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Irish Potato Candy

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A sweet Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day tradition.

Irish potatoes are a uniquely Philadelphia treat for St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s the sweet and creamy coconut Philly Irish potato candy recipe you need, with pro tips for perfect results. 

Philadelphia Irish potato candy recipe

All About Philadelphia’s Sweet Irish Potato Candy

Irish potatoes candy — coconut buttercream bonbons rolled in cinnamon — are a uniquely Philadelphia candy for St. Patrick’s Day. These little balls of goodness are made by combining sweet shredded coconut, cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar into a mixture.  The mixture then gets scooped and rolled into truffle-sized balls, which are then rolled in cinnamon and eaten.

The result? A little buttercream candy that looks like a tiny potato and tastes like pure St. Patrick’s Day joy.

Irish potatoes are neither Irish nor potatoes. And yet this sweet, no-bake confection makes one of the Philadelphia area’s most beloved St. Patrick’s Day food traditions. Learn the origin story of St. Patrick’s Day Irish potatoes candy below, and get the recipe.

coconut butter cinnamon cream cheese vanilla confectioners sugar ingredients

What Are Philadelphia Irish Potatoes? Candy? Potatoes?

At their most basic, Irish potato candy can be described as little coconut cream cheese buttercream balls rolled in cinnamon. The result looks like a cross between cinnamon truffles and little potatoes just plucked from the earth.

Importantly: Irish potatoes contain no potatoes. Irish potatoes are not from Ireland.

Are Irish Potatoes a Philly Thing? Yes!

The history of Philadelphia’s Irish potatoes candy — as opposed to actual Irish potato dishes like shepherd’s pie or colcannon —  is a little complex, murky, and interesting. First thing to know? Irish potato candy is also not authentically Irish.

Food writer Daniela Galarza wrote an excellent, well-researched piece a few years ago on Irish potato candy and its Philadelphia roots. According to Galarza’s research, Irish potatoes are definitively not Irish.

Rather, the sweet coconut cream confections known as Philly Irish potatoes emerged at the intersection of 1) a huge wave of mid- to late-19th century Irish immigration, and 2) Philadelphia’s place as the candy capital of the United States.

Irish potato coconut dough in bowl with cinnamon

Irish potato candy’s origin in Philly was a way to fill the candy hole between Valentine’s Day and Easter.

At one time, the Philadelphia area boasted between 200 and 300 candy companies. Many Irish immigrants worked at the candy factories. Theories of Irish potato invention differ. However, Philadelphia candy maker Dave Lamparelli, founder of Oh Ryan’s (which sells around 2.5 million Irish spuds per year), speculates that Irish potatoes emerged as a candy-selling opportunity to bridge the dead period between Valentine’s Day and Easter.

Candy makers found a way to sell a treat in this otherwise low season, using the same filling as traditional chocolate-coated coconut buttercreams. Coating the treat in cinnamon — for a dirt-covered potato aesthetic — recalled Ireland’s famous potato identity, for better or worse since the immigration wave was largely caused by the potato famine.

Today, you can find Irish potato candies for sale and homemade in kitchens throughout the greater Philadelphia region, including South Jersey and parts of Delaware, throughout the month of March — a little earlier or later if you’re lucky.

Philly Irish potato candies on tray in stages of rolling

Authentic Philly Irish Potato Candy: Recipe Notes

This Irish potato candy recipe is simple to follow, and makes a fun, no-bake holiday dessert project for any age — especially kids. This recipe comes direct from my mom, who has made these for years, to great acclaim.

Growing up, I always loved when Irish potato season came around. To me, Irish potatoes were (are?) one of the very best parts of St. Patrick’s Day, along with fresh-from-the-oven soda bread. My mom got the recipe from a friend years ago.

How to Make Philadelphia Irish Potatoes: Recipe Tips

  • You will want to ensure that the butter and cream cheese are softened, so they evenly blend with the confectioners sugar, sweetened shredded coconut, pinch of salt, and vanilla extract.
  • The coconut buttercream”dough” comes together in a couple of minutes in a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the dough on low speed to prevent your powdered sugar from “exploding”! You can also mix the dough by hand with a sturdy spatula.
  • Cover and chill the coconut buttercream dough so it firms up enough to scoop and roll. This helps the buttercream balls keep their shape when scooping them, and before rolling in cinnamon.
  • Scoop the Irish potato candy buttercream balls with a small scoop, scraping against the sides of the bowl for an even scoop. Roll them into even rounds by hand, and line them up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or waxed paper.

Rolling the coconut buttercream dough in raw cinnamon may seem aggressive, but the cinnamon is not overpowering. The spice cuts through the sweetness of the coconut filling in just the right proportion.

Philadelphia Irish potato candy recipe

Love this Philly Irish Potato candy recipe? More essential Irish and Philly recipes:

Philadelphia Irish potato candies

Philly Irish Potato Candy

This is an authentic Philadelphia Irish potato candy recipe, used and loved for generations: easy coconut buttercreams rolled in cinnamon. These are a sweet, no-bake regional treat for St. Patrick's Day everyone can celebrate.
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Chilling Time1 hour
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American, Irish, Philadelphia
Keywords:: candy, cinnamon, coconut, dessert, easy, irish, irish potato candy, irish potato recipe, Irish potatoes, no-bake, Philly irish potato candy, philly irish potatoes, St Patricks Day
Servings: 75 Irish potatoes, or thereabouts
Print

Ingredients

  • 1 8-ounce package Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick (4 ounces; 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 32 ounces confectioners' sugar
  • 7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons (more or less) ground cinnamon

Instructions

  • Combine all the ingredients except the cinnamon in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on very low until the powdered sugar looks just incorporated. Scrape the bowl and continue to mix on low until completely smooth and fully emulsified. Cover and chill for one hour.
    TIP: You can also stir the mixture together by hand using a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon.
  • Use a teaspoon or small cookie scoop to scoop and roll small, tablespoon-sized rounds of coconut "dough." Roll the buttercream balls into even rounds, then roll them several at a time into a bowl of cinnamon and tap off the excess cinnamon. Place the finished Irish potatoes on a parchment paper or wax paper-lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.
    TIP: You may not use all the cinnamon, but you need extra enough to roll the buttercream balls.
  • Serve chilled or at very cool room temperature.
    PRO TIP: Irish potatoes can be frozen and thawed in the refrigerator overnight.

13 comments

  • 5 stars
    Absolutely authentic recipe for Philly style Irish potatoes. Delicious.

  • Is it okay to use unsweetened desiccated coconut to make them less sweet?

    • Unpeeled

      Good question. That should work fine. Irish potatoes are quite sweet, but the tang of the cream cheese and the blunt spice of the cinnamon cut the sweetness a good deal right off the bat.

  • 5 stars
    So simple and so good! Never knew they were a Philly thing, but makes sense as I’ve lived 15 min from Philly my whole life.

    • Unpeeled

      I thought everyone made these until I went to college in North Carolina and no one knew what I was talking about! Glad you like them, and happy early St. Patrick’s Day!

  • 32oz of powdered sugar by weight or volume?? Trying to determine if i have enough sugar. If by weight….then i need to make a grocery store trip lol

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Jenna! You need a 32-ounce (or 2-pound) bag of powdered sugar. It’s a lot, I know!

  • wonderwoman1976

    5 stars
    Very good. Definitely important to tap off the excess cinnamon so it’s not too strong 🙂

  • 5 stars
    These are very authentic and exactly what I remember growing up in the Philly area! Better the next day, in my opinion, when they dry out just a little.

    • Unpeeled

      Love that they taste just like your childhood memories! Thanks for writing this.

  • 5 stars
    Irish potatoes are delicious and I am glad to have this good recipe since I used to buy them when I lived in the Philadelphia region where I grew up, but can’t get them now that I live in Michigan! To anyone who hasn’t ever had these: You won’t be disappointed. They are like Easter coconut buttercream but rolled in cinnamon instead of dipped in chocolate.

  • 5 stars
    My favorite! Can’t wait to make these again for St. Patrick’s Day. This is a big recipe, so I will do half.

  • Michelle P.

    5 stars
    I grew up at the Jersey shore and always loved these so much. These are the real deal and so good!!

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