Friday, February 14, 2014

Cinnamon-Rum Guava Delight

Cascos de guayaba con queso crema
Happy Valentine's Day! If you want to surprise your beloved with a deceptively simple dessert that's lusciously voluptuous and seductively exotic, try my cinnamon-spiced, rum-kissed version of a classic Cuban dessert. Granted, it may not be the most beautiful dessert to look at, but its true beauty is in the richness of the tropical flavors and the interplay of the different yet complementary textures.

Cascos de guayaba con queso crema, or guava shells (halves) in heavy syrup with cream cheese, is a popular treat and simple dessert enjoyed by Cuban families for generations. You can find cans or jars of guava shells at Latino grocery stores, specialty food markets, and sometimes even at large supermarkets in metropolitan areas with a significant Mexican, Caribbean or Latin American population.

Ingredients for cinnamon-rum guava delight
I grew up eating Goya brand canned guava halves (shown on far right), which are usually a deep brick red in color and about the size of very large peach halves. When all the local stores were out of the canned guavas, I found a large jar of Mexican guavas in heavy syrup (shown in first photo on right). The Mexican guavas were yellow in color and much smaller, about the size of little apricots of plums. They were also whole, which meant I had to slice them in half and remove the tiny seeds in the middle (similar to tomato seeds, but hard and crunchy like pomegranate seeds - don't worry, if you miss some they're edible although annoying). The flavor was equally good for both varieties of guavas, so either will work for my Cinnamon-Rum Guava Delight. For ease of preparation, however, I recommend the already halved & seeded canned guava shells.

I recommend preparing the guavas either early in the morning or the night before to let them "steep" in the refrigerator all day or overnight, and then assembling the dessert right before serving. The spiced guavas will keep for days in the fridge and can also be enjoyed over ice cream, warm brie, cheesecake, bread pudding, sliced pound cake, and even with hot cereals like oatmeal. Although the following recipe serves 4, you can serve two "double-size" servings if you're feeling especially decadent. You can also double the recipe for 8 servings.

1 can large guava shells OR 1 1/2 cups small (Mexican) guava halves
All of the heavy syrup from the canned guava OR 1/2 cup heavy syrup from the jar of small guavas
1/4 cup dark spiced rum (I use Kraken brand)
1 large (at least 2" long) cinnamon stick
1/2 package (8oz) cream cheese

Place all ingredients except the cream cheese in a sauce pan or small pot and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and keeping at a simmer, for 20 to 30 minutes -- the longer the guavas simmer, the deeper the cinnamon flavor will be. (In the photo below, the small Mexican guavas are shown on the left and the larger canned guavas are shown on the right.)

guava shells with cinnamon & rum

Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, cut the cream cheese into 4 even slices or 2 large chunks if making only two servings, and place in individual small bowls. Remove cinnamon stick from refrigerated guavas and discard. Spoon spiced guavas and syrup over the cream cheese in the bowls, then serve.

Zestfully yours,

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