Sweet corn cake (pastel de choclo), one of Cuzco’s distinctive traditions, keeps crossing borders. It is easy to make and, as a result, in different parts of the world people are learning to make it. They learn from the internet or collections of recipes where many times they have pictures of how to prepare this delicious dessert.
Although spreading around the world, this cake is Cuzqueño. The other day, I was walking down one of the beautiful streets of Colonial Cuzco, Calle Nueva, I saw many clothing stores, restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses. The street was filled with color. Many people were strolling down it. But a cart on one corner of the street stopped me. It had a sign that said “pastel de choclo” and I saw the cake in a small, glass, display case.
The woman working the cart told me, with a smile, that she had mad the cake. I couldn’t resist. I had to buy a piece and let its contagious flavor of sweet corn carry me away.
This is the type of sweet corn cake we eat in Cuzco, but a friend told me they also eat something with the same name in Bolivia and Chile. Called pastel de choclo, as well, their sweet corn cakes are not a dessert as ours are, but are salted and served as meals. They are made from ground sweet corn along with a spicy filling of meat or chicken.
In Cusco our pastel de choclo, our sweet corn cake, is different. Here it is a soft, sweet and tempting cake that is both nutritious because of the sweet corn from our region, but also sweet.
To eat the corn of our high valleys, whether just cooked in hot water or toasted is always a treat for the palate at the same time it is an ancient custom from our Pre-Columbian ancestors.
But those are not the only ways we inherited to eat sweet corn. A recipe for sweet corn cake, pastel de choclo, has also passed down through the generations in families, communities and among groups in fusion in our world.
When I was a boy, in our home my mother would prepare this cake. I would help her to peel the fresh sweet corn, since it has a thick covering on each grain here in Peru. With the sweet corn of North America that is not necessary but hear it is, since the kernels of our corn are quite large. When I was done peeling the corn my mother would let me go out to play with my friends. A sweet corn cake to share with my family awaited my return.
My mother, when I asked her about the cake, reminded me that as a child I loved pastel de choclo. She said that I would ask her to save me a piece to take with me to school.
This sweet cake is openly consumed in Cuzco. You can find it in the markets, in many pastry shops, and sometimes even in street-side carts that make their way throughout the city.
It can be eaten throughout the day. At breakfast, as a snack, or to accompany lunch or dinner as a dessert.
Corn plants are imposing. They grow very tall in our Sacred Valley and produce ears with large-sized kernels. But they are also imposing because of the delicacy of their flavor, not too sweet and not too starchy. It is they with their incomparable flavor that makes pastel de choclo a soft and sweet part of Cuzco’s historical gastronomy and its every day.