Pantry find: Granulated piloncillo sugar
Steve Sando, head honcho over at Rancho Gordo in Napa Valley, always has something new he’s discovered -- an heirloom bean, a tortilla press he's fallen in love with or, right now, piloncillo. That's the dark, cone-shaped sugar used in all manner of Latin sweets. It's usually so hard, if you’re not careful, that you can do some serious damage while attempting to grate it.
But this is granulated piloncillo from an indigenous cooperative of the Teenek nation in the Huasateca region of Mexico's San Luis Potosí state. Less processed than sugar, it's really just evaporated sugar cane juice produced by traditional methods. The flavor is rich and deep. And now so easy to use. Sprinkle it over a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt. Use it to sweeten a smoothie or tart blackberries.
I can’t wait to use it to make a fresh pineapple upside down cake. Sando himself sweetens his espresso with it and (don’t read further if you have an addiction to kettle corn) stirs some into melted butter for a popcorn topping.
Piloncillo, $7.95 for a one-pound bag. Flat fee shipping charge via UPS, West Coast, $10. (Go in with friends and make a big order of heirloom beans -- and piloncillo -- to save on shipping costs.)
Rancho Gordo products are also sold at Cookbook and Cube in Los Angeles, Sweet Butter in Sherman Oaks, Naples Gourmet Grocer in Long Beach and Lazy Acres in Santa Barbara. These sources may not necessarily have piloncillo: Ask for it before you make the trip.
You might want to follow Sando’s blog, "Rancho Gordo: Experiments From My Mostly New World Kitchen and Gardens," ranchogordo.typepad.com/
-- S. Irene Virbila
Photos: Granulated piloncillo from Rancho Gordo. Credit: S. Irene Virbila/Los Angeles Times.