Dulce de zapallo, also known as zapallo con miel de panela, is an Ecuadorian dessert that consists of squash or pumpkin simmered in a syrup made with panela/piloncillo or hard brown cane sugar and spices. This dessert uses simple ingredients and is very easy to make. I am one of those people who like sweets, but I get overwhelmed if it is too sweet. The sweetness of the candied pumpkin or squash is neutralized when served with a slice of fresh cheese; it that provides a nice contrast to the sweetness of the squash and the syrup. You can use a fresh farmer’s cheese or queso fresco or fresh mozzarella.
If you are in the Seattle area I recently discovered a local artisan cheese maker called Samish Bay Cheese that makes a cheese very similar to quesillo – a very fresh cheese we have in Ecuador-, they call it Ladysmith and it is very creamy and goes perfect with this dulce de zapallo. They also make a delicious queso fresco. They have a stand at some of the local farmers markets and are also at Pike Place Market on Fridays and Saturdays.You can serve the dulce de zapallo as the main dessert or also an introductory dessert or as part of a cheese course. I also like to use dulce de zapallo or candied squash as a replacement for pumpkin puree in desserts like pumpkin pie or pumpkin tart. It also works great for pumpkin flan or as a filling for pumpkin empanadas. The spiced pumpkin panela syrup is also delicious drizzled on top of pancakes/waffles, cakes and ice cream.
The type of squash used to make this dessert in Ecuador has a green colored skin –very similar to the acorn squash – but larger, sometimes they have a long shape or sometimes they are very round, similar to a pumpkin; also, the flesh is yellowish orange, closer to a pumpkin or a butternut squash.Since the varieties of squash here are different I tried making the dulce de zapallo with different types to see which works best, I tried pumpkin (back in the fall they were in season) as well as butternut squash and acorn squash.
The dulce de zapallo made with pumpkin was very good –should probably call it dulce de calabaza. The acorn squash was a disappointment, it lacked flavor and didn’t absorb the panela and spices compared to the butternut squash which had great flavor, perfect consistency and a nice color also. So my recommendation is to try this with butternut squash or pumpkin (when they are in season). I also recommend buying an organic squash or pumpkin for this dessert since you will be cooking the skin.
Step by step preparation photos for dulce de zapallo or candied squash in spiced syrup