West Indian Cassava Pone
This dish has to be one of my favorite West Indian desserts. After my first bite of this sweet, gelatinous “cake”, I became obsessed, which culminated in some serious lessons in Trinidadian cooking from my husband’s Aunt Cherry who lives in Port-of-Spain. I’m one of those nervous bakers – constantly peering into the oven to make sure a cake is rising well, and my heart is in my throat during the moment of truth unmolding. When she and I made this together, she didn’t even use measuring cups! An unnerving confidence in her years of cooking that she could eyeball the right texture…
In different West Indian counties, I’ve seen pone made with root vegetables – cassava here but also carrots and sweet potato, always with coconut, and some with pumpkin and even raisins. What’s fascinating is that there’s a soul food iteration of pone (I’ve mostly seen the sweet potato kind) that they make in the South. Would love to cross compare!
There are dozens of pone recipes out there. I am one of those that absolutely love the moist, gummy texture, but find that it can be a bit too dense at times (thus in some West Indian countries it’s called “heavy cake”). So I modified the traditional recipes a bit to make the texture a bit lighter here but still with that gelatinous bite. I also made it thinner, to be eaten like a dessert bar rather than a cake. Evaporated milk gives a bit of silkiness, and the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and, yes, black pepper that delicious pumpkin pie-like spice. I also saw that some Southern pone recipes use molasses, so I incorporated a few tablespoons for some beautiful, caramelized sweetness and a deeper color. Heat it and throw a scoop of ice cream on top for serious decadence. Enjoy!
Yields 1 9” x 13” x 2” 3-quart baking dish
2 cups grated cassava
1 ½ cups grated fresh coconut
1 can evaporated milk
3 tbsps unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ tsps vanilla extract
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tbsps molasses
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsps ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350° F.
In a bowl, whisk together coconut milk, melted butter, sugar and molasses until sugar is dissolved.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and black pepper and whisk to combine. Add wet ingredients a little at a time to the dry ingredients whisking until batter is smooth (don’t overmix). Fold in grated cassava, and coconut.
Transfer mixture to a greased dish and bake @ 350° F for 45 minutes. The edges should look brown and starting to separate from the baking dish. Remember that, if you are using a different baking dish from what I specified, cooking time will vary. Cool completely before cutting into squares and serving.