Hi, I’m Beatriz, a teacher at Estudio Sampere Madrid. I‘m here to talk to you about one of my favorite things: Christmas pastries. You may have already heard of turrón or even the Roscón de Reyes, but what about peladillas? And almendrucos? Use this article to become an expert in Christmas sweets in Spain and get ready to try them all this holiday season:
Polvorones and mantecados
Polvorones and mantecados are a must among the sweets on any Christmas table. These are very small cakes made of flour, butter and sugar and baked in the oven. They have a very special texture, and when you eat them they turn to powder in your mouth. Today they are a typical baked good at Christmas in Spain and many other Spanish-speaking places. The most famous are from Estepa and references to them have appeared since the mid-16th century. The most traditional are made from almond, but now that they’ve become famous you can find them in different flavors like cinnamon, lemon or chocolate. The wrapping on the polvorones is distinctive because it’s paper and they’re wrapped as if they were candy.
Before we begin to talk about turrón, a type of nougat, we should make a distinction between hard turrón and soft turrón, the two basic types. Soft turrón (my favorite!) is a solid dough made with almonds, egg white and honey, and has a rectangular shape. It’s eaten in small pieces and practically melts in your mouth.
Hard turrón has the same rectangular shape and is also made with almonds, honey, and egg white. But this type has a wafer coating and, as its name indicates, is very crunchy. The most famous are from Jijona, in the province of Alicante, where they’ve been made for more than five centuries from ancestral recipes. Just like polvorones and mantecados, you can now find turrones in endless flavors. There are shops dedicated exclusively to them and every year famous pastry chefs experiment with new flavors. It’s a whole new world to discover!
Tossed among the larger sweets on the Christmas trays are peladillas. These are often used decoratively to fill spaces, as they are small, white and oval-shaped. But for many these are their favorite. The classic peladilla is a candied almond that apparently existed back in Roman times and was offered on special occasions. The more refined version has a pine nut inside instead of an almond. You must try them!
Roscón de Reyes
Of course, we must talk about the Roscón de Reyes. The king of sweets in every home on January 6th enjoyed with hot chocolate. Although I have to confess there are few who can resist until the 6th to eat it. So, you can find it in bakeries even two weeks earlier. It’s made from a sweet dough that gets its characteristic flavor from orange water.
The shape is circular with a hole in the center (much like a giant, elongated donut). It may or may not have a filling, which can be whipped cream, truffle, etc.
And it’s topped with sugar and candied fruits. But the truth is that more than a sweet, the Roscón is an event. If you follow the ritual, inside will be a little figurine and a bean. The person who takes a bite and finds the figurine will be crowned king (with a crown that comes in the roscón box). And whoever finds the bean will pay for everybody else’s roscón. When choosing their piece everyone looks closely and makes bets on where they’ll be found, each with their techniques. Enjoy it with friends!
One of my favorite sweets can’t be left off this list, almendrucos! An easy way to eat soft turrón. These are almond-shaped wafers filled with soft turrón. They’re small and usually packaged individually so you can carry them without losing the crunchy wafer part. I recommend these if you’ve never tried turrón and don’t want to buy a whole bar before knowing whether you like it or not.
Mazapán = Marzipan
This sweet, probably of Arab origin, is one of the stars at Christmas. The ingredients are simple: almonds, sugar, honey and eggs. A very sweet dough is made that is molded into different shapes and baked. There are different types all over the Peninsula, but the main place of reference is undoubtedly Toledo. For Christmas some bakeries make very large shapes. Could you eat one of them whole?
Fruta Escarchada/Confitada = Candied fruit
Still in the mood for something sweet? Well, get ready for something fit only for the most gluttonous: fruit we dip in syrup and cook until it loses all its moisture, saturating it in sugar. This is usually used to decorate other desserts. But you can buy candied fruit by weight or in various types of boxes. My recommendation? Candied oranges! And if you buy them covered in chocolate… pure pleasure!
Finally, I’d like to mention two aesthetically gorgeous sweets that are gaining ground in recent years but aren’t as traditional as the others:
El Tronco de Navidad = Yule Log Cake
Its origin is European, especially in France where it is called bûche de Noël. It’s a thin, spongy cake spread with cream and rolled into a cylindrical shape to form a tree trunk. On the outside, it is traditionally covered with chocolate and decorated spectacularly.
Its origin is Italian. This is a sweet bread made of a brioche-like dough, filled with raisins and candied fruits. It’s shaped like a dome and the dough is made of flour, sourdough or fresh yeast, eggs, butter, and sugar. It’s also very popular in South America where it’s called Sweet Bread or Easter Bread.
Will you have enough time to try all of Spanish Christmas Sweets this holiday season? Now you know all about them and can choose your favorites.