Piloncillo is a form of Mexican sugar that is dark brown in color. It is known for its strong molasses flavor, though this comes from the sugar being relatively unrefined rather than from adding molasses to the sugar. Piloncillo can be substituted for dark brown sugar in most recipes. It is particularly good in recipes where a strong molasses flavor is desirable, such as in gingerbread, but in Mexico it’s also the primary sugar used in many beverages and in classic desserts like flan.
You can find piloncillo, which will taste different than American brown sugar, in a number of Latin grocery stores, or in regular stores located in areas with a high Latino population. It is frequently sold in cones, each weighing about 8 ounces (226.8 g). It can also be packed in bricks, and sold either for home or commercial use in this fashion. It’s fairly easy to mold piloncillo because lack of extensive processing makes it somewhat moist. It can dry out over time, if not stored suitably. Some people make tiny one-ounce (28.35 g) cones as a treat or as individual serving sizes for use in sweetening drinks like tea or coffee
In fact, piloncillo is very similar to the way that sugar cones made during the early American Colonial era were structured, and are still made in reminiscence of that time. However, while you may pay a lot to get pre-made colonial sugar cones today, piloncillo especially purchased in Mexico or at a South American or Mexican grocery stores is usually much less expensive. Also note that when you’re looking for this sugar, it may be called panela instead of piloncillo.
Some consider piloncillo to be inferior rough sugar because it is “under processed.” Others praise this factor, since some, especially in the health food industry, now regard normal processed white sugar as not very healthful and something to be avoided. Panela along with other forms of raw or unrefined sugar may become more common in the US if people believe it as a more healthful substitute for brown sugar.
If you can’t find piloncillo, you can basically approximate its taste in recipes that call for it. For every 8 ounces (226.8 grams) of plain American dark brown sugar, add a tablespoon (14.79 ml) of molasses to get a similar tasting sugar. With this mix, you can use molds and actually create little cones of sugar, which can be very pretty and decorative.