Finding authentic local desserts is a piece of cake. Literally! So, let's explore Aruba's distinctive after-dinner delights called bolos, which is the Papiamento word for cakes.
Bolo cashipete (cashew cake)
Cashew cake is one of the most popular local celebratory concoctions – it is a dense mixture of sweet cashew paste layered between vanilla butter cake and topped with cherries, lime confetti, and of course, cashews!
Bolo pistachio (pistachio cake)
It's a light-green, creamy, and dreamy mélange of pistachio pudding and white cake base, topped with green frosting; it is also often served on special occasions.
Bolo ponche crema (eggnog cake)
Arubans also love liquor in cakes, and the rich spirit of ponche crema (a special eggnog liqueur essential at Christmas celebrations) makes an offbeat base for a decadent combination of coffee, rum or cognac, ladyfinger filling, and whipped cream.
Bolo boracho ("tipsy" cake)
Boracho means "drunk", though locals prefer to translate this into the more genteel term "tipsy". This dessert is generally a heady mix of vanilla cake and almond essence, sometimes layered with a sweet prune sauce and topped with a shot of rum. Occasionally other spirits like orange or cherry brandy are added to make it even more liquor-laden!
Bolo preto (black cake)
Now, if any cake should be christened "drunken cake", bolo preto is that cake! The dried fruits it contains are so well macerated in alcohol that when properly sealed, the cake can last up to six months! Unlike traditional Christmas fruitcakes, the Caribbean version is distinctly darker (preto means black) and the fruits are pureed making it infinitely moister. Typically it's a mix of dried fruit like prunes, raisins, currants, dates, figs, and the like, steeped in oodles of cognac, cherry cordial, and wine for at least two days (preferably much longer); this is combined with flour, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, and many eggs. Most families have their own secret recipe – and are very tight-lipped about sharing it! Though wedding and special-occasion cakes usually consist of lesser fruitcakes and/or pound cakes, bolo preto is the treasured finale to an event. Traditionally, because this cake takes so long to make and its ingredients are so expensive (a one-pound cake can cost $200 to make!), it's made in advance and sliced into tiny slivers, which are wrapped decoratively for guests to take home as cherished mementos. To receive a personal bolo preto as a gift really is quite special.
Sweet white coconut cakes and rich chocolate bolos are also big here, and Dutch flavor influences like applegebak (apple cake) and boterkoek (butter cake) also abound. Many dining establishments create award-winning fusion cakes with Caribbean twists on the classics, and some local spots offer a bolo di dia on their menu, which means cake of the day. If you come across this in your culinary travels, do give it a try; you won't be disappointed. And if you want to take home the ultimate bolo souvenir, seek out an authentic rum cake made with locally distilled rum and pre-packaged for travel.
Super sweet, plain, creamy, or sinfully spirit- and calorie-laden, the choices are legion. So whether you want a little slice of continental heaven or you prefer a big, plump piece of authentic island paradise... on Aruba you can always have your cake and eat it too!