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The Trouble with Piloncillos

Submitted by: laree on December 10, 2010
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The Trouble with Piloncillos


“The trouble with piloncillos”, or possibly, “The trouble with not being prepared and substituting a staple with something you really don’t know how to use properly.” Say, piloncillo-what?

Piloncillos are a type of cane sugar, sold in Mexican food stores, among other places. They are cheap, keep …




“The trouble with piloncillos”, or possibly, “The trouble with not being prepared and substituting a staple with something you really don’t know how to use properly.” Say, piloncillo-what?

Piloncillos are a type of cane sugar, sold in Mexican food stores, among other places. They are cheap, keep forever, have a mellow molasses-y flavor, and I have no idea how to use them.

Sure, there is a little pile of them in my cupboard, but let’s be honest…I am not sure how or what they are really used for. I’ve looked it up and all, but, well, I need some honest-to-goodness Mexican grandmother to give me a little schoolin’. Probably in more ways than one.

Just before Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes and yams went on sale 4 pounds for $1. Time to stock up!

For my “sweet” Thanksgiving side, I peeled and sliced a bunch of each, and alternated rows of slices.

No gourmet inspiration here. I got this idea from the ending of Disney’s Ratatouille. I watch a lot of kid’s movies.

Here is my sous-chef Chatterbox, helping out.

Ignore the naked bird. The ManBeef was in process of charring a turkey.

Next, I sprinkled the yams with cinnamon, a bit of salt, and some pumpkin spice. Then I realized I was completely out of brown sugar and white sugar and confectioner’s sugar AND SPLENDA.

Jeeze, just what was I baking all weekend?

So then I saw the piloncillos, and thought, “I’ll just sprinkle some of this in there. PERFECT, the yams won’t be overly sweet.”

Riiiiight. I am so naive.

Just how does one “sprinkle” a piloncillo?

We could try to grate it!


Two minutes of grating, and that is all I was able to grate off.

Ok….well, the piloncillo is just like brown sugar that has gotten too hard, right? Let’s nuke it for 30 seconds!

Uh. Nope.

The melted portion hardened before I could get a chisel out of the drawer. It was like hardened volcanic magma.

All-righty then. Thwarted once again.

Now I am a little cheesed off. Maybe I should have done my research.

* Boiling the piloncillo in a bit of water? No. It seems impervious to liquids.
* Bashing it with a hammer? No. Dented the hammer. Chipped the concrete countertop.
* Cutting it with a knife? Never attempted. I like my fingers, thank you very much.
* Staring at it with my best “Mom” look? It wasn’t intimidated. The piloncillo LAUGHED at me.

I was on the verge of giving up when we decided on a multi-faceted approach. Well, Chatterbox did. He said, “Mommy, why don’t you do all of those and mash it up all at once?”

Uh, ok?

We nuked it in a bowl of water, quickly removed the cone from the microwave, chopped it into large chunks, bashed those up, and then plopped the smaller chunks into the pan with the sweet potatoes and yams. I poured the bowl of water in the pan too. It had all the grace and sophistication of a night at the ballet.


Finally, we covered the pan with foil and baked the entire dish at 375 for ~ 45 minutes.

It. was. fabulous. [drool]

There are no pictures of the dish finished, because it came out of the oven and on to the buffet table. Someone scooped before I could take a picture, but the yam’s natural sweetness combined with the cinnamon and absorbed mellow sweetness of the piloncillo.

I highly recommend it. But first — let me find out just HOW one is supposed to use a pilioncillo, ok?

Larissa blogs at The Henway.

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13 comments | RSS feed for comments of this post

  1. 12-10

    You handled it correctly. When not so hard, use a knife to slice off. It had just gotten hard, like you said, like brown sugar. When you buy, place it in a container instead of just in the original package. Use like sugar, use it in Flan.

  2. 12-10

    This link will describe the product , known by many names

  3. 12-10

    According to Mexican Food on the site, you nuked it a wee bit too long. They recommend 10-20 seconds.

    Your yam dish sounds delicious. I have made the Bon Appetite recipe for a similarly layered dish using Granny Smith apples and Butternut squash with maple syrup and loved it.

  4. 12-10

    Please find out how to use it and tell me so I can use the cones you sent to me 🙂 I’ve read the descriptions onf the flavors online and can’t wait to try it….in something appropriate. Not sweet potatoes, ew. But maybe one of my acorn squash/pie pumpkin love children would taste good with it….. 🙂

  5. 12-10

    Just give it a whirl. You could try putting them in a little pan of water overnight….which would have been my solution if dinner hadn’t been in 45 minutes.

    Perhaps the ones I sent you weren’t quite as dense as a neutron star?

  6. 12-10

    Since it is a very solid block, most Colombian homes have a resistant river stone (la piedra de la panela) to break the panela into smaller, more manageable pieces.

    ^ from the wiki

    See, you were just missing the river stone 🙂

  7. 12-10

    Oh, thank you so much for that story…it was so funny!

  8. 12-10

    I have

  9. 12-10

    oops, sorry….

    I have never heard of pilioncillo before. Very interesting!

  10. 12-28

    My Mexican co-worker told me to simmer it in water. I did, along with me mashing it once it started to break up, it took 5 min for r little 1/2 cup size-ish cones.

  11. 3-1

    Okay, this might sound strange to you, but I have never found out the answer from anywhere. What is the difference between yams and sweet potatoes (besides being from another family all together)? Are the sweet potatoes the orange ones and the yams the white? Is this always the case? I understand that in Philippine cooking, they cook and eat the greens of the sweet potato and it is good. I would like to try it, but I am very concerned…I would hate to cook up the wrong leaves and poison ourselves. We have the orange Beauregard yams available in our area. Do you have any idea if these would be okay to use?

  12. 3-3

    LK–well the difference between yams and sweet potatoes is that “yam” is also used as a term for some yellow varieties of sweet potato. Its greens are eaten in asian and indian cooking–kind of stirfried. Sweet potatoes are very nutritious but the african yam (as you said a different plant) isn’t as nutritious but easy to grow and widely used. Usually the yam is whiter and BIG. I haven’t heard of eating yam leaves though confusion about calling some sweet potatoes yams means it gets confused. Google sweet potato and find a picture of its leaves–vaguely heart shaped–so you can recognize them in a market.

  13. 12-9

    To cut piloncillos you need to cut thin slivers until you get the amount needed. When cooking some guiso you can add in the small piloncillos.
    I cut my piloncillos with a hammer or pounding tool and a cleaver because I did not bring my river rock to the States. 😉

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