Mantecados and Polvorones: Typical Spanish Christmas Cookies Recipe
Since I have moved to Spain, I have to admit that the holidays just don’t feel like the holidays in the same way they did back home. Maybe it’s because I no longer have the snow around me to remind me that it’s that time of year again. On the other hand, I don’t have central heating, so my daily fire in the fireplace should be a constant reminder.
Also, there are different holidays here. Yes, there is Christmas, and Christmas Eve, but there is also the second day of Christmas, and the Three Kings Day. Perhaps with so many days of celebration, Christmas itself doesn’t have the same meaning.
Maybe, though, it’s just because the way Christmas is celebrated is just different. Instead of the “normal” Christmas cookies, eggnog and cranberry treats that I was used to, I’m surrounded by turrón, mantecados, and jamón serrano. While I do miss the typical Christmas treats that I was used to growing up, I have to admit that I do like a lot of the Spanish counterparts.
Mantecados and polvorones are an example of a Spanish Christmas treat that I just happen to love.
So, what are mantecados and polvorones?
They are a type of crumbly cookie made with lard, or “manteca” in Spanish. I tried to look up the difference between the two cookies, but most sources seemed to disagree on any real differences apart from the fact that polvorones are dusted with powdered sugar. That, of course, makes sense seeing as “polvo” means powder in English.
I think that polvorones are really just a type of mantecado that uses ground almonds, and that is dusted with powdered sugar. Mantecados come in other varieties too, though. The main type of mantecado also uses ground almonds, but there are other flavors that use cocoa powder, lemon flavoring or even coconut. My favorite is the traditional one.
What I love about them is their surprising texture that I could only describe as soft or even silky. The cookies are very crumbly and are sold wrapped in paper like a hard candy. The outside has a light crust from being baked in the oven, but the inside is soft and smooth.
Apart from the texture, the flavor is also unusual. They combine flour that has been toasted in the oven, ground almonds, cinnamon, and lard. As the lard accounts for much of the flavor, I would definitely use home rendered lard over any store bought variety. There is no need to use leaf lard here, I used fatback with the skin on it for mine. Mantecados are meant to have a very subtle pork-like taste. If a pork flavored cookie sounds unappealing, rest assured that the flavor isn’t obvious. It’s just enough to keep your favorite bacon lover happy, though.
If you want them in the US, you’re probably going to have to make them yourself. The closest thing I could find was these.
Making them yourself is better anyway. So…
- 800g Flour (6.5 cups)
- 400g Lard (2 cups)
- 400g Powdered Sugar (3 cups) (I prefer organic like this one
- 200g Ground Almonds (1.25 cups) (I prefer organic like this one
- 1 tsp. Cinnamon
- Powdered Sugar and Sesame Seeds for Decorating (Optional)
- First you need to toast the flour in the oven. To do so, spread it out on a baking sheet, and bake under the broiler (250ºC/480ºF) until the top layer browns. Remove the flour from the oven, mix it up spread it out on the baking sheet, and bake until golden again. Repeat the process 4-5 times until all of the flour is toasted and golden brown. Keep your eye on it so it doesn’t burn!
- Toast the ground almonds in some lard in a pan on the stove. Once they are a golden brown, remove them from the stove and let them cool.
- Once your ingredients have cooled, mix all of the ingredients together making sure to incorporate all of the lard. The “dough” should be able to be formed into shapes, but should easily fall apart. You may need to add in a little more lard to achieve the right texture.
- Put the “dough” into the fridge for 15-20 minutes.
- Working with small sections, roll out the dough with a rolling pin to around a half on an inch thick (or slightly thicker).
- Cut the dough with cookie cutters. These would be perfect. Mantecados are typically round, and polvorones are typically oval, but you are free to make them as you like. These cookies are delicate, though, so I don’t suggest any complicated shapes.
- If you want to decorate them with sesame seeds, lightly press some into the top of the cookies now.
- Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes at 180ºC/350ºF, or until the edges turn a golden brown.
- You may leave them as is or sprinkle powdered sugar over top.
You can serve your mantecados or polvorones as is, or can wrap them for giving away as gifts. Mantecados and polvorones are typically sold wrapped in paper like a hard candy. I suggest using a thin paper, like tissue paper, if you plan on wrapping yours.
Merry Christmas!! I hope you enjoy them!