What Are the Different Types of Peruvian Desserts?

Dan Harkins

Like all countries, South America's Peru has a rich culinary tradition. Informed by millennia-old Mayan and Inca dishes, Peruvian cuisine is also punctuated by a wide range of sumptuous Peruvian desserts that apparently started evolving once Spanish colonization had begun. These treats range from simple rice pudding and caramel-stuffed cookies called alfajores to more complex creations like the airy tres leches cake made of three types of dairy or the rolled biscuit stuffed with caramel known as pionono.

Golden passion fruit is included in several Peruvian desserts.
Golden passion fruit is included in several Peruvian desserts.

Peru is home to a hearty selection of native fruits and vegetables, from ubiquitous limes to more-exotic lacumas. The lacuma is a savory-yet-sweet, orange-colored treat that factors heavily into many bakers' concoctions since it is only found in Peru. Several Peruvian desserts make use of the more prevalent local yields, even vegetables in mazamorra morada — a jelly turned violet with the local purple corn that congeals around various fruits. Lime pie, a tweaked version of the northern hemisphere's lemon meringue pie, is also among the more popular native treats. Passion fruit finds its way into several treats too.

Flax seeds are one of the ingredients in Peruvian picarones.
Flax seeds are one of the ingredients in Peruvian picarones.

Some Peruvian desserts are especially tied to religious events surrounding the predominant Catholic Church. During the month of October, the month set aside to celebrate El Señor de los Milagros, or Lord of Miracles, a popular staple is a syrup-drenched grid of anise cookie bars called turrón de doña pepa, all stuck together with molasses or caramel. Though it is now sold throughout the year, with a variety of celebratory sprinkles and other candies on top, it is most tied to this annual rite, which has its height in a grand parade on 18 October.

Pionono is one of the more aesthetically alluring of the Peruvian desserts. This is a simple cake of flour, eggs, sugar and perhaps some anise or vanilla extract. The batter is baked in a shallow pan to make a thin sheet of cake, which is coated liberally with caramel and rolled up to be sliced into swirling treats. Some of the more storied versions of this dessert have a sweet cream cheese or crushed nuts alongside the caramel and perhaps a light dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Some types of Peruvian desserts are tied to the streets and are often created by roadside vendors on the fly in small vats of oil. A centuries-old doughnut fritter called picarones is made with a cheap-but-distinctive blend of flour, pumpkin, squash, yeast, sugar, some brandy and a dash of salt. It also includes native spices like anise, cinnamon, allspice, flax seeds and cloves. After being fried as fritters or doughnuts with holes, these treats are then drizzled with a syrup that is just as complex as the doughnut — with molasses, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, citrus zest and brown sugar.

Picarones is made using brandy.
Picarones is made using brandy.

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