Pen Patat (Pain Patate) – The Haitian Dessert Made from a Vegetable
“Look, it’s a pie.”
“No, that’s bread.”
“No, that’s pudding!”
And then they wondered, “What is it made of?”
“What! It’s a dessert made from a vegetable?”
That’s all we can say when it comes to pen patat.
Though made from sweet potatoes, this Haitian dessert is a sweet dish served at most restaurants and loved by many.
History of Pen Patat
Try as you might, but you won’t find any information on the origin of pen patat. We can only make assumptions when it was created, which, if we are right, was around thousands of years ago. Domesticated sweet potatoes made an appearance in the 2500 BCE in the Caribbean.
So, in a way, you can say that your ancestors grew up eating this dessert. The reason why pen patat doesn’t get much attention is that it’s a simple sweet dish. The dish’s star is the sweet potato, accompanied by bananas to make the bread a little bit dense.
How Pen Patat Became Sweet Potato Bread
The people of the Caribbean cultivated sweet potatoes. The vegetable is radiocarbon-dated to 1210 CE in the Cook Islands. A hypothesis is that through vine cutting, sweet potatoes were brought to Polynesia, who went to South America and carried back its traces to Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island. Zenú, people from the Pacific coast, now known as Colombia, transported the sweet potatoes to the sub-region of Oceania, and then the vegetable came in contact with the Europeans.
We believe sweet potato was an oops find that resulted in a popular Haitian dessert.
Pen patat uses sweet potatoes, which are known as boniatos or batatas. The interior of these potatoes is white with a violet skin. Some recipes use yams or orange potatoes. While these potatoes will work in the recipe and even taste good, the dessert might not look appetizing.
- Sweet Potatoes (2.5 lbs)
- Banana (3 ripe)
- Ginger ( 1 Tsp – freshly grated)
- Milk (1 cup) – Evaporated carnation
- Nutmeg (1 Tsp)
- Sugar (1/3 cup)
- Salt (½ Tsp)
- Coconut Milk (½ cup)
- Raisins (3 Tbsp) – You may also use dried cherries
- Cinnamon (1 Tsp)
- Butter (1 Tbsp)
- Star Anise (2)
- Vanilla Essence (1 Tsp)
- Vanilla white “essence noyau” (1 Tsp) – If you can find it
- Lemon Zest (1 Tsp – freshly grated)
- Wash and peel all the sweet potatoes. Grate the sweet potatoes with a grater or with a food processor. Add all the grated sweet potatoes to a large bowl.
- Peel the bananas and crush with a fork or in the food processor and add to the bowl.
- Peel fresh ginger roots, crush and add to the bowl.
- Grate fresh nutmeg and cinnamon sticks in the bowl. You may also use nutmeg and cinnamon powder from the store.
- Add the salt, coconut milk, and stir with a large spoon.
- Add the milk and stir some more.
- Add the lemon zest and mix.
- Add the sugar and mix well.
- Add the vanilla and mix.
- Add the mixture to a pot and cook on medium heat for a total of 20 minutes. Stir the mixture often to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Aim to stir the mixture every two to three minutes. When the mixture is done cooking, add 2 Tbsp of raisings and stir.
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Grease an 8-inch x 8-inch pan or a 24-inch pie pan and pour in the mixture.
- Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of raising on top of it. You may add more or fewer raisings. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for one hour. Insert a knife or a toothpick in the pen patat and see if it comes out clean. Cook a little bit longer if it’s not clean, but it should be ready by then.
- Allow the pen patat to cool off for a few hours before serving. The longer, the better. You should be able to hold the pen patat in your hand like a piece of bread.
*Serves up to ten people.
* Prep time: 2-2.5 Hours.
You can top this sweet potato bread with whipped cream. However, it’s generally served by itself. The dessert can be eaten hot or cold. Some people say the older pen patat gets, the better it tastes. You can serve it to your guests on the weekend, even if you made it at the start of the weekday.
So, why not serve it at your next family dinner and keep all the members guessing what it is made of as they devour it.