Learn the Correct Use for Piloncillo Cones in Mexican Cooking

Baking ingredients
Pilocillo is a potent ingredient in authentic Mexican cuisine. John Block / Getty Images
  • 01 of 04

    What Is Piloncillo?

    Piloncillo Image (c)2009 Chelsie Kenyon licensed to About.com.

    Piloncillo, whose name means "pylon" for its conical shape, is a raw form of pure cane sugar that has not been processed. Because it has not been processed, it has a golden brown color and a deliciously rich flavor similar to molasses, although it does not have any molasses in it.

    Unlike brown sugar, which sometimes is made by coating refined white sugar with molasses, piloncillo is pure sugar with no additives. You can use piloncillo anywhere you would use other sweeteners.

    Piloncillo is...MORE sold by the ounce in a cone shape in blanco (light) and oscura (dark). You can find small 2-ounce cones all the way up to large 8-ounce cones. Piloncillo is sometimes listed in a recipe in pounds, as in "1 pound of piloncillo" which sounds like a lot, but it is just 2 of the 8-ounce cones.

    The measurements for piloncillo are always in weight. The cones make it easy to measure since they are pre-formed in common weights for recipes. Do not break up the cone and then measure it by the cup (sometimes referred to as 8 ounces) or you will have an inaccurate amount.


    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    How to Use Piloncillo

    Piloncillo Image (c)2009 Chelsie Kenyon licensed to About.com.

    If you don't have piloncillo on hand, you can substitute 1 cup of dark brown sugar and 1 tablespoon molasses for each 8- to 9-ounce cone.

    Some delicious Mexican recipes using piloncillo include capirotada, a bread pudding, and atole (a maize-based hot beverage).

    But before you use piloncillo in a recipe, you must break it up. There are two good ways to do this -- by grating or chopping.


    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Chopping Piloncillo

    Piloncillo Image (c)2009 Chelsie Kenyon licensed to About.com.

    Chopping piloncillo is one of the quickest ways to break it up.

    Use a sharp, serrated knife in a slicing motion to scrape and chop the piloncillo. Some larger chunks may break off during this process which you can further chop, or leave the chunks in depending on what the recipe is for.

    If you are making a syrup, the chunks will dissolve down. If you are making something like atole, you will want minimal chunks as the piloncillo won't have as much time to dissolve.

    If the piloncillo is too...MORE hard, you can soften it by microwaving it for 10 to 20 seconds to make it easier to work with. 

    Continue to 4 of 4 below.
  • 04 of 04

    Grating Piloncillo

    Piloncillo Image (c)2009 Chelsie Kenyon licensed to About.com.

    For very fine piloncillo, use a grater. Rub the piloncillo over the surface of the grater to grind it down.

    This method is effective when a finer piloncillo is needed. It does take a little more time than chopping it.

    Remember, if the piloncillo is hard or difficult to work with, microwave it for 10 to 20 seconds (possibly even longer for extremely hard piloncillo) to soften it.