A Gringo Guide to Traditional Ecuadorian Pastries and Desserts
Even as a longtime resident of Ecuador, a restaurant chef and foodie in general, researching this article was a real eye opener. For starters, I don’t really like sweet things and I don’t go out of my way to taste new varieties.
Plus, most convenience stores here sell pretty much the same stuff they do in Europe or North America: Nestlé chocolates, Unilever branded ice cream, Oreo cookies. It really is a small tragedy that fine chocolate is no longer appreciated here, especially considering that Ecuador is one of the ? major producers of premium cocoa beans.
Ecuadorians like their sweets, but don’t seem to have much preference for traditional desserts. At the three (!) bakeries within walking distance of my house you will mainly find western pies, donuts and sweet rolls.
However, scratch the surface and you soon realize there’s no reason for traditional Ecuadorian desserts and pastries to sit back with imported recipes. Let’s discover some of the best traditional Ecuadorian sweets and desserts.
Melcocha is an incredible handmade candy made with panela. It is known as alfenique in Spain, and was formerly called al-fanid in Moorish Iberia. In Ecuador, it is most often associated with the seaside town of Baños, but it can be found all over the country.
To make melcocha by hand is hard work (look at the picture!). The recipe is not complicated, but requires a lot of technique and strength. You start by squeezing sugar cane (an important Ecuadorian crop) and mixing the juice with the juice of the guacimo tree as a binding agent.
This is boiled until a syrup is formed, after which the hard work of kneading and shaping it begins. Of course, you probably don’t have a guacimo tree in your backyard and you even find pan – completely unrefined sugar – can be a chore. If so, just use water and brown sugar. These produce melcocha is a kind of cottage industry for several families.
mollo eggs are sweet little balls of heaven. in Manabi, Ecuadorian Families earn a living preparing these delicious desserts, besides troliches; a similar recipe minus the egg.
mollo eggs are easy to make and can prepared well in advance, making them the perfect feast; milk and sugar are reduced over low heat, then flour and egg yolks are whisked in to make a kind of sweet béchamel sauce. Once this has cooled, the mixture will firm up enough to form into egg molds by hand (hence the Eggs in the name).
Espuma means “foam”, so foam are… little meringues! What foam being real is a delicious mix of meringue, syrup and tangy fruit pulp. They are often served in ice cream cones, making them a hit at picnics. For the fruit, guava is traditional, but almost any kind of fruit should do that work fine. If you have a very sweet tooth, grab one foam.
If Ecuador has a national cookie, it must be caramel cookies. They are popular all over Latin America, but we still consider them ours, coming from the province of Manabí.
The star of the show here is the milk caramel filling (Caramel sauce), which is supplemented with desiccated shredded coconut. The cookie dough is made from cornflour, which gives it a delicate texture.
Making the filling is a bit of a chore, but as with so much in the kitchen, you get out what you put in. The hard work will be rewarded when you finally have a delicious party caramel cookies by chewing.
Compared to standard custard (or custard(if you prefer), the Ecuadorian version is definitely on the firm side, so firm that it can even be cut into cubes for serving. The consistency depends on how much cornstarch you add, and egg yolks are actually optional here.
Another variety, corn dungeon, uses whole corn instead of cornstarch, which isn’t as weird as it sounds, and tastes great. In Ecuador, custard is served as is or as an accompaniment to another dessert that could use a bit of lubrication, perhaps fig or guava cake.
Depending on the type of neighborhood we’re talking about, it’s not uncommon for Ecuadorian families to sell ice (ice creams or popsicles) from their porch. These usually consist of no more than fruit juice or soda frozen on a stick.
But Paella ice cream is a completely different animal. Before electric cooling was a thingThis traditional ice cream was made in the highlands near Ibarra from naturally occurring ice harvested from mountain slopes and the slopes of volcanoes.
A wide pan is placed on this and filled with freshly squeezed fruit juice, which must be beaten continuously to break the ice crystals, just like an ice cream machine does. With protein, the modern recipe hasn’t changed much from the original, and authentic Paella ice cream is still made by hand today. When done right, the resulting dessert has a very smooth texture and an absolute ton of natural, unadulterated flavor.
If coconuts and sugarcane grew abundantly in your area, you would inevitably come up with a way to combine them into a delicious dessert, right? However, this is what happened in the province of Esmeraldas coconuts are made and enjoyed all over Ecuador today.
The preparation very similar to eggs mollos: just boil the milk and pan until it starts to thicken, stir in the coconut (dry or fresh) and add a few eggs to make a syrupy mixture that you can shape by hand once cool. note that coconuts may be white or dark brown in color depending on the type of sugar used.
It’s no secret that everyone loves crunchy food; basically an audible crack when you literally take a bite makes food taste better. Sesame seeds may be more associated with Asian cuisine, but they are also abundant in Latin America. In combination with dry caramel and (optional) peanuts you get this delicious snack.
With a thickness of a quarter inch, these can be eaten straight away. Alternatively, they can be rolled thinner for use as a garnish.
One of the reasons I included regular fruit salad on this list is because of its expressive Ecuadorian name: food and drink, which means “eat and drink”. The other reason for the inclusion is that fruit salad in Ecuador is much more of an experience than you might expect.
Very few of the fresh produce sold here are of the cosmetically beautiful but ultimately tasteless kind found in most U.S. grocery stores. Ecuadorian pineapples have pale white flesh instead of yellow and even stay green when ripe, but they are incredibly sweet and juicy. The orito bananas used in a food and drink may only be a few inches long, but these are just packed with flavor and natural sweetness.
In short, an Ecuadorian fruit salad tastes delicious.
Ever had a plantain smoothie? Ever had a plantain?! They are cheap (in Ecuador you get a decent amount with 25 cents), they are incredibly nutritious, and they look like bananas, but don’t be fooled. When ripe, they’re sweet but a little tart, and they can’t be digested raw, so you’ll need to cook them briefly before making this rich milkshake-like concoction.
Milk, sugar, and spices are mandatory in a plantain smoothie, and many people add a little neutral-flavored cheese for extra firmness.
This brings us to the end of our tour of Ecuadorian sweets. By melcocha nasty chucula, we explored a range of desserts rich in natural flavors from the heart of Ecuador. Time to eat plantain and panela and collapse into a glorious sugar coma. Do you want to join?
Related: Most Popular Ecuadorian Foods
Featured image with caramelized apples from Rinaldo Wurglitsch.