Pumpkin Chai Spiced Mantecados with Roasted Hazelnuts – A Traditional Spanish Christmas Cookie

Posted · 46 Comments

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 o Miriam 😉

 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.  It only takes a couple seconds and you can sign on using your facebook account.  I thank you in advance in casting a vote my way.  Also, I appreciate all of your comments and time spent me with at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa.
Until then, Buen Provecho!

46 Responses to "Pumpkin Chai Spiced Mantecados with Roasted Hazelnuts – A Traditional Spanish Christmas Cookie"
  1. Simply Life says:

    Oh wow, those cookies look great and beautiful photographs!

  2. Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite says:

    Diana, I love that you stay true to your blog and Spain in all your PFB posts. Congratulations – these look wonderful. Good luck!

  3. jose manuel says:

    Que ricos tienen que estar, te han quedado divinos.


  4. Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen says:

    These cookies are awesome Diana! I want to make these for our holiday cookie assortment this year! I love that you found a way to make your own powdered sugar! I will have to try that out!

  5. Belinda @zomppa says:

    So glad you are still in this! These definitely look good enough to lick – smart thinking!

  6. Andrea says:

    Great recipe!

  7. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist says:

    What a wonderful recipe and you chronicle it so beautifully with the photographs, Diana!

  8. carmenology says:

    I have to say, after living in Spain for many years, I have never seen Chai-flavoured mantecados. Although these look great :)

  9. Amelia PS says:

    Diana: ay que ricos!!! I am DEFINITIVELY going to make this for the holidays. Hazelnut must bring a wonderful rich and nutty flavor. So great that you always bring Spanish traditions and dishes to us!!!

  10. Brie: Le Grand Fromage says:

    hooray – you busted out the lard! deliciousness! these look incredible! Christmas cookies from other cultures are always my favorite, so thank you for helping me expand my list. i'm very tempted to start licking my screen, too. good luck! :)

  11. wada says:

    Fantásticos! me encantan..
    Un saludo!

  12. Fresh Local and Best says:

    I've always wondered the what made leaf lard special, this post explains it all. Oh these cookies must have been fabulously delicate, crumbly and sweetly spiced.

  13. Chandelle says:

    I love the wonderful stories you share with your recipes! I wonder if I could adapt this for gluten-free… looks so good!

  14. girlichef says:

    These are absolutely gorgeous, Diana…and I always learn something new from you, thank you! I'm so excited for you and you know you'll continue to get my vote :)

  15. Chow and Chatter says:

    wow these looks amazing, and cool pics of the ingredients your a star blogger (hope you win!)

    love Rebecca

  16. Miriam says:

    It sounds like a very interesting twist on the traditional mantecados… and with supernatural ingredients! Great recipe.

  17. Kaley says:

    When my Spanish almost-mother-in-law first told me she used pork lard in her cookies, I was surprised. Shouldn't have been, though! It is Spain, after all, and what's Spain without pork and its derivatives? Nada.

    Looks good!

  18. Artistta says:

    great post and those cookies look delicious!

  19. Tes says:

    Your cookies look so beautiful.I love the photoe in your blog :)

  20. Gabe Bauman says:

    A wonderful post babe.

  21. Isabelle says:

    Great post! I've never tried a mantecado before, but I'm quite intrigued after seeing your post. It definitely sounds like a labour of love, especially if you render your own lard, but the end result is just spectacular.
    BTW, glad to hear that the toddler-licking step is entirely optional. :)

  22. FOODalogue says:

    Looks like you've come with a new variety for the family's traditional cookies. Congratulations and good luck.

  23. RUTH says:


  24. Sippity Sup says:

    You always bring such approachable sophistication. And I say knowing full well these cookies were licked by a 2yo. GREG

  25. Lana says:

    Another great post, Diana! We make similar cookies in Serbia during the holidays, and they were always my favorite.
    I render my own lard, too, and I am so glad you wrote about it. A couple of years ago I had 22 lbs of pure, white goodness on my kitchen counters – yes, it took two days, but who cares?
    I love the idea of making powder sugar from cane sugar, and the combination of hazelnuts and pumpkin is very intriguing.
    Good luck, and as always, my vote!

  26. Damaris @Kitchen Corners says:

    i hope you win, i hope you win, i hope you win!

  27. Tiny Urban Kitchen says:

    This was so informative! Now I'm curious to see your next post about how to render my own lard. Chinese pastries are often made with lard, but since I didn't have any on hand, I used shortening for my #pfb2010 post. Maybe if I learn how to render my own lard I'll try making my spiral mooncakes again the traditional Chinese way!

  28. momgateway says:

    Congratulations on these mantecados which are so rich and addictive! You got my vote.

  29. Julie @ Willow Bird Baking says:

    I love your photos, and definitely want some cookies!!

  30. Ben says:

    You had me at rendered pork lard. But also, the cookies look and sound wonderful. Love the care you took to develop this interesting variation!

  31. zmm says:

    This looks good, but if there's no lard, what can we use then? butter?

    Voted for you.. good luck.

  32. fromBAtoParis says:


    I think you pay a better tribute to Spanish cooking than El Bulli and all his chemical bubbles and espumas !! I had never heard about leaf fat…thanks for teaching me about that !!
    Then yes, I grew up with polvorones…soaking them in my hot milk for breakfast !!!
    Good luck for you too!! Your blog is one of the most authentic AND "well-cooked"

  33. Mexico in my kitchen says:

    Well, I learned something new today. Thanks to you.
    ABout the leaf lard. With that as an ingredient I can imagine the flavor.

    Saludos muchacha,


  34. Hot Polka Dot's Mom says:

    Another fabulous melt in your mouth watering traditional European cookie to add to my collection. Delicious!

  35. Lori Lynn says:

    Hi Diana – they look delicious, and love your photos of the ingredients. Good luck, you deserve to advance for sure! Can't wait to read about your restaurant experience!

  36. Queen of Cuisine says:

    Wonderful post!! I know all about the licking prevention- my dog thinks she's part sous chef!! Good job. I am sending a vote your way.


  37. Kelly says:

    How much do I love that you rendered your own lard?!? That is fantastic.

  38. Diana Bauman says:

    Thank you so much everyone for your comments. I've been busy on my end trying to grade final reports for the school year. Your time spent here means so much!

    As soon as I get some final pictures edited I'll be sharing my post on home rendering lard.

    We'll see what happens tomorrow 😉

  39. Mariko says:

    Love that lick.
    Not all your pictures are loading for me but the ones that are… Oh la la! Chai spiced sounds like a really tasty cookie, plus the add-in of moist pumpkin. Awesome.
    Thanks for the cookbook recommendations. I can never have enough cookbooks. I want them all.

    I'm very impressed you rendered your own lard. Wonder if I could do that.
    Did you ever read that kind of terrible book called Gap Creek? She slaughters her own hog and renders the lard and etc… I found that whole part completely fascinating. And scary.

  40. eataduckimust says:

    rendered sweet leaf lard can only result in the best cookies :) these look divine!

  41. Stay-At-Home-Chef says:

    These cookies look delicious! Love the lick pic 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *