Thanks for your question Doug V. in Minnesota.
You are actually referring to piloncillo. It is a sweetener used in Mexican cooking. It is known for its strong molasses flavor and can be substituted for brown sugar in cooking. 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 means “little pylon” and is named for its conical shape. It is pressed into a cone shape and becomes very hard.
Why is it cone shaped you ask? It is the cone shaped draining process to dry it that makes the shape.
Recipes like tinga de pollo use it in the sauce to add a complex sweet taste to offset the spiciness of the dish. It is also used in moles, arroz con leche (rice pudding) and café de olla (clay-pot coffee).
To use it, you can microwave it for a short period to soften it. If you try to cut off a piece with a knife you will find it very hard to do and risk slipping with the knife. You can also try grating it to take what you need.It can be found in the seasoning section or vegetable sections of the grocery store.
Why not try it in some Mexican recipes as well as using it in some of your own.
Thanks for the question and happy discovering the food and ingredients of Mexico.
Do you have a favorite recipe that used this? Let us know in the comment box below.