A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

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Entry from January 26, 2008
Piloncillo (Mexican Brown Sugar)

Piloncillo is unrefined brown sugar from Mexico that comes in a small conical shape. Piloncillo is served in drinks such as Cafe de Olla and champurrado., and the sugar can also be used in moles and sauces. The cone of piloncillo must be shaved or grated before use.

Wikipedia: Piloncillo
Piloncillo is the name given in Mexico to small blocks or bricks of unrefined solid cane sugar. They are also often seen in the shape of small truncated cones.

In Central America and South America they are called Panela or “tapa dulce” (in Costa Rica) because of its bottle-cap shape, and may or may not be cone-shaped. In Panama it is also called raspadura, thought to derive from the words “raspar” (to scrape) and “duro” (hard), a reference to the way the hard sugar brick is shaven to produce usable shards for cooking. The local dialect often drops the letter “s”, resulting in the word we hear as “ra’padura” or rapadura.

The color of piloncillo ranges from light tan to dark brown. For the longest time piloncillo was considered an inferior sweetener. It was used as a cheaper substitute for refined sugar, especially in dishes and desserts that did not require the clear color of refined sugar.

Despite its inferior reputation, many desserts originating (and still consumed) in Mexico are made to this day using piloncillo, such as atole, capirotada, sweet potatoes, flan, and more.

Gourmet Sleuth
Piloncillo, Mexican Brown Sugar
Piloncillo is an unrefined sugar from Mexico. 

General Information
The name piloncillo refers to the traditional cone shape in which the sugar is produced. It is also know as panela and panocha.  There are actually two varieties of piloncillo produced one is lighter (blanco) and one darker (oscuro). The cone size can vary from as small as 3/4 ounce to as much as 9 ounces per cone. The cones shown in the picture above are about 3” tall.

How To Use
Piloncillo is very hard compared to the brown sugar you purchased in a box at the local grocer. Chop the piloncillo with a serrated knife.  You can substitute piloncillo in any recipe calling for dark brown sugar.

Traditional Uses for Mexican Piloncillo
Cafe de Olla - An earthy mixture of Viennese-roast coffee, cinnamon, aniseeds, and piloncillo (Mexican dark brown sugar).
Champurrado - A special hot chocolate thickened with masa and flavored with piloncillo and aniseeds.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
piloncillo, n.
U.S. regional (chiefly south-west.).
[< Mexican Spanish piloncillo (1743) < Spanish pilón PILÓN n. + -cillo, diminutive suffix.]
A type of coarse brown sugar, often moulded into a hard cone or block, produced esp. in Mexico. Cf. PENUCHE n. 1.
1844 J. GREGG Commerce of Prairies I. 173 When short of means they often support themselves upon only a real each per day, their usual food consisting of bread and a kind of coarse cake-sugar called piloncillo.
1875 Fur, Fin & Feather 108 You are..all the days eating piloncillo and learning Spanish with the senorites [sic].

Dictionary of American Regional English
piloncillo n
Also pelonce, peloncillo, pilonce, pilonci, pilonsillo
[MexSpan; dimin of pilon a loaf of sugar] chiefly TX
Unrefined sugar, usu in the form of a cone or loaf.
1844 Gregg Commerce 1.173 NM, When short of means they often support themselves upon only a real each per day, their usual food consisting of bread and a kind of coarse cake-sugar called piloncillo.
1845 Green Jrl. Texian Exped. 264, Our cook brings us in..two and a half pounds of brown sugar, ‘pilonci.’
1854 (1932) Bell Log TX-CA Trail 35.310, Gathered some quinces and stewed them with Pelonce or Mexican sugar.
1875 Fur Fin & Feather 108 NM, You are all the nights at fandangoes, and all the days eating piloncillo and learning Spanish with the senorites [sic].
1892 DN 1.193 TX, Pilon: a loaf of sugar. The usual forms in Texas are pilonce amd piloncillo; they are applied to small loaves of unrefined Mexican sugar in the form of a truncated cone three or four inches high, which come generally wrapped in yucca or palm leaves . They taste very much like maple sugar.
1898 Canfield 207 (DA), ‘Peloncillo,’ crude brown sugar, in a stick.
1940 Writers’ Program 206 eAZ, In the show cases are Mexican candies: Pilonsillos, brown, cone-shaped, and made from pure cane sugar.
1967 DARE (Qu. H82b, Kinds of cheap candy that used to be sold years ago) Inf TX5, Piloncillo—raw sugar (unrefined) in shape of cone with stick in it; TX11, Piloncillo—dregs from sugar mill formed into a cone.
1981 Pederson LAGS Basic Materials, 1 inf, esTX—Made from boiling sugar cane and molding it into cones. It’s brown, like brown sugar. Used for sweetening by chipping off pieces for coffee, lemonade, etc.; 1 inf, esTX—Piloncillos = unrefined sugar loaves.
1985 Fierman Guts & Ruts 68 NM (as of c1850), Chocolate is a very popular drink of the affluent. Sugar is used, but not the refined variety; rather, coarse brown sugar is molded into cakes called peloncillo.

Google Books
Campaign Sketches of the War with Mexico
by Captain William Seaton Henry
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
Pg. 207:
The juice, when sufficiently boiled, is run into molds in the shape of truncated cones. In this shape, wrapped around with strips of the cane from which the juice is expressed, it is exposed for sale, and called pilonci. The taste of their sugar is any thing but pleasant—too much of the cane. While at Monterey, they were very anxious for us to visit their mills, and treated us to as much juice as we wanted, and never let us depart without forcing upon us two or three caked of pilonci. A drink of the juice and the green orange is delightful.

Google Books
Person Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico
by John Russell Bartlett
New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company
Pg. 441:
The sugar cane grows remarkably well in the bottom lands, and is cultivated in sufficient quantities to supply a small sugar mill. Nothing, however, is made but the common pilonce, an article inferior to the most ordinary brown sugar of commerce.

The Tex-Mex Cookbook
by Robb Walsh
New York, NY: Broadway Books
Pg. 14:
This Mexican raw brown sugar is more flavorful than regular brown sugar. It is sold in a cone and must be grated or dissolved in water before use.
Pg. 147:
Piloncillo is old-fashioned, unrefined raw cane sugar. The cones were once sold in the streets by candy vendors. Today you can find it in Mexican markets and in the specialty aisles of grocery stores.

One 8-ounce piloncillo sugar cone (to yield 1 cup grated piloncillo)
2-inch-long cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces pecan halves broken in half (about 1 1/2 cups)
Aluminum foil, sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (...)

What is piloncillo?
Posted Sep 10th 2006 1:03PM by Nicole Weston
Piloncillo is an unrefined sugar that is commonly used in Mexican cooking. The sugar has been around for at least 500 years, and was being made before the Spanish came to Mexico around 1500. It is made when sugar canes are crushed, the juice is collected and boiled then poured into molds, where it hardens into blocks. The fact that it comes in block form is one of the reasons why white and brown sugars are more commonly used, even in Mexican cooking, than piloncillo once was. To use it, it must be grated or chiseled off the main block - a process which is well worth the resulting flavor boost in food to some, but too time consuming for others to bother.

Unlike white sugar, which is flat and one-dimensional in its sweet flavor, piloncillo is smoky, caramely and earthy. It has far more flavor than brown sugar, which is generally just white sugar with a small amount of molasses added back to it. It can be uses in moles and other sauces, as well as to simple sweeten coffee or top off buttery toast.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Saturday, January 26, 2008 • Permalink