lovely!!

  7. 7
    Jennifer Hess — May 6, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

    Those are just gorgeous!

  8. 8
    merrygourmet — May 6, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    Aw, thanks everyone! It feels good to finally accomplish a long-overdue task, especially when it comes out so tasty. Now I’m geared up to make more pasta!

    Julia – Pete definitely needs to get off his rear (0r off his boat) and make some gnocchi for you. And let me know when, because I’m inviting myself over for dinner.

    Sara – Go for it!

    Jennie – Thanks so much. Seriously, you are my pasta idol.

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  10. 9
    Liren — May 6, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

    Wow, what beautiful little gnocchi! I’ve never attempted gnocchi before – always seemed intimidating, but you’ve broken it down so nicely. I’ll have to try one day, it looks like a very gratifying kitchen experience 🙂

  11. 10
    JulieD — May 6, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

    I really want to try these now…thanks!

  12. 11
    Emily Martin — May 7, 2010 @ 8:51 am

    Wow, I thought I was the only one intimidated by gnocchi.Thanks so much for this post, I’ve been trying to work up the confidence to give them another try and it looks like I’ve found the right recipe!
    Thanks for the step-by-step pics too, VERY helpful.

  13. 12
    Peggy — May 7, 2010 @ 10:28 am

    The gnocchi look gorgeous! Job well done!

  14. 13
    wendy — May 7, 2010 @ 10:33 am

    Nice fork marks! You may find this hard to believe, but I used to teach 35 seven year olds at a time to make gnocchi when I ran summer camps. I never found out if they tasted good or not because the kids would take them home to cook later. That was the beauty of it, if they tasted bad the parents wouldn’t blame the camp, they’d just say, ‘eh, a 7 year old made it’. Bizarrely, i’m personally afraid of making them like you were. I’ve never actually made them myself!

  15. 14
    Karen — May 7, 2010 @ 10:35 am

    These look great! I’m in the same boat you were… kind of intimidated by making gnocci! One of these days I’ll give it a try 🙂

  16. 15
    Shirley — May 7, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    These look pro and you made the Foodbuzz Top 9! Wouldn’t have guessed you were nervous about making them.

  17. 16
    Joy — May 7, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    They look so professional. Last time I tried to make it, it didn’t even resemble a gnocchi.

  18. 17
    Janelle — May 7, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

    Well, you my dear, are my gnocchi hero! Beautiful, beautiful… keep on, girlfriend!

  19. 18

    I have not taken on a challenge like this yet. Maybe I will. I like your recipe.

  20. 19

    Potato gnocchi are also on my list of things to tackle. Thanks for posting this – you make it seem entirely do-able!

  21. 20
    Amy @ Ess Eppis — May 9, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

    The first time I made gnocchi was to make them for Passover, so I could not use flour. Using the combo of potato starch & cake meal with the potatoes made them so light and fluffy – like lil pillows of yumminess. Not wanting to mess with success, I now never use flour to make gnocchis.


  22. 21
    Susan — May 9, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

    My husband is Italian and the cook of the family. He makes gnocchi with our left over mashed potatoes. They taste delicious and it’s a great way to use up left overs! In the fall he makes pumkin gnocchi in a sage butter sauce. yummy!

  23. 22
    Sasha — June 6, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

    Great post.
    Gnocchi is a challenge for me too. I’ve made them a few times but my attempts have been more unsuccessful than not. Maybe it’s because I don’t use a ricer : /
    I’ll keep trying.

  24. 23
    Lisa McBrayer — September 2, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

    Gnocchi is a personal challenge that I too want to try. Yours look great! Even better, you said they tasted pretty darn good. You’ve given me inspiration; next week: gnocchi!

    • merrygourmet

      merrygourmet replied: — September 2nd, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

      Lisa – You can do it!

  25. 24
    Brenda — September 14, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

    This is something I’ve been wanting to try. I have a number of recipes saved, but haven’t mustered up the courage to give it a go yet. So I’m glad to see you lived through it, and it looks great! I WILL make gnocchi yet!!

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