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Dulce de zapallo: caramelized pumpkin or squash in spiced syrup

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.

Ecuadorian dulce de zapallo recipe

En Español

This Latin 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. It’s very common in Ecuador to make these type of caramelized or candied desserts using fruits/vegetables. On their own they are very sweet, but the traditional way to serve them is with a slice of fresh cheese. The sweetness of the candied pumpkin or squash is neutralized when served this way. It provides a nice contrast to the sweetness of the squash and the spiciness of the syrup. You can use fresh farmer’s cheese or queso fresco or fresh mozzarella.

Caramelized spiced pumpkin recipe

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 sometimes at Pike Place Market on weekends. You can also visit their farm in Bow (WA). At the local latin grocery stores (as well as PCC and Whole Foods) you can also find a queso fresco brand called Don Froylan, made in Oregon, which also one of my favorites.

Butternut squash cooked in piloncillo and spices

You can serve the dulce de zapallo as the main dessert or also as 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.

Candied squash recipe

The type of squash used to make this dessert in Ecuador has a green-colored skin –very similar to a kubota squash – but larger with a shape similar to an imperfectly round pumpkin. 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, butternut squash, and acorn squash.

Candied pumpkin or dulce de calabaza/zapallo

The dulce de zapallo made with pumpkin was very good –should probably call it dulce de calabaza. The acorn squash wasn’t as good, 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. So I recommend trying 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 cook the skin.

Ecuadorian dulce de zapallo recipe

Dulce de zapallo or candied squash in spiced syrup

Dulce de zapallo or calabaza is a dessert made with squash or pumpkin simmered in a syrup of panela or piloncillo (hard brown cane sugar) and spices.
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Course: Dessert, Sweets
Cuisine: Ecuadorian, Latin American
Keyword: Butternut squash, Candied squash, Caramelized squash in sweet spiced syrup, Dulce de zapallo, Panela, Piloncillo, Pumpkin, Squash
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes


  • 1 medium squash or small pumpkin about 2 lbs – organic if possible
  • 1 lb panela or piloncillo broken into chunks – can substitute with 1.5 cups of dark brown sugar
  • 5 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cloves
  • 3 all spice peppers
  • ~ 3 cups water

To serve:

  • Fresh cheese slices can use quesillo or queso fresco or fresh mozzarella


  • Wash the squash well, slice it open and remove all the seeds and membranes.
  • Cut the squash into medium sized pieces and place them in a large pot with the chunks of panela and spices.
  • Add the water and bring to a boil over medium heat, boil for about 30 minutes with the lid on.
  • Uncover and simmer for about 1 hour or until the syrup thickens.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Can be served warm or room temperature with a slice of fresh cheese. Can also be used as a filling for empanadas and tarts or pies.

Step by step preparation photos for dulce de zapallo or candied squash in spiced syrup

Pumpkin to made candied pumpkin in spiced syrup
Acorn and butternut squash to make dulce de zapallo or candied squash
Pumpkin slices to caramelize in panela syrup
Squash or zapallo slices
Squash with panela or piloncillo
Cooking squash or pumpkin with piloncillo
Dulce de calabaza or candied pumpkin
Dulce de zapallo or candied squash/pumpkin in spiced syrup
Candied squash with fresh cheese
Candied pumpkin
Dulce de zapallo o calabaza
Dulce de zapallo or candied squash in syrup
Candied pumpkin or squash recipe

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  1. Hola Layla, what did you serve it with in the picture? or what would it be served with traditionally in Ecuador? I imagine something tangy to cut the sweetness. I’m planning to make a similar recipe for an assignment on a product development for culinary school and the can it. In Uruguay where im originally from, we make it, but we use unslaked lime (cal viva) in the water and cut it in cubes, so it gets a “seared” firm outside with a soft puree like inside that bursts when you eat it.

    1. Hi Gaston – In Ecuador we serve it with a fresh cheese called quesillo or with queso fresco. It helps balance out the sweetness and also gives that sweet and salty contrast.

  2. I need to make this for my daughter’s 4th grade Mission report…there are 32 kids in the class, so I need to figure out how many this recipe serves, before I can determine how many times to multiply it . Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Laura – It’s very sweet, so usually just a small serving or tasting will do. One squash should be enough for about 15-20 small portions, so for your daughter’s class I would recommend doubling the recipe. If you have any leftover you can use it as a filling for empanadas or even as tart/pie filling.

      1. Thank you!! Also, I have to make it tonight but not serve until noon tomorrow at school, so it won’t be warm. More like room temp. Oh well. Should I just leave it in the pot on the stove tonight or refrigerate it, and reheat tomorrow would you suggest ? It’s making my kitchen smell amazing right now !!

  3. Hi
    I am so excited to have found your postings. I am from Peru and live in Seattle so it is great to be able to have access to the places you recommend to get the ingredients (if necessary). Looking forward to your future entries and this does look delicious. Thanks!

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