Tis the season for mantecados, polvorones and alfajores. A Spanish family isn’t without their celebrated Christmas cookies. These seasonal, crumbly, soft cookies aren’t around for very long so unless one is in Spain, one must make.
Mantecados, and their powdery like cousin, polvorones are made using only natural ingredients. From October to January they are handmade in Estepa, a province of Sevilla, the Southern most region of Spain. Hundreds of thousands of these sweet cookies are made during the Holiday season. It’s these cookies that are left to fill the shoes of all the boys and girls by the Three Wise Men on the evening of January 6. A traditional delicacy for children and adults alike.
My sisters and I fell in love with these rich, powdery shortbread cookies when we were tiny things. Mama Sabe and Papi Tian would send us the most caring Christmas package from Spain every year filled with gifts and love. Homemade dresses, pencils, erasers and packages of polvorones and mantecados. It was the remembrance of years before that had my sisters and I ripping the package open, tearing it apart, to take the first powdery bite of a polvoron or the first crumbly sensation of a mantecado. When the last cookie was gone, we knew it would be another year before the precious package from Spain would arrive.
Today, although the package no longer comes from Spain, I commence the season with homemade traditional Spanish mantecados and polvorones. My sisters come crashing through my door to once again take that first bite as we reminisce about our Abuela, Mama Sabe, and Abuelo, Papi Tian, and the love they had for their grandaughters en los Estados Unidos.
For challenge #8 of Project Food Blog we were asked to create a sweet or savory baked good using pumpkin. First of all, thank you so much to everyone that has voted for me and supported me on this adventure. I honestly didn’t think I’d advance thus far and am honored to be standing with such an amazing group of bloggers.
Since it’s Christmas time, I wanted to make a rendition of the traditional Spanish mantecado. In Spain, pumpkin is not an ingredient generally used in baked goods. So, I thought this would be a fun challenge to create my own version. If any of my Spanish friends are reading… por favor, dime lo que pensais… ahem.. ahem.. Jose
When I think of pumpkin, I wanted to come up with something to highlight it’s flavor and yet complement it with something deep… spice. I decided on pumpkin chai enhanced with roasted hazelnuts.
The main ingredient in any traditional mantecado is pork lard. In order to create a light and crumbly texture, you must use pastured pork lard. Substitutions have been made and in my opinion will never taste authentic or have that soft crumbly texture that you are looking for. Avoid buying any lard from a grocery store shelf as it’s been hydrogenated, filled with chemicals. Instead, it’s the perfect time of year to call your family farmer and ask for rendered pork lard. It’s the season for homemade rich and flaky pie crusts so it’s a good chance they’ll have some in stock. If not, ask for back fat or leaf fat from the hog and render (make) it yourself. Next week I’ll have a tutorial on rendering your own lard.
As a do it yourselfer, this was the approach I took. I was able to render sweet leaf lard to use in my Spanish mantecados. Leaf lard is the fat found in and around the kidneys and organs of the hog. It’s the cleanest and purest or the crème de la crème for baked goods.
Another main ingredient in a mantecado is powdered sugar. Since I no longer use refined sweeteners, I was ecstatic that I was able to pulverize pure evaporated can juice in my blender to make my own unrefined powdered sugar. It worked like a dream.
Evaporated cane juice is a healthy alternative to refined sugar. While both sweetners are made from sugar cane, evaporated cane juice does not undergo the same degree of processing that refined sugar does. Therefore, unlike refined sugar, it retains more of the nutrients found in sugar cane.
With my main ingredients in hand, I was able to create a scrumptious cookie that took on the traditional texture and crumb yet was able to capture new flavors that my sisters and family swooned for.
Pumpkin Chai Spiced Mantecados with Roasted Hazelnuts – A Traditional Spanish Christmas Cookie
- 8oz home milled soft white wheat berries (If you are not home milling your grains, I would suggest to use unbleached white flour as whole wheat flour from the shelf can be heavy, creating a dense cookie)
- 6oz pastured pork lard
- 2oz pumpkin puree
- 4 oz powdered sugar
- 4oz ground roasted hazelnuts
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
Step 1: Roast Hazelnuts
Heat your oven to 425 degrees. Place your hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast for 15 minutes. Once roasted, the skin of the hazelnuts will crack and slide off. Remove the skins and allow to cool. Once cooled, in a blender or food processor, grind the nuts to a fine mixture.
Step 2: Roast your pumpkin
With your oven still at 425 degrees, cut your pumpkin in half and deseed. Place both halves face down in a baking or casserole dish and roast for 45 minutes or until tender. Once roasted, remove the flesh from the pumpkin and puree in a blender or food processor.
Step 3: It’s time to make our mantecados!
Lower the oven temperature to 350F. An essential part to an outstanding mantecado is toasting your flour. Place the bowl of flour into the oven and toast for 15 minutes. With a fork, toss the flour and toast for an additional 15 minutes. Remove and cool.
Once the flour has cooled, sift the toasted flour.
In a stand mixer, cream together the powdered sugar and lard with the paddle attachment.
Add the pumpkin and blend for an additional 2 minutes.
Gather your spices of ground cloves, ground cardamom, ground cinnamon and ground ginger.
Mix with the remaining dry ingredients. Flour, ground hazelnuts and baking powder.
A tablespoonful at a time, blend in with the wet ingredients.
You’ll know your dough is ready when it forms together and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Your dough should be wet, slightly sticky and easy to mold. If it’s too dry, add a bit more lard. If it’s too sticky add a bit more flour.
Place your dough on a slightly floured surface and roll out to a square. About 6″ x 8″.
Cut into 12 large or 24 small variations of traditional oblong, circular or square shapes.
If you have a 2 year old wandering… make sure to place high enough to avoid licking.
Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes. Let cool for five minutes and immediately transfer to a cooling rack.
Wrap in individual tissue papers and store in an air tight container.
These traditional Spanish cookies are a gem and I’m sure will become a favorite in any household.
Once again, thank you so much for your support on project food blog. From 680 bloggers I am amongst 24 continuing. If you enjoyed this post and would like to see me continue onto Challenge #9, I would appreciate your vote
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Until then, Buen Provecho!