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Guisell’s Dulce de Vitoria from Colombia

dulce de vitoria

One spoonful of dulce de vitoria—so sweet, so comforting—and writer, poet, BELatina senior deputy editor, and foodie Guisell Gómez is home. Back in Medellín, Colombia, the city she left at age 3 when her family emigrated to Miami.

Even though she’s lived in the States for more than 20 years, “my heart of hearts is Colombian,” Guisell said at a writing conference in 2018. She spoke movingly about a life in exile and described the disorientation of being ripped away so young, so raw from all that represented home: cousins, comfort, belonging.

Is there a Colombian dish that helps her narrow that divide—and cook her way home?

”Dulce de vitoria,” Guisell answers, instantly.

Dulce de vitoria feeds her exiled heart of hearts.

Dulce de vitoria is definitely a treat. It’s like: ‘Here you go. We love you.‘

Guisell Gomez, Colombian writer, poet, BeLatina senior editor, and foodie
Guisell Gomez young Colombia
Miami-based writer and BELatina senior deputy editor Guisell Gómez in Medellín, Colombia. This dulce de vitoria recipe takes right back to this time and place.

Part dessert, part after-school and weekend snack, this traditional Colombian postre is made by boiling a Colombian squash called vitoria with unfrefined sugar cane (panela), cinnamon sticks and cloves for about an hour.

Vitoria squash goes by many other names, including cucurbita, fig-leaf and chilacayote. Fun fact: squash is botanically a fruit, even though we mostly cook it like a vegetable. This makes mucho sense when you take a bite of dulce de vitoria. The sabor is all fruta: rich and sugary, with a jam texture.

The squash itself looks like a cross between a spaghetti squash and a mottled watermelon. Inside, the meat is white and fibrous, a bit like breadfruit, with large black seeds.

vitoria squash
Vitoria squash—also called cucurbita pumpkin, fig-leaf gourd, or chilacayote squash.

But here’s the thing. Good luck trying to find vitoria squash in the U.S. Believe me, I tried. On a recent Saturday, I drove across Chicagoland to the three biggest markets in Latino neighborhoods.

Nada.

”I have never seen it in the supermarkets here,” agrees Guisell.

So I bought every other type of squash in the Mexican and Asian sections and came home to do a boil-and-taste test. After experimenting, the closest in sabor and texture was clear: chayote squash. I peeled, chopped and cooked it with the panela, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves for about an hour.

Dulce de vitoria is everything Guisell promised. It is a rich, tangy bowl of caramelized-fruit pudding. A brown-sugary, darker, denser apple sauce. Something like Peru’s mazamorra morada, but different. Cozy and comforting. And totalmente delicioso.

”You want to make sure that the fruit becomes almost honey-like. It has to be caramel-like in color,” says Guisell. “And be sure to remind people that they have the two options of heating it or not heating it when serving.”

panela piloncillo
To make dulce de vitoria, simmer the squash with cloves, cinnamon, and panela or unrefined cane sugar, shown here.

The Dessert for la Niña de la Casa

When she still lived in Colombia, Guisell remembers her mother and Tía Udiely preparing this pudding-like postre—just for her. ”Because I was la niña de la casa, they would make this for me when I was younger. They knew I would leave Colombia at one point, so dulce de vitoria is definitely a treat. It’s like: ‘Here you go. We love you.‘“

“And because in Colombia, a lot of the women are stay-at-home moms,” she adds, ”They’re always thinking of how they can make something sweet. Not only do they make the dish of the day, but they always think of how they can incorporate something sweet this week. It can be arroz con leche, which my mom made a lot, or coladas or dulce de leche cortada—but the point was to add something sweet,” to signal and celebrate familia love.

Craving a little sweetness these days? Guisell hopes you’ll try her Proustian cook-me-home. And if you like it, then please, she begs, try her No. 2 favorite Colombian dessert: dulce de leche cortada. This equally traditional treat is made with milk and panela. The milk must be—stay with us here—spoiled, says Guisell. That’s right. “You want it clumpy. Trust me. You’re going to love it.” (More to come on this second dish. We left a quart of milk out for two days, it went bad, and we made it. Guisell was right. We loved it. The dish is cozy, caramel-like, and delish. Something like arroz con leche, but with a deeper-almond-brown flavor, and sweeter. We will be posting Guisell’s dulce de leche cortada recipe and food story soon!)

To Serve Dulce de Vitoria

Enjoy your dulce de vitoria solo or with a slice of Colombian cheese or the closest next thing, Mexican queso fresco. Guisell also recommends accompanying the treat with a glass of (fresh!) milk, like we do with cookies here in the States.

Is it also traditional to serve this dessert with a glass of aguardiente, the licorice-like alcohol of choice in Colombia?

“Honestly, yes,’ says Guisell. Because: There is no wrong answer when it comes to this dulce. “People in Colombia will just eat it with whatever.”

As long as the dulce de vitoria is panela-sweetened and cooked with love.

Curious to Make Guisell’s Colombian Dulce de Vitoria?

Guisell’s Dulce de Vitoria from Colombia

5 from 1 vote
Recipe by Guisell Gómez Cuisine: Colombian
Servings

6 to 8

servings
Prep time

5

minutes
Cooking time

1

hour 

Ingredients

  • 1 1 vitoria squash, peeled, chopped, about 3 cups

  • 1 cup 1 panela, unrefined cane sugar, cut into chunks

  • 4 sticks 4 cinnamon

  • 8 8 cloves

  • 4 cups 4 water

Directions

  • Place the panela, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in the water. Bring to boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, until the panela dissolves in the liquid.
  • Add the peeled and chopped vitoria squash to the panela–cinnamon–cloves water. Bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour. The dulce is ready when the squash has just about dissolved into a puree, with just a few solid pieces remaining.
  • Serve alone, or with a piece of Colombian cheese or queso fresco. And don’t forget the glass of cold, fresh milk, says Guisell.

Notes

  • Vitoria squash is also called curbita pumpkin, fig-leaf groud and chilacayote squash. If you can’t find any of these in your local Latino or Asian market, substitute with another squash: chayote. Use 4 to 6 chayotes, peeled and chopped, to replace 1 vitoria squash.
  • To cut a cup’s worth from a rock-hard rectangle of panela—unrefined sugar cane—go ahead: use a hammer if a knife won’t cut through, half-jokes Guisell.

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