In the United States, the term "yam" more often refers to an orange-fleshed, soft variety of sweet potato. Roughly speaking, these sweet potatoes take about the same amount of time to bake as regular potatoes. But as with many seemingly simple-to-prepare foods, there is more than one way to make a perfect sweet potato or baked potato.
Both types of potatoes bake in about an hour. Smaller ones and those cooked at higher temperatures will be ready to eat sooner. Yams typically soften more quickly than potatoes, but to create a crisp skin and a good texture throughout, they are cooked for about the same length as a potato. Be sure to poke several holes in the potatoes with a fork before baking to prevent a messy explosion in your oven.
Home cooks are often divided on the best way to bake a potato. While some prefer the foil-wrapped method, others swear by simply rubbing a potato in oil and baking it. The latter produces crisp skin, while a foil wrapping keeps the potato hot as you prepare other elements of the meal. Bake potatoes in an oven preheated to 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes to an hour, or until you are able to easily press a fork into them without any resistance.
Bake yams either wrapped in foil or without. Without foil, be sure to line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleanup, as sweet potatoes drip sticky juices while baking. Because sweet potatoes are slightly softer than potatoes, they are generally baked at 400 F to allow for cooking throughout, without over-browning or drying out. Cook smaller sweet potatoes for 45 minutes; larger ones require more than 60 minutes to cook. Pierce the yams with the tines of a fork to determine doneness.
Serve baked potatoes and yams simply or dressed up. Top either with a pat of butter and a little salt for an easy side on a busy night. Transform a baked potato into a whole meal by topping it with bacon, cheese, scallions and sour cream. Enhance yams with brown sugar and marshmallows for a sweet treat that packs in flavor and nutrients.