Has a co-worker offered you a crumbly treat this winter? Discover the story behind mantecados and polvorones, Spain’s favorite Christmas treats!
Here in Spain people don’t usually do much baking. Their pastry selection is rather limited compared to that of France or the US, and is especially heavy on whipped cream, soft meringue, and sweets made of egg yolk (like flan, crema Catalana, tocino de cielo, etc.). This is good news for my waistline, but quite frustrating when I want to eat something calorie filled and delicious! Add that to the fact that apartments here don’t always come with ovens (we currently are stuck with a toaster oven) and baking can be virtually impossible.
What are mantecados and polvorones?
Mantecados and polvorones can come in a variety of flavors — popular versions include almond, orange, chocolate and lemon. It’s common to find a heaping plate of store bought mantecados and polvorones just about everywhere at Christmas time– the doctor’s office, the teacher’s lounge, your mother-in-law’s living room… If you’re lucky there will also be a bottle of hard liquor to accompany these sweet treats (and to help you wash them down!).
The History Behind Mantecados and Polvorones
It’s likely that both of these treats have their roots in Andalusia, which is a region highly influences from Northern Africa. While sweets during the time of Moorish rule would not have had lard as an ingredient, it’s possible these cookies go even further back and were made at some point with butter or olive oil.
But today Andalusia is still the most famous place for mantecados and polvorones, and the town Estepa in the province of Seville is especially well known (there’s even a Museum of the Mantecado!). Most likely they were a convent sweet (special sweets baked by nuns) in the 16th century, and when demand spread, so did production. Today nearly every family in Estepa has some involvement in the industry!
But are they any good?
After a great many samples, I’m still not really sure if I like them or not. I think that, being deprived of other choices, basically anything sweet tastes good when December rolls around! Last year, convinced that I really did like the mantecados that filled the supermarket shelves, I brought a big box home to my family for Christmas. However, I didn’t even touch them and neither did anyone else. This brought me to the conclusion that they don’t quite compare to the homemade baked goods and cookies we make in my family for Christmas!
Try this recipe for mantecados and make up your own mind. You can always use vegetable shortening if pork lard is hard to come by!
I think it’s sad that baking at home isn’t so common here in Spain. It’s such a fun hobby for so many people and brings some great memories to mind. And the results are always delicious!