Have you really tasted sugar? I am not talking about the white, granulated, refined, and processed sugar that comes in little packs. But rather the raw, unrefined, whole cane sugar that comes in hard blocks whose dark brown features hint at exotic origins and intense flavors. Let me show you how to taste the terroir hidden inside these hard blocks that can be dissolved in water and spices to make a raw sugar syrup that is one of the true nectars from Peru.
Sugar cane arrived in Peru 500 years ago, and raw cane sugar gave birth to the legendary desserts made during the Spanish Viceroyalty. From Alfajores, and Crema Volteada, to the manjar blanco in the Suspiro Limeño and Pionono, or the Frejol Colado black bean pudding, if one thing is certain it’s this: Peruvians love desserts. And making them connects me to ancient traditions, making me feel like an alchemist, slowly stirring a potion that will make you smile.
But as much as I love all those desserts, there is something more sensual about a syrup that can be used to dip, to coat, to bathe, that drips, slowly, that is thick, messy, sticky, and that if it’s on your finger, or someone else’s, you have to lick it.
Now, before you drop everything to make this syrup, I should tell you that it’s usually used in a dessert and that it’s not served on its own. But if you do make it now, and store it in a mason jar, it will be ready for the dessert I’ll be posting in a few days. Of course, you might have to taste it, and if you do, I recommend dripping some on a plate and using your finger.
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 panela cones or 6 oz. raw cane sugar
- 2 cloves
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds
- peel of half an orange
In addition to the ingredients above, you’ll need a pot to boil the water with all the ingredients, a spoon for stirring the syrup, a strainer, a heat resistant measuring cup, and a mason jar for storing the syrup.
- Place all ingredients in a pot over medium to high heat and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally until it begins to thicken, or about 20 minutes.
- Pour the syrup through a strainer into the measuring cup, and return the strained syrup to the pot.
- Continue to simmer until the syrup thickens, or about 5 more minutes.
- Transfer the syrup to a mason jar and store sealed in a cool dark place.
1 1/4 cups of syrup.
There are a couple of ways to check for the right thickness of the syrup. One is by volume: since this recipe yields 1 1/4 cups of syrup, the volume of liquid is reduced by half from the original 2 1/2 cups of water. When straining the syrup into the heat resistant measuring cup, you should be able to see how much how much is left to reduce. Another way is by touch: drip some of the syrup onto a plate, the drops should retain their shape, and have slightly stickiness when spreading on the plate with your finger. Raw cane sugar blocks may come in different sizes, I used two cones of 3 oz. each by weight. Depending on where you are, raw cane sugar goes by many names, including panela, piloncillo, chancaca, jaggery, or cone de cassonade.