The holiday season in Spain is full of delicious food and lots of sweets. Spanish Christmas desserts are everywhere -- brightly wrapped mantecados and polvorones are on offer in all of the supermarkets, delicious turrones and colorful Kings' Cakes line the pastry shop windows, and grandma is most likely preparing something homemade too.
If you have a sweet tooth, you don't want to miss this list of my top 15 Spanish Christmas sweets. Which will you try first?
Note: If you are US or Canada based, you can find many of these delicious sweets from La Tienda, one of the country's best Spanish food shops. They ship all over the US and to Canada, and if you purchase using my link, I'll earn a small commission at no cost to you!
What Are Spanish Christmas Desserts?
When I first moved to Spain I didn't understand their Christmas sweets obsession. Everywhere I went people would offer me store-bought cookies, called mantecados or polvorónes, sometimes with a shot of liquor on the side! This literally happened everywhere, from my dentist's office to the high school teacher's room where I was working!
I grew up baking my own Christmas cookies and, at first, didn't understand why in Spain you wouldn't do the same. I noticed that most Spanish Christmas desserts came from specialty shops and bakeries -- why?
I've come to see that this makes sense -- why not support your local baker, who likely spends hours to make these seasonal delights? That way you are free to spend more time cooking the main meal and shopping for holiday gifts!
If you're still confused about what Spanish Christmas desserts are, here is a list of the most common (and delicious) ones you'll find.
My Top 15 Spanish Christmas Sweets
These Spanish Christmas cookies originate in Andalusia, but today are common all throughout Spain during the holiday season.
The name mantecado comes from the word manteca (pork lard), which is the key ingredient in these delicious bites. These popular sweets date all the way back to the 16th century when there was a surplus of grain and pork lard that led resourceful bakers in the town of Antequera to invent mantecados. Their base ingredients are simply flour, lard, and sugar -- and usually egg and some cinnamon and/or sesame seeds.
Today, there are a huge variety of mantecados to choose from. They're likely the most popular of the Spanish Christmas sweets on this list!
Some of the most common mantecado flavors are:
- Mantecado de artesanía: These are the classic homemade mantecados, made the traditional way with just a bit of cinnamon and sesame seeds.
- Mantecado de almendra: These mantecados are usually made with ground almonds and may also have chopped almonds on the surface.
- Mantecado doble de canela: These double cinnamon mantecados are a delicious recipe from Antequera.
- Mantecado de chocolate: These are chocolate flavored mantecados. They use cocoa powder for their flavor.
- Mantecado de limón: These mantecados add lemon rind to the dough for a delicious lemon flavor.
- Mantecados de coco: A mantecado with coconut, typical from the Andalusian town of Estepa.
While these sweets are technically a type of mantecado, polvorones are so popular (and delicious) they deserve the number two spot on this list of Spanish Christmas sweets! Most Spaniards could not imagine Christmas without polvorones.
The name polvorón comes from the Spanish word for dust, polvo, and once you try a polvorón you'll understand why. They are super dry and become a powder in your mouth as soon as you eat them (if not earlier!). That's why many people accompany them with a nice liquor or sweet wine.
What is the difference between mantecados and polvorones?
Both use pork lard (manteca), sugar, and flour as the main ingredients, but polvorones also use ground almonds, and the flour to make them is toasted before using. Polvorones don't use eggs (mantecados often do) and generally use powdered sugar instead of granulated.
Where to buy mantecados and polvorones
If you are in the US or Canada, you can buy excellent mantecados and polvorones from La Tienda. I recommend these polvorones (it's what my mother-in-law has at the holidays!) and the same company also makes a great sampler pack if you want to try multiple types of sweets. If you're in Spain -- literally any supermarket or specialty shop will have them! And in the UK I've been recommended Basco Fine Foods by trusted readers.
Many of the Spanish Christmas desserts mentioned here either originated in convents or have been made popular by nuns. Hojaldrinas are no exception. These delicious Christmas sweets are typical of Seville, Spain, and use a mix of lard and butter, or simply use butter (which I prefer). I don't have the recipe posted (yet!) but this one (in Spanish) is excellent.
4. Roscos de vino
This is another Spanish Christmas cookie that is popular in Andalusia. Made with wine and dusted with powdered sugar, the name comes from the shape -- a rosco, or ring.
If you're in the US or Canada, La Tienda sells authentic roscos de vinos here.
5. Alfajores de Medina Sidonia
The first time I tried these I was at my in-law's house in Cadiz, making my way through her heaping platter of Spanish Christmas sweets that comes out after dinner.
I'd already tried the different flavored mantecados, had a bite of a marzipan figure, and a piece of turrón. I reached for this wrapped log-shaped treat, not knowing what to expect...
Inside was one of the most delicious Spanish Christmas sweets I've tried! This sweet is traditionally made with honey, almonds, hazelnuts, flour, breadcrumbs, and lots of spices -- clove, sesame, cinnamon, and anise. The texture is thick and chewy, and the flavor is packed with spices. They say this recipe goes back at least 500 years, so you know it's good!
If you're curious to try them, you can buy them here.
Originating from the French bûche de Noël, Spain's version of the Yuletide log is just as delicious. This curious Christmas cake is made to look like a log ready for the fire -- in reference to the pre-Christian tradition of burning a large log to celebrate the winter solstice.
Marzipan has a long tradition in Spain and is another of the Christmas sweets on this list that is traditionally made in convents. Some of the most famous places in Spain to buy marzipan are the convents of Toledo, where cloistered nuns have been making homemade marzipan for centuries.
The original recipe is pretty simple -- equal parts ground almonds and sugar and some egg to bind. At Christmastime, local bakers make beautiful marzipan figures and scenes to decorate their shop windows -- a delight to see (and taste!).
Apart from mantecados, the other most typical Spanish Christmas dessert is turrón. But what exactly is turrón?
Some translate it as nougat but, in reality, nougat is only a small part of what turrón is today. I like to translate it as a candy bar. And today there are countless varieties. I'll explain some of the most traditional and popular types of turrón below:
- Turrón blando (de Jijona): This delicious turrón uses ground almonds that form a paste -- almost like sweetened almond butter. Mixed with sugar and honey, this very soft nougat is my favorite.
- Turrón duro (de Alicante): The classic hard turrón comes from Alicante, where almonds, honey, egg whites, and sugar come together in a rock hard nougat that is addictive. It should have over 60% almonds.
- Turrón de yema quemada: This delicious turrón has its roots in Catalonia, where it is burned on the top just like a Crema Catalana. The base is very similar to marzipan. It's super sweet -- but delicious!
- Turrón de chocolate: This is basically a great quality chocolate bar -- often with almonds or hazelnuts throughout. But nowadays there are countless varieties to choose from.
Where to buy turrón
Just like mantecados and polvorones, you'll find turrón just about everywhere in Spain come December. If you're in the US or Canada, La Tienda also sells some great turrones. My personal favorites are the classic soft turron, this brand of hard turron, and this gourmet chocolate, almond and sea salt turrón -- so delicious! If you can't decide the famous Turrons Vicens company also sells a turrón sampler of the most classic flavors.
9. Pan de Cadiz
Pan de Cadiz is a special Spanish Christmas dessert from, you guessed it, Cadiz! It is something you see decorating shop windows at this time of year, as it is just as beautiful as it is delicious. Pan de Cadiz is basically a stuffed marzipan sweet. Delicious homemade marzipan is filled with candied fruit, candied spaghetti squash (cabello de angel), and sweet egg yolk cream (crema de yema).
10. Churros and chocolate
Not technically a Spanish Christmas sweet (we eat churros and chocolate all year round), but this time of year is really the most fitting for this delicious snack. Families are usually out and about seeing the Christmas lights or shopping, and they stop for churros and chocolate as an afternoon merienda (snack).
Luckily, this is a treat that's easy enough to make at home. So why not try it this year?
This Andalusian holiday sweet is a type of fried dough that is made into a bar and covered in a honey-based syrup with lots of spices and nuts. It's a lot of work to make, so definitely something to seek out at a good pastry shop!
12. Roscón de Reyes
The famous Kings' Cake is an oval-shaped sweet yeasted bread, similar to brioche. It's the classic cake served on the Epiphany in Spain (Kings' Day). It can be served plain or sliced in half and filled with a layer of sweet whipped cream– perhaps even with chocolate whipped cream.
The bread itself is topped with candied fruits, dried dates, and anything else sweet and colorful! When it’s put together, the cake is said to represent the crowns worn by the Three Kings who visited the baby Jesus in the manger.
Get the recipe: Spanish Roscón de Reyes
13. Intxaursalsa Vasca
This unique Basque dessert is a walnut cream pudding. Intxaursalsa (which in Basque means “walnut sauce”) has been a typical Christmas dessert in the Basque countryside for more than 150 years. It is a dessert made with local walnuts, which are in season at this time of year. The walnut cream pudding is made from crushed walnuts, milk, sugar, and cinnamon. It’s one of those desserts that warms you right up and makes the perfect end to a special meal.
14. Yemas de Santa Teresa
Another famous convent sweet, these are egg yolks that are preserved in sugar. When ready to eat, they are one of the creamiest and sweetest Spanish desserts you will find! If you want to buy them during the holidays, you'll have to visit a convent and get them from the traditional turn-style from the cloistered nuns!
Last but not least (for today!) are pestiños. I love these, as my own mother-in-law makes them each year for Christmas. Pestiños are simply a fried dough. The dough is made with sesame seems and anise, then fried in olive oil, and covered in a honey glaze. They are of Muslim origin, a glimpse into Spain's rich past.
Get the recipe: My homemade pestiños
These are fifteen of the top Spanish Christmas desserts, but of course, there are many more! Every family has its own traditions and some make the classic Spanish desserts (like flan, crema Catalana, or leche frita) for dessert at the holidays. Whatever you make (or buy!) it's sure to be delicious.
And if you're thinking about dessert, don't forget dinner! Check out my top Spanish Christmas recipes here.
Did I miss your favorite Spanish sweet? Leave it below!