By Christina Morales
The origin story of one of Peru’s most popular desserts is almost as romantic as its name — suspiro a la limeña, or “the sigh of a lady from Lima.”
More than a century ago, the story goes, the wife of poet José Gálvez Barrenechea made him a custard similar to dulce de leche and topped it with meringue. He loved the dish so much that he gave it its evocative name.
It refers to the sound you might make “if your teenage heartthrob walks by, and you sigh,” said Charles Walker, a history professor at the University of California, Davis. “It’s a thunderbolt strike of love.”
The dessert, also known as suspiro de limeña, is considered by many the poet’s way of showing his deep admiration for the capital of Peru; it is now a staple on restaurant menus and for home cooks. It’s made with a can each of evaporated and sweetened condensed milk, and the meringue is flavored with red port.
“It’s an exquisite dessert that could become a guilty pleasure because it’s so rich,” said Martin Allen Morales, a cookbook author and the former owner and chef of several Peruvian restaurants in Britain, including Ceviche in London. The dish most likely has international influences, including from the Moors, North Africans and Italians, he said. “It’s so seductive in terms of the aromas it carries.”
But the details of this dessert’s origins get lost in countless retellings. The first reference to the story was published in a 1994 Peruvian cookbook, “El Perú y Sus Manjares,” said Rosario Olivas Weston, a Peruvian food historian. The book was a compilation of recipes from the author’s family and friends, who included the famous poet and his wife.
Pastry chef Rocio Pereira was a teenager in Lima when she started experimenting with the dessert, adding more egg yolks to tone down the sweetness. In 2009, she met the owner of a Miami restaurant group and started selling suspiro a la limeña for its restaurants. She has since upgraded from her home kitchen to a commercial operation, where she makes about 400 cups of suspiro a la limeña daily for the group and other restaurants in the area. Before serving, she said, the dessert is topped with fresh meringue.
“The suspiro is our flagship dessert,” Pereira said in Spanish. She also prepares pickup orders through her Miami bakery, Delizzia.
At his Kousine restaurants in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the chef and co-owner, Danny Kou, likes to add other flavors to the suspiro with fruits such as passion fruit. He even once added chicha morada reduction, a Peruvian drink made with purple corn, to the meringue.
“It’s a dessert I learned to make at home,” Kou said, “and it brings back good memories of standing on a chair to reach the kitchen counter and make the suspiro with my grandmother.”
Suspiro a la limeña (caramel pudding with port meringue)
Recipe from Gastón Acurio
Adapted by Christina Morales
Suspiro a la limeña, sometimes called suspiro de limeña, is one of Peru’s most popular desserts. The dessert may have originated in Lima, Peru, more than 100 years ago. According to lore, the wife of José Gálvez Barrenechea, a Peruvian poet, made him a custard dessert topped with fresh meringue that was spiked with port. The story goes that he loved the dessert so much that he decided to name it “suspiro a la limeña,” which translates loosely to the sigh of a lady from Lima. This recipe, adapted from “Peru: The Cookbook” (Phaidon, 2015) by Gastón Acurio, a renowned Peruvian chef who opened restaurants such as La Mar and Tanta, uses evaporated and condensed milks to make a sweet base that’s reminiscent of dulce de leche. The dessert takes some patience, but the results are sublime.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
8 large egg yolks, plus 2 egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cup/120 grams granulated sugar
1 cup/250 milliliters red port
Ground cinnamon, to garnish
1. Pour the evaporated milk and condensed milk into a medium heavy saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently with a flexible spatula, until the mixture has thickened to the texture of the condensed milk, darkened and the bottom of the pan can be seen when you draw your spatula across it, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.
2. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract to a medium bowl; whisk to combine. Whisking as you go, slowly add a steady stream of the hot milk mixture until combined. Divide among 6 to 8 dessert glasses; refrigerate until needed. (The custard base can be refrigerated for up to 4 days before serving, but the meringue topping is best prepared just before eating.)
3. Place the sugar and port in a small pan over medium heat and cook, without stirring, until liquid reduces by about half and a syrup forms, about 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites in a bowl until stiff and tripled in volume; they’ll get foamy then start to look shiny and creamy. Drizzle the port syrup into the egg whites in a thin stream, beating all the while, until the inside base of the bowl is no longer warm to the touch.
5. Top the chilled custard with the port-infused egg whites. Dust with ground cinnamon to finish.