Gorditas mean “little fat ones” in Spanish, and during the holidays Santa may not be the only one who fits in that category. Calorie counting aside, gorditas are a great traditional Mexican dish that is made year round in Latino households. Cousin to the chalupa, sope, Salvadorean pupusa, and the Colombian/Venezuelan arepa, these corn meal cakes are typically flattened by hand and fried until golden brown. Cutting a slit into the fried masa cakes will allow you to stuff your gordita with different types of cheeses and meats for a savory meal.
For a special holiday twist to this fried little treat, we have paired the cakes with another traditional Latin ingredient, piloncillo, to make them sweet and dessert-worthy.
Piloncillo is unrefined whole cane sugar. Boiling off the sugarcane juice will allow the sugar to set into these hard blocks. The hard packed sugar is ideal for shipping and has allowed the sugar to make its way throughout Central and South America with great ease. Known to Mexicans as piloncillo, much of Latin America calls this sugar panela (incidentally, to Mexicans panela is a type of cheese).
We can now find piloncillo in truncated cones or hockey puck disks at most of our local grocery chains. Stored properly in an airtight container, they can last a very long time. Columbian homes will typically have a piedra de la panela, which is a hard river stone, to use in breaking down the sugar. For this recipe, I hand grated 2 ounces of piloncillo and got a nice pre-holiday workout. If you need to cut some corners, you can either grate the hard sugar days in advance or buy it already ground in specialty markets. Be warned, placing chunks of this rock-hard sugar in your plastic food processor is great way to break your appliance.
These cakes are best eaten within 15 minutes of frying. I know that sounds tough when you include prep, cooking, frying, and entertaining your guests with a number of other dishes, but it really is not. Pre-make all your masa and flatten in disks ahead of time. Keep tightly wrapped in the freezer and when you are ready to serve dessert, simply begin heating your oil. Finish the dish at your dinner table with a flurry of powdered sugar or serve alongside vanilla ice cream. These puffed sweet corn cakes are the perfect treat for any holiday feast.
Gorditas de Piloncillo (Sweet Fried Masa Cakes)
Yields 1 Dozen
1 2/3 cups masa harina
1 cup hot water
2 ounces finely chopped piloncillo
3 ounces cotija cheese
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Vegetable oil for frying
Optional: powder sugar for dusting
1. Place the masa harina in a large mixing bowl. Mix the masa harina with the hot water. Stir until thoroughly combined.
2. Add in the piloncillo, cheese, and cinnamon. Mix to evenly distribute. (It might be easier for you to knead the dough on a lightly floured surface.) If the dough is too dry sprinkle in a little hot water. If the dough is too wet sprinkle in some masa harina.
3. Begin heating your oil in a heavy pot.
4. While the oil is heating, divide the dough into 12 balls. Lightly flatten the balls in to 1/8 inch thick discs. This is easily accomplished by pressing between two small squares of wax paper with your hands or very gently use a tortilla press.
5. You are ready to fry the gorditas once the oil has reached 360°F on a candy thermometer. Carefully place a gordita in the hot oil, using a wooden spoon/silicon spatula turn frequently until golden brown. Depending on the size of your pot, you can do a couple gorditas at a time, but be careful not to overcrowd the pot.)
6. Carefully remove from the oil and place on paper towels to drain.
7. Dust the hot gorditas with powder sugar and serve.