Dulces: Pío V (Nicaraguan Christmas Cake)


¡Feliz Navidad! Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

Pío V—allegedly named for 16th century Pope Pius V, though there are no 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.

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Pío V (Nicaraguan Christmas Cake) »