Arepa is a common food name throughout Latin America, but Dominican Arepa is a name reserved for the cornmeal and coconut cake we all know and love.
What is arepa? Well, the answer will very well depend on who you ask, and where they came from. Let's start with Dominican Arepa.
What's Dominican arepa?
In the Dominican Republic, Arepa is a dense, unleavened cornmeal and coconut cake traditionally prepared in a dutch oven on top of hot charcoal. A metal lid is placed on the pot, then more red-hot charcoal is put on the lid. This led to the expression "como la arepa: fuego por arriba y fuego por abajo" (like arepa: fire underneath, fire on top), meaning being in a crossfire, or unsustainable situation.
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. A savory version known as Arepa Salada is also popular as a breakfast or dinner dish.
More names for arepa
In most of the country, this name is reserved for the Dominican Arepa cake we all know and love. But to complicate matters, in the Cibao and Northwestern regions, this dish is called "torta" --standard Spanish for "cake"-- or "toita", as I'd like to joke, in my best feigned Cibaeño accent. In this area of the country, the name arepa is reserved for what in the rest of the country is known as Yaniqueque.
Are you sufficiently confused? I don't blame you.
There are several Latin American dishes that bear the same name but have little to nothing in common with the Dominican arepa.
Colombian and Venezuelan arepas are a savory flatbread that is served filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables. This is also relatively popular in the Dominican Republic where we call it Venezuelan Arepa.
About our recipe
As we mentioned above, the traditional Dominican Arepa de Maiz recipe calls for a charcoal-burning stove. Unfortunately (?) few of us urban dwellers happen to have an old-fashioned anafe around. Assuming you are not equipped to bake it the traditional way, for this recipe we will use a regular oven.
Different homes will have different combinations of spices and ingredients for this dessert, but the recipe will still remain fairly similar between homes. If you have a different version, we'd love to hear it.
Dominican Arepa Recipe (Cornmeal and Coconut Cake)
- 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 enough that if you scoop up a spoonful and you flip the spoon upside down it does not fall. Remove the cinnamon sticks.
- Pour batter into the pan and bake for 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.