Candied sweet potatoes have long been a celebrated side dish during the holiday season but we have removed some of the sweetness (no marshmallows!) and made them even easier by cooking them in a slow cooker. We cut the potatoes into thick rounds so they hold up during the cooking process. The resulting tender sweet potatoes glazed with butter and spices are just sweet enough to make them the perfect accompaniment to your favorite poultry or pork dish.
Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Stir together the dark brown sugar, cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Stir together the melted butter and vanilla extract in another small bowl.
Toss the sweet potatoes with the cornstarch in a large mixing bowl. Put 1 layer of the sweet potatoes on the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker. Drizzle with a third of the butter mixture then sprinkle with a third of the brown sugar mixture. Repeat to make 2 more layers. (If there are not enough sweet potatoes to make a complete third layer, that is okay.)
Cover the slow cooker and cook on low until the sweet potatoes are tender but not mushy, about 4 hours.
Meanwhile, spread the pecans out on a baking sheet and bake until very golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool and finely chop.
When the sweet potatoes are tender, gently stir in the orange juice. Transfer the potatoes to a shallow serving dish and allow to sit for 10 minutes (the sauce will thicken as it sits). Toss the potatoes in the sauce to coat, sprinkle with the chopped pecans and serve.