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?
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 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.
This is a very dense cake, as no leavening agent is added, it is best served with a warm drink of your choice.
- 1 tablespoon of butter (for buttering baking pan)
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 2 cups of cornmeal
- 3 1/2 cups of whole milk
- 2 1/2 cups of coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 cup of raisins (I used dark and blondies)
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- Butter a 2 1/2 quart [2 1/2 lt] baking pan (see notes).
- Heat oven to 350 ºF [175 ºC].
- Mix butter, cornmeal, milk, coconut milk, salt, raisins, cinnamon and sugar.
- 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.
- When it breaks the boil, lower the heat and continue stirring until it thickens to yogurt-like consistency. Remove the cinnamon sticks.
- 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.
- 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.