Every country has its own sweets and desserts. Sometimes they are known mainly only in their country of origin, and sometimes they become quite popular through exposure in ethnic restaurants. Some Guatemalan desserts are similar in nature to ones in other countries, as with their Borracho cake. Borracho literally means drunk, and as one might expect, it contains alcohol. Many cultures have cakes that are soaked with a sugar syrup and alcohol. Other Guatemalan desserts are far more unusual.
The cake mentioned above, the Borracho is a light sponge cake that is literally drenched in sugar syrup laced with a typical Guatemalan rum made from their sugar cane crops. This cake is found in pastry shops around Guatemala City, and is generally sold by the slice. Slices are set into a larger muffin paper to contain the syrup dripping out. The cake is topped with a cornstarch pudding made with milk, and then decorated with raisins. In my early life I had never heard of this kind of cake, and it quickly became a favorite.
The sugar syrup is cooked with a true cinnamon stick so the syrup is cinnamon flavored. The cake is simple to make as any sponge cake will do, and any simple cornstarch pudding works for the topping.
Rellenitos de Platano are one of the desserts I have always been enchanted with. Platanos are plantains, and relleno means filled. In this case, these little oval shaped desserts are filled with black beans cooked down to a paste. If this sounds strange, it is nonetheless a delicious flavor combination. Eating plantains and black beans, a common pairing at any meal, are a particularly tasty combination. In this case, the plantains are cooked and pureed, a little sugar and cinnamon are added and this is the outside of the dessert. Pureed black beans are cooked down to a thick paste and a small bit is placed into the center of an oval shaped bit of the plantains. These are fried and rolled in granulated sugar to serve, hot or cold.
Chancletas are another interesting use of a vegetable. These are made with Chayote squash. At times, these squash are plentiful, and using them as a dessert is just another way to use up the excess. The chayotes are cooked whole. Once tender, they are split in half and the insides are scoped out as for a twice baked potato. The inner flesh is mashed or pureed and sugar, cinnamon, raisins and cookie crumbs are added to thicken. The mixture is placed back into the skins of the chayote and set on a baking sheet. These are baked until set, about 20 to 30 minutes. The name chancleta means slipper, as they are supposed to resemble a slipper.
Polvorosas are a type of shortbread cookie. The name comes from the word polvo, meaning powder or dust. The cookies are rolled into powdered sugar when baked, so biting into them gives one the reason why they are thus named. Shortbread of any kind is made without eggs added to bind the batter or dough, and this makes shortbread unusually crumbly. These little cookies are made into small round shapes with a flat top. They are much the same as the cookies known as snowballs, or Mexican Wedding Cakes.
Other typically Guatemalan sweets are found sold by street vendors on many street corners. The Guatemalans make candy out of unlikely things such as squash or sweet potato, along with some fruits like figs, orange peels or guavas. These candied fruits or vegetables can take days to make, because of the long, slow cooking process required to get them down to their dried, crystallized state.
Many other typical candies are also sold alongside these candied fruits or vegetables, and all of them have their particular flavor and shape. All of these desserts are amazing in their variety and in the imagination of those who came up with the recipes. Nothing is wasted. Even leftover cakes are made into a new cake, using the crumbs as a base.