piloncillo: photo by

Piloncillo, Mexican Brown Sugar

Piloncillo is an unrefined sugar from Mexico produced in "cone" shapes of various sizes.

Article by: Barbara Bowman

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General Information

The name piloncillo refers to the traditional cone shape in which the sugar is produced. It is also know as panela and panocha. There are actually two varieties of piloncillo produced one is lighter (blanco) and one darker (oscuro). The cone size can vary from as small as 3/4 ounce to as much as 9 ounces per cone. The cones shown in the picture above are about 3" tall.

How To Use Piloncillo

Piloncillo is very hard compared to the brown sugar you purchased in a box at the local grocer. Chop the piloncillo with a serrated knife. You can substitute piloncillo in any recipe calling for dark brown sugar.

Traditional Uses For Piloncillo

Cafe de Olla - An earthy mixture of Viennese-roast coffee, cinnamon, aniseeds, and piloncillo (Mexican dark brown sugar).

Champurrado - A special hot chocolate thickened with masa and flavored with piloncillo and aniseeds.

Piloncillo Pralines
1 1/2 C. sugar
8 to 9 oz. piloncillo, softened and chopped
1/2 C. plus 2 T. whole milk
6 T. butter
1 1/2 C. pecan pieces, toasted
1/2 tsp. ground canela (cinnamon)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Grease a 24-inch sheet of wax paper. Set it on several thickness of newspaper.

Combine all ingredient except the vanilla extract in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil slowly so that the piloncillo melts and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage, 238°F.

Add vanilla extract, remove the pan from the heat, and continue stirring as the candy cools. When the mixture becomes creamy and cloudy, and the pecans remain suspended while stirring, spoon the mixture onto the wax paper. You can make pralines of any size. Work quickly, before the candy hardens in the pan. The pralines set as they cool. 

These are best the day they are made, but they will keep for several days if tightly covered. Use leftover pralines by crumbling them over ice cream. You can also pour the praline mixture into a pan and cut it like fudge.

Substitutions And Storage


If your recipe calls for piloncillo you can substitute 1 cup dark brown sugar and a couple of teaspoons of molasses.


You can store piloncillo indefinitely. It should be tightly wrapped and stored in a cool, dry spot in your cupboard or pantry.
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