Mexican Candied Pumpkin

Pumpkin (winter squash) simmers in a lovely piloncillo or brown sugar syrup with whole spices… This Mexican Candied Pumpkin (or dulce de zapallo) topped with a generous scoop of vanilla yogurt, ice cream, or crème fraìche makes a light and delicious finish to any meal, but especially Halloween and Thanksgiving!

Mexican Candied Pumpkin in spiced syrup simmered in a red cast iron skillet with a striped napkin.

I love Thanksgiving because it’s a holiday that is centered around food and family, two things that are of utmost importance to me.

~~ Marcus Samuelsson

👩🏻‍🍳 Tamara Talks – About Thanksgiving and Pumpkin Dessert Recipes

I echo that sentiment. Growing up, we had no less than 30-40 aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents (as well as the usual siblings and parents) around the table. Times have changed.

Our family is spread across the continent, and this year we will be three around the table – husband Mark, son (and professional chef) Gerritt, and me. I may be a little sad, but nonetheless, the joy of planning and preparing the Thanksgiving meal will prevail. The opportunity to reflect on our many blessings will not be diminished by the size of our “party.” 

In years past, the blog focused on a Thanksgiving menu as in Herb and Citrus Brined Turkey Breast and a Cozy Thanksgiving Dinner for Two. You may also remember my Herb and Apple Brined Roasted Turkey?

Pumpkin Desserts or Pumpkin Pie?

Do you need another pumpkin pie recipe? I didn’t think so! I opted, instead, to bring you an autumnal pumpkin dessert that isn’t pie. Is that sacrilegious? I have to plead ignorance because I don’t love pumpkin pie. 😱

Mexican candied pumpkin may be titled dulce de zapallo or dulce de calabaza. Zapallo and calabaza translate to pumpkin, calabash, squash. I like to include a Spanish title (as I’m working on my Spanish), so I apologize in advance if I missed “the mark.” Please leave a (kind) comment below if I did! 😀

🎃Making Mexican Candied Pumpkin

Choosing Pumpkins

Have you noticed the variety of pumpkins now available in markets? It’s not just huge pumpkins for jack o’lanterns anymore! 

For this recipe, I chose a small carnival squash. They average 12 to 17 centimeters (4.75 to 6.75 inches), making them a perfect size for this dish. Their bright colors (orange, green, yellow) are so visually appealing, and don’t we “eat with our eyes?” You may substitute many other varieties of squash/pumpkins (sweet dumpling, acorn, kabocha, cinderella, etc.)


While you peruse the produce section for the perfect pumpkin/squash, consider heading over to the Latin foods section for piloncillo. Yes, you may substitute brown sugar with a bit of molasses, but it will not have the same depth of flavor. Piloncillo is as minimally-processed as sugar can be, and its complex flavor is rum-like, a bit earthy, and caramelly. Is that a word? 

Candied Pumpkin in Spiced Syrup - Ingredients prior to making the dish... pumpkin, piloncillo, spices, mint, crema.

At any rate, I highly recommend piloncillo. I wouldn’t recommend grating it by hand however! It is rock hard. I have a powerful Cuisinart food processor, and I fed chunks of piloncillo into the chute and through the grater attachment. An 8 ounce cone makes about 1 1/2 cups of finely grated piloncillo sugar.

Whole Spices

You will also need some whole spices. They simmer in the sugar/water syrup while the pumpkin/squash cooks. The spices will be removed prior to serving, leaving behind their wonderful flavors! I use cinnamon stick, star anise, and cloves.

A wedge of candied pumpkin in a brown ceramic bowl with cream over top.
  • Cut the pumpkin/squash in wedges (I did 8), and scoop the fiber and seeds from the center of the wedges. Arrange them in a deep skillet or Dutch oven. Pile the sugar in the center, add the whole spices, then pour the water over the sugar.
The assembled Candied Pumpkin before cookin in a red cast iron skillet just before cooking.
  • Simmer the squash until tender.. The sugar, water, and spices will become a luscious syrup. The skin of the squash is candied, and you can eat it along with the flesh if you like. That’s all there is to it!

Top your Candied Pumpkin in Spiced Syrup with your choice of vanilla yogurt (I used whole fat vanilla yogurt), crème fraîche, or vanilla ice cream. Garnish with a dusting of fresh grated nutmeg and/or a chiffonade of fresh mint.

Thanksgiving Signature
Candied Pumpkin in Spiced Syrup in a bronze bowl close up.

Mexican Candied Pumpkin (Dulce de Zapallo)

Pumpkin (or other winter squash) simmers in a piloncillo and water syrup with whole spices, then gets topped with yogurt or ice cream, fresh grated nutmeg, and a chiffonade of fresh mint. An easy Latin inspired treat!
5 from 2 votes

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Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Additional Time 5 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Desserts
Cuisine Mexican/Latin
Servings 4 servings
Calories 300 kcal


  • 1 small pumpkin - cut in wedges, fiber and seeds removed
  • 1 ½ cups grated piloncillo or brown sugar with 2 teaspoons of molasses - see notes
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt


  • Arrange pumpkin wedges in a deep skillet with a lid.
  • Add the sugar to the center of the photo as shown in post (or similar).
  • Arrange whole spices on the mound of sugar, then pour water over top. Sprinkle with salt.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a full simmer. Cover. Stir the liquid occasionally.
  • Simmer 30-40 minutes until pumpkin is very tender but not soft.
  • Remove whole spices.
  • To a shallow bowl, add 2 wedges of pumpkin, and spoon syrup over top.
  • Top with vanilla yogurt, ice cream, or creme fraiche as desired.
  • Garnish with fresh minute and fresh grated nutmeg.
  • Enjoy!


Piloncillo is widely available in the US. I cannot speak for other countries (other than Latin countries which are sure to have it). As I mentioned in the post, the flavor is unique, but you can substitute brown sugar with a bit of molasses. Find piloncillo on Amazon.
Cooking time will vary depending on the thicknesses of your wedges. It should require 30-40 minutes.
Macronutrients (an approximation from are based on 1 cup of raw pumpkin, and 1/4th of the syrup (that is pretty generous!). I also included 2 ounces of full fat vanilla yogurt with each serving.


Serving: 2wedges | Calories: 300kcal | Carbohydrates: 73g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 1g

NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

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  1. I’ve never found a “Candied” dish I didn’t like. Your candied squash is a new one for me and I love the idea of topping it with ice cream or yogurt – Two interesting and different options, but sounding fabulous.