Soft and crumbly, mantecados and polvorones are Spanish Christmas cookies that fill the stores this time of year. Learn more about what they are and how to make them with this 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.
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, on the other hand, come in other varieties too. 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 most about mantecados and polvorones 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…
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!
This post is also available in Español.