Arepa (Dominican Cornmeal and Coconut Cake)

Arepa (Dominican cornmeal and coconut cake)

Dominican arepa is a cornmeal and coconut cake, traditionally prepared in an iron pot on top of red-hot coal. A metal lid is placed on the pot, then more coal is put on the lid. This led to the expression “como la arepa: fuego por arriba y fuego por abajo” (like an arepa, fire underneath, fire on top), meaning being in a crossfire.

Haven’t we all found ourselves in a similar situation at a point in our lives?

Arepa (Dominican cornmeal and coconut cake)

There is another Latin American dish that has the same name but have little to nothing else in common with the Dominican arepa: Venezuela and Colombia share a savory tortilla they call arepa and which is served filled with meat, cheese and vegetables. It is also popular in the Dominican Republic where we call it Venezuelan arepa.

Plain “arepa” is a name reserved in the DR for the cake we all know and love.

Arepa (Dominican cornmeal and coconut cake)

Arepa is a popular dish, and loved by all, but is considered one of those poor man’s dishes: the ingredients are inexpensive, the cooking does not require great expertise, and it can be made with basics utensils.

Unfortunately (?) few of us urban dwellers happen to have a traditional coal-burning stove. Assuming you are not equipped to bake it the traditional way, for this recipe we will use a regular oven.

Arepa (Dominican cornmeal and coconut cake)

This is a very dense cake, as no leavening agent is added, it is best served with a warm drink of your choice.

Buen provecho!

Aunt Clara
Arepa (Corn meal and coconut cake)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6-8 large portions
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (for buttering baking pan)
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 cups of cornmeal
  • 3½ cups of whole milk
  • 2½ cups of coconut milk
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ cup of raisins (I used dark and blondies)
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1½ cup of brown sugar
  1. Butter a 2½ quart [2½ lt] baking pan (see notes).
  2. Heat oven to 350 ºF [175 ºC].
  3. Mix butter, cornmeal, milk, coconut milk, salt, raisins, cinnamon and sugar.
  4. Stir the batter with a spatula and pour into a 3 qrt [3 lt] cooking pot and heat on the stove over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid sticking.
  5. When it breaks the boil, lower the heat and continue stirring until it thickens to yogurt-like consistency. Remove the cinnamon sticks.
  6. Pour batter into the pan and bake until you insert a knife in the center and it comes out clean (30-40 minutes). It should be golden brown on top. Let it cool down to room temperature before removing from the pan.
  7. Serve with hot cocoa or coffee.
To obtain the traditional pot-shaped cake, I baked it in a enameled cast iron pot. The disadvantage of this is that you might have a hard time getting the cake out in one piece. If you don't want to take that risk, bake in a nonstick baking pan, the tallest you have.

Cornmeal is slightly finer than polenta. If you find it impossible to find cornmeal, use polenta, but be aware that the texture will be a bit "grainier" than with regular cornmeal.

Vegan? This egg-free cake is very easily adapted. Use milk substitute (soy, almond, rice, etc.) of your choice and neutral oil (corn, soy) instead of butter.

This post and recipe have been re-written to add measurements in Metric and Imperial system, and standardize the recipe.
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{ 25 comments… add one }

  • luciana November 3, 2014, 4:00 PM

    this recipe was great.

  • Dee October 2, 2014, 3:06 PM

    love it

  • viannel feliz August 12, 2014, 8:25 AM

    thank you

  • mayrin April 2, 2014, 4:46 PM

    I thought this recipe for arepa used evaporated milk instead of whole milk?? Can someone please get back to me?

    • Jenn April 16, 2014, 2:55 PM

      I’ve made it with evaporated milk, coconut milk, and condensed milk but no sugar.

    • Catherine July 27, 2014, 5:35 PM

      Yes Mayrin, the old recipe was: 3 cups of evaporated milk + 3 cups of water + 1 cup of coconut milk (I had it printed before). The rest of the ingredients are the same.

  • Ivette March 25, 2014, 4:50 PM

    I just made this but added a tsp of vanilla & it is delicious. Better than the one I buy at the bodega. Thanks for sharing your recipes

  • Susan February 17, 2014, 2:39 AM

    For the coconut milk, should I use the canned kind? Or can I use the boxed kind that’s made for everyday drinking as a replacement for milk? (Like this: ?)

  • Christine February 9, 2014, 11:36 AM

    In the ingredients you say coconut milk, do you mean the coconut milk out of the can or the coconut milk that is used as a milk alternative?

    • Lisa March 8, 2014, 1:41 AM

      I have made this almost 10 times now. Sometimes ingredients vary depending on what I have in the pantry. I’ve used both canned and milk substitute coconut milk. I like canned better. I’ve also added shredded sweetened coconut along with the raisins, which we really like. As a side note, I’ve used Goya, Ibera, and Martha White cornmeal. MW was a little finer ground so the texture was a bit smoother. Subtle variations but all were delicious.

      • Aunt Clara March 12, 2014, 11:55 PM

        A million thanks for the suggestions, especially about which brands you used.

  • Lisa December 28, 2013, 4:57 PM

    This is really good. Reminds me of eating farina after it has cooled. My husband couldnt wait and cut into it before it cooled completely so it ended up a bit messy but still very good. Now I’m onto my second one. I left it at room temperature last time but wondering if it should be refrigerated? Thanks for great recipes!

  • Catherine November 5, 2013, 6:36 AM

    My mouth is watering right now….

  • Cheap Gucci Purses Wholesale November 2, 2013, 12:04 AM

    that was a great article! Cheap Gucci Purses Wholesale

  • Medha October 30, 2013, 11:59 AM

    Love your recipe, I am going to try this soon- it looks delicious and moist!

  • Pilar-Enmicocinahoy October 30, 2013, 9:24 AM

    Que rico este postre, lo quiero probar.

  • magda October 30, 2013, 8:43 AM

    this cake looks great! i have to do it! :)

  • Luimi Cerano October 29, 2013, 2:14 PM

    I have not lived with my mami for almost 15 years, but your recipes remind me of her cooking. I get nostalgic tasting the recipes and its unbelievable how many of these recipes my mom made growing up

    Nice work on the website and my god bless you and your family.

  • El bocado de la huerta October 29, 2013, 10:49 AM

    Vaya que buena pinta que tiene tu dulce.
    Un saludito

  • Cristiana October 10, 2013, 8:10 AM

    There are various different arepas, so when looking for the recipe you have to reseat the culture background because then U’ll end up with something completely different. There are Colombian Venezuelan Mexican and so forth. Our version Dominican is more of a dessert
    An arepa (Spanish pronunciation: [aˈɾepa]) is a flatbread made of ground maize dough or cooked flour prominent in the cuisine of Venezuela.[1] It is eaten daily in those countries and can be served with various accompaniments such as cheese (cuajada), avocado, jelly or jam, or (especially in Venezuela) split and used to make sandwiches. Various sizes, maize types, and added ingredients are used to vary its preparation. It is similar in shape to the Mexican gordita and the Salvadoran pupusa. Arepas can also be found in Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Canary Islands.

  • bori1972 March 13, 2011, 12:39 PM

    I am Puerto Rican & I love this dessert (comfort food)!!! My ex mother in law used to make it. When she moved back to DR I used to buy it at the "bodega". Then I found Aunt Clara's website & the recipe for this dessert. I was thrilled to say the least, So I made it & it tastes awesome!!! Thank you Aunt Clara. I love this website along with all the dominican cooking.

  • calypso January 8, 2011, 4:01 AM

    i have a question about the flour. in my country we have 3 diferente types of corn flour and non of them look like anything used in any other country. how does the corn flour, that should be used here, look like? is that the very fine white corn flour, or is it the fine yellow one, or the yellow one with tiny pieces of corn? these are the types i can find around where i live at the moment…i hope it's one of those…..

    • Aunt Clara March 21, 2014, 10:14 AM

      You can use polenta or similar, as described in the recipe. Good luck!