One of my favorite Guyanese snacks is decadent cassava pone; a popular snack that can be made at home or purchased at a West Indian bakery. Cassava or yuca root (read more about it here), is grated and mixed with coconut, spices, milk, and sugar then baked until golden-dark brown. My uncle, Junior, is the pone man in our family. Whenever he baked a tray, he would always swing by our house to drop off our share. I'd find myself picking at it little by little. In part to savor, but also because it was too heavy of a snack to just gobble up in one sitting. Pone is a popular dessert among many tropical countries that produce cassava root, so don't be surprised if you find varying recipes for this online. Today I'll show you my way of making this absolutely decadent snack. I would say my recipe is a combination of both my mother and uncle's version.
About the Texture
When writing recipe posts, I always consider, "how can I describe this dish to someone who has never tried it before?" Cassava pone has a dense and gummy texture, which does not resemble what one would think of when they hear "cake." There is no crumb to this, I'd say there's more of a jelly-like consistency; it's just something you have to taste to experience. The starch given off by the cassava during the cooking process is what aides in the gelatinous nature that's become iconic to pone.
I particularly LOVE the center part of the pone- where it is most sticky and gooey. I really enjoy the texture, as I pull pieces off little by little to savor. I'm well aware that I am in the minority on this one because of the responses I received from a photo I posted on instagram a couple of months ago. I thought that was the end of my relationship with my instagram followers, haha! People couldn't believe I preferred the center over the edges- almost anyone you ask will tell you they are edge lovers and I totally get why. The edges are more caramelized, resulting in a delightfully chewier and sweeter experience, but hey, we like what we like.
The Way I like It
We all have our preferences for food and when it comes to pone, I know what I want. I prefer it made with only cassava and a handful of grated coconut. Leave out the pumpkin, carrots, and raisins; I'll enjoy that version on my next trip to Trinidad. Lastly, black pepper is a must; gotta have that tiny bit of burn after each bite. Did I mention I love a thicker pone?
I used four long, medium sized cassava roots. When I weighed this cassava in the store it was 4lbs. After peeling, chopping ends off and discarding of any rotten pieces, the weight naturally decreased. After grating it, it resulted in 4 ½ cups which is what is needed for this recipe. If you have a little more or less than 4 ½ cups, it should work just fine. Pone is very forgiving when it comes to measurements.
Chop into smaller pieces. Run a knife gently down the center to make a slit. Insert knife under the slit and lift away the skin.
Grate cassava on the finer side of your grater.
Mom's Traditional Grater
Here's a photo of the grater my mom uses to grate coconut. Although there are different options these days, she insists on grating coconut this way. The way it works is, you sit on the wooden plank and hold the coconut with the blade in the crevice and move it in a back and forth motion. The blade scratches the coconut meat and it drops into a bowl on the floor. The coconut turns out very fine and fluffy. I think there is such beauty in doing things the traditional way, but as a stay at home mom of two toddlers, this is just too much work for me, so I use a standard 4-sided grater.
Back to the recipe. Add sugars, spices, coconut, and butter. I used frozen grated coconut and just added a handful to the bowl. After mixing everything well, pour milk in last.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 ¼ hours. Top will be golden to slightly dark brown.
For the Edge Lovers
The Middle Pieces
Apparently, I'm the only one who will eat these middle pieces, haha!
- 4 ½ cups grated cassava root (about 3lbs when weighed with skin on)
- ½ cup grated coconut (optional)
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 6 tbsp softened butter, use non-dairy for vegan option
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp mixed essence or 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 ½ tsp almond extract
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 3 cups evaporated milk (2, 12oz tins) or coconut milk for vegan option
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Peel and grate cassava and coconut, set aside in a large mixing bowl. Frozen grated coconut may be used. Thaw completely before adding.
- Add sugar, butter, spices and extract. Mix well.
- Pour milk and mix to combine.
- Pour mixture into a greased pan of choice. See notes for sizes
- Bake about 60 minutes to a little over an hour.
For a thinner pone use either a 9in pan, standard aluminum foil pan, or 9x12 pan. Bake for less time, around 55-60 min. For a small pan, like 8x8, pone will be thicker and need more baking time.