Christmas in Nicaragua (Pío V)
Pío V—allegedly named for 16th century Pope Pius V, though there are written records or even verbal conjectures to explain the odd handle—is a Nicarguan dessert typically served around Christmastime.
The name is quaint and speaks to the Nicaraguan history of Catholicism, but what I love most is that within the name are hidden another three, given that Pío V is made up of marquesote, sopa borracha, and manjar.
My father is a enamored of the Spanish language, and always urged me to read more in our mother tongue, saying that it is much more sabroso (luscious, tasty, savory). He’s entirely correct; be it poetry or song, idle prattle or malicious gossip, Spanish words are not only heard, they caress and prick the skin, melt or sour in the mouth.
Marquesote, cake in plain English, sounds of royal lineage and history, while sopa borracha, a rum-laced simple syrup the cake steeps in, induces a smirk and a laugh, given its literal translation: drunken soup. Manjar, the custard layer that tops the cake, could be just that, however the word also means delicacy and alludes to what the gods are said to have eaten.
Admittedly, when I was younger, Pío V was not on my list of favorite desserts. The soaked cake usually had an overpowering wallop of rum and if served less than chilled, the custard had a really unpleasant way of slithering and glopping down your throat. This version is a touch more tame, but is still quite cheery and festive.
An interesting note on the cake: it is traditionally made with a blend of flour and pinol, toasted white cornmeal used in a multitude of applications, such as coating whole fish prior to deep-frying. In this recipe, I toast fine white cornmeal to mimic the flavor and add a touch of unsweetened cocoa powder to deepen the flavor.
Equipment: medium skillet, whisk, sifter/strainer, mixing bowls, electric mixer, rubber spatula, 13- by 9-inch baking dish, cooling rack, large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, plastic wrap
For the Marquesote Cake
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup fine white cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the Sopa Borracha
6 cups water
3 ½ cups sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
Peel of 1 lemon
3/4 cup gold rum
1/2 cup raisins
For the Manjar
4 cups milk
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces and chilled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13- by 9-inch baking dish with butter.
In medium skillet over medium-low heat, cook cornmeal, stirring frequently, until light golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and cocoa powder in medium bowl; set aside.
In large bowl, beat egg whites and salt with whisk attachment on medium-low speed until whites begin to froth, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and beat whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add sugar, then continue beating until stiff, glossy peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add egg yolks to egg whites and beat just until combined. Decrease speed to low and add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with milk, scraping sides and bottom of bowl as necessary. Add vanilla and beat just until combined.
Scrape batter into prepared baking dish. Bake until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer cake to cooling rack and cool in pan completely, 1 to 2 hours.
For the Sopa Borracha: Bring water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and lemon peel to boil in large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until reduced to 4 ½ cups, about 30 minutes. Strain and discard solids.
Stir in rum, raisins, and prunes and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Once cooled, strain once again, reserving prunes and raisins.
For the Custard: Bring milk and cinnamon sticks to boil over medium heat in small saucepan or in (glass) liquid measuring cup in microwave. Remove and reserve cinnamon sticks.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan whisk together sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, and salt. While vigorously whisking, add ¼ cup of hot milk, then, add remaining milk in a slow steady stream, all the while whisking.
Add reserved cinnamon sticks and bring the mixture to boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Once mixture thickens to the consistency of yogurt, continue to boil for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.
Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the custard’s surface and refrigerate until cold, 2 to 3 hours. Otherwise, place the custard bowl over in an ice bath and stir until completely cooled, 10 to 15 minutes.
To Assemble: Poke cake all over with skewer or fork. Pour sopa borracha over cake. Once absorbed, pour custard over cake, smoothing out surface with rubber spatula. Top with raisins and prunes.
Chill cake at least 1 hour prior to serving.
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