Peru has fantastic cuisine – including desserts- that is a combination of European, African, and Asian influences, and heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine. In Colonial times, quite often expensive and unavailable ingredients used in the Spanish cuisine were replaced by typical Peruvian ones. Later, foreign cooking techniques were used to create unique local sweets. Because of Peru’s geography, many desserts feature tropical fruits, such as chirimoya and lucuma. Many traditional desserts of Peru also feature manjar blanco, the Peruvian version of dulce de leche.
If you’re traveling to Peru, you may want to try some of these traditional desserts while you’re there! It is also helpful to be familiar with some conversational Spanish, so you can communicate with the locals while you are there. Learning even a little of a foreign language goes a long way when traveling, as locals appreciate your effort, and it makes your travels easier if you have a basic knowledge of vocabulary used in everyday conversation.
Let’s take a look at some traditional Peruvian desserts, as well as a couple of recipes that you can follow to create your own taste of Peru at home!
Traditional Peruvian Desserts
Tres Leches (Peruvian Three Milks)
Tres leches, or Peruvian Three Milks, is a typical dessert in Peru. It is a simple sponge cake soaked in a milk syrup made of three different kinds of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk (or cream). Tres leches is a very sweet and heavy dessert, and has the consistency more of a pudding than a cake. It is delicious and quite easy to prepare. Give it a try!
200g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
200g white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100ml whole milk
Syrup for Soaking:
1 can (400g) sweetened condensed milk
300ml evaporated milk
300ml whole milk
1 dash of rum
250ml whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 175°C. Lightly grease a square or rectangular cake or baking pan with a high edge. Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside. Separate the eggs.
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Then gradually add the sugar and whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. Next, add the egg yolks and a teaspoon vanilla extract and beat until foamy. Gently fold in the flour-baking powder mixture, alternating with 100ml of milk until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into a baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). Allow to cool, and then pierce cake from all sides several times with a fork or skewer.
Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, the evaporated milk, the whole milk, and the rum until well blended. Pour the liquid slowly and evenly over the cake until soaked (you don’t need the entire amount). Cover and refrigerate for an hour. Soak the cake again with the syrup and keep covered for at least 3 hours (best overnight) in the refrigerator. Refrigerate the rest of the syrup as well.
Whip the cream, 50g of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract until stiff. Spread the cream over the top of cake and sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve your tres leches cut into small squares together with the rest of the syrup.
If you like preparing baked goods, take a look at some artisan bread recipes that are just as easy to prepare.
Picarones (Peruvian Donuts)
Picarones developed in Colonial times to replace the Spanish Buñuelos. African slaves substituted unavailable or expensive ingredients with Peruvian ones and created this delicious sweet that today is still quite often sold by street vendors in Peru. Picarones are similar to our donuts, but made of a squash or pumpkin dough, deep fried, and served with cane syrup called chancaca. They are very delicious, easy to make, and addictive!
1.2 lb (½ k) sweet potatoes, peeled
1.2 lb (½ k) squash, peeled
1.2 lb (½ k) flour
3 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons aniseed
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
2 eggs slightly beaten
Oil, necessary amount for frying
2 cups molasses
1 cup brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
Peel of 1 orange, cut into thick large strips
4 cups water
Put water in a large pan with cinnamon, clove, and aniseed. Boil for 10 minutes and strain reserving water. Cook sweet potatoes and squash in the reserved water until tender. Remove from pan and force through a strainer. Keep 2 cups for cooking liquid. Allow to cool.
In a small size bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and reserved cooking liquid. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Place strained sweet potatoes and squash in a large bowl. Add salt, yeast mixture and eggs, and stir. Fold in flour and continue stirring until a soft and smooth dough is formed. Cover dough with a damp cloth and leave dough to rise for 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, prepare the syrup for your picarones, which takes about 20 minutes to prepare:
For the syrup, combine molasses, sugar, clove, cinnamon, orange peel, allspice and water in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a boil over low heat until mixture thickens to a syrup (200 °F).
Once the dough is ready, heat oil in a large skillet until hot. Take a small quantity of dough and form a ring. Fry in hot oil until golden on both sides. Repeat the procedure until all dough is used.
Remove picarones from hot oil and drain on kitchen paper. Serve immediately with syrup, (3 picarones per serving, serves 8-10).
Try these delicious recipes at home, and be sure to enjoy some of the many desserts if traveling to Peru.
If you are traveling, you may find it helpful to learn some basic Spanish phrases before you go abroad. Being able to communicate with the locals and understand their language will further enrich your experience.
Don’t have a lot of time? Try a crash course in Spanish and start practicing today!