Soft and crumbly, mantecados and polvorones are the most popular Christmas cookies here in Spain. Learn how to make them at home with this recipe.
Since I have moved to Spain, I have to admit that the holidays just don’t feel like they did back home. Maybe it’s because I no longer have the snow around me to remind me that it’s Christmas time. On the other hand, I don’t have central heating, so my daily fire in the fireplace should be a constant reminder. (If you’re stuck making a fire each day too, you may want to check out my homemade recycled fire starters.) 😉
The holidays are also different here. Yes, we still celebrate Christmas and Christmas Eve, but there is also the second day of Christmas and Three Kings Day. Perhaps with so many days of celebration, Christmas itself doesn’t have the same focus and importance.
Maybe, though, it’s just because Christmas is celebrated in a different way. Instead of the “normal” Christmas cookies, eggnog, and cranberry treats that I was used to, I’m surrounded by turrón (both hard turrón de Alicante and soft turrón de Jijona), 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 quite 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?
Mantecados and polvorones are a type of crumbly cookie that is typically served at Christmas time in Spain. They find their origin in the Andalusian region of Spain, with the city of Estepa being famous for their elaboration. I’ve bought mantecados and polvorones several times directly in the city of Estepa when visiting my family in a nearby town.
What is the difference between mantecados and polvorones?
The mantecados name comes from the fat used to make these cookies. Mantecados are typically made with lard which is “manteca” in Spanish. Polvorones, on the other hand, get their name from the fact that they are sprinkled with powdered sugar. Powder is “polvo” in Spanish.
There are a few other differences. Polvorones tend to be served in an oval shape, while mantecados are typically round.
Other than that, I can’t really find much of a difference, and the main dough seems to be the same.
I think that polvorones are really just a type of mantecado that is dusted with powdered sugar and shaped differently. Polvorones also tend to be unflavored, which lets them showcase the toasted flour, almonds, and lard. Mantecados, on the other hand, come in other flavor varieties too. The main type of mantecado is pretty much identical to the polvorones, without the powdered sugar, but you can also find many other flavors of mantecados that use cocoa powder, lemon flavoring or even coconut. My favorite is the traditional one (but the coconut ones come a close second). I also love the ones that have been sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Making flavored mantecados
To make a chocolate mantecado, you can add some cocoa powder to part of the dough.
Other flavor varieties can be made using ground citrus peels and flavor extracts. I want to try making coconut mantecados by adding in finely shredded coconut, but I imagine that the strong coconut flavor of most commercially sold coconut mantecados comes from artificial flavor extracts.
Because I love the traditional one so much, I haven’t personally played around a lot with flavoring my mantecados, but I’d love to hear how it goes if you try it yourself!
The taste and texture
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 toasted flour, toasted ground almonds, cinnamon, and lard.
What type of lard or fat should be used?
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 when I made the lardfor 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.
On the other hand, if you are really opposed to using lard in the recipe because you have religious or other food issues with pork, yes, you can make “mantecados” without the manteca or lard.
Even here in Spain, you can now find mantecados made with extra virgin olive oil. They take on their unusual flavor from the olive oil rather than the lard.
How to achieve the right texture?
When mixing up your dough with whatever fat or oil you choose, you want to form a dough that is very crumbly to work with. If you add so much fat that you get an easy-to-work-with dough, you probably will end up with a crispy hard cookie rather than a smooth, silky crumbly one. (Don’t ask me how I know that!) 😉
Mix all of your ingredients together and try pressing the dough together in your hand. It should hold together, but also easily fall apart. Yes, it will be slightly tricky to work with to roll it out and cut it, but the effort definitely pays off.
If you still end up with a hard, crispy cookie, the other problem you may have had is baking the cookies for too long. When baking mantecados and polvorones, you only want to bake them for long enough to form a bit of a crust on the outside, yet stay soft and crumbly on the inside. This will help the cookies hold their shape, all while remaining true to form.
Why make them?
Well, if you are living outside of Spain, it probably is a bit tricky to buy them otherwise.
OK, so maybe nowadays you can just order them from Amazon…
You can choose from these “mantecados” (but they are made with olive oil and not lard) or these polvorones.
That said, ever since I’ve been making them at home, I find the ones sold in stores to be way too sweet. When you make them yourself, you can control the amount of sweetness and which type of oil or fat you want to use. You can also choose which sugar to use. (I make my own powdered organic demerara sugar these days!)
Can they be made grain-free?
I also have a recipe for grain free mantecados and polvorones up on the blog. They are, of course, gluten free, but can be made paleo by using powdered coconut sugar.
Love Spanish Christmas treats?
Me too- which is why I love making some of the traditional holiday foods each year. You can find my recipe for homemade turrón de Jijona (the soft turrón) and my recipe for homemade Turrón de Alicante (the hard turrón) here on the blog.
You can also read about Spanish holiday foods here.
Mantecados and Polvorones: Typical Spanish Christmas Cookies
- 800 g flour
- 400 g lard
- 375 g powdered sugar (Or less for less sweet cookies)
- 200 g almond flour
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- powdered sugar Optional- for decoration
- sesame seeds Optional- for decoration
- 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 again and bake until golden. 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 of the 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 come together when you press on it, but should easily fall apart. You may need to add in a little more lard to achieve the right texture. (Don’t add in too much or you will end up with hard cookies rather than crumbly soft ones when you bake them.)
- Put the “dough” into the fridge for 15-20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF.
- 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 or until the edges turn a golden brown.
- You may leave them as is or sprinkle powdered sugar over top.
photo credit: Gonmi via photopin cc
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 a thin parchment paper or tissue paper, if you plan on wrapping yours.
Merry Christmas!! I hope you enjoy them!
Having just returned from a trip to Seville, I fell for these Mantecados big time! I’m a professional chef, so reasearched a recipe as soon as I returned home. 100% successful I’m pleased to say, will be making these again.
I’m so happy to hear that!
Yes, they can be quite addictive. 🙂
I tried this recipe with some minor adjustments. I could not find lard, so I used shortening. I also added a half teaspoon of anise extract. Wow, I was very surprised. Just like what my mom would bring us from Spain, with slight exception. The crumble and consistency was perfect. I could feel the tapioca flour a little bit in my mouth, maybe I needed to cook it a little longer? I am going to try again with lard when I can find it. Thanks!
Were you making these? Or the grain free mantecados? I guess the latter as I don’t remember these having tapioca flour. 😉
Yes, I will admit that when making the grain-free version, the tapioca flour is a lot trickier to work with. You want to brown the flour without burning it, which is easier said than done. It is much simpler with the ones made with wheat.
If the flour isn’t browned, and if it isn’t well mixed into the lard, I could see how it would leave that weird, tapioca feel in your mouth. Tapioca flour does have an unusual consistency. Perhaps the difference is really the lard. The lard is a very soft solid fat and maybe incorporates the flour better to make it silkier? I’d think it would be more difficult with shortening that is a bit stiffer and stickier in a way. (Perhaps those aren’t the right adjectives. 🙂 ) I actually always like to make my own lard when making these cookies just because I find the flavor and texture to be best, but I would think they’d work well with a store-bought one too.
I have been looking for so long for the mantecado recipe that my aunt used to make I will try it and will let u know how it turns out
Glad to help out. I hope you enjoy it!
Hello! How big was the cookie cutter you used?
My cookie cutter was somewhere around two to two and a half inches in diameter.
That’s around the general size of the store bought mantecados, so that’s the size I was going for. 🙂
will this recipe work if you replace the coarse almonds with finely ground? I can’t seem to find coarsely ground almonds anywhere.
Yeah, that’s totally fine! Some people prefer it that way anyway. Some people like to taste little chunks of almond in theirs. 🙂
Hi tracy my name yvonne my mum used t make a cake at christmas called awella .
bone in gibraltar live in england all my life i was wondering if you know the recipes;
for this cake i would like make a friend of my mum gave me the recipe every time;
i tried it came out like crumble
so please can u help me .thank you yours faithfully yvonne.
I know how frustrating that can be! I wish I knew how to make a type of beef that my grandfather used to make.
I tried doing a google search to try to find what sort of cake you are referring to, but I can’t find anything about it. Without more information, I wouldn’t even know how to begin to try to help you out!
Even with the recipe, though, it’s sometimes hard to get things to turn out exactly how somebody else makes it. There are so many factors involved- how someone measures, if someone adds in more ingredients or makes their personal changes to the recipe, even the weather can make things turn out differently!
I wish I could be more help.
Thanks for the recipe, I will try to make it for this coming up Christmas as a gift. I am living in Thailand, I might try cashew nut instead.
I love cashews! That sounds wonderful. I’d love to hear how it turns out if you do end up trying it. My curiosity has been piqued. 🙂
My Partners family are spanish residing in Australia…we get a box at xmas from my partners mother for a present and they’re very much loved…
so i tried these and presented them as easter gifts just the other weekend and were a great hit with the family….
Great name! 🙂
I’m so happy to hear that they worked out well for you and everybody liked them.
It’s funny because at first when I started making them, I was convinced that they were just like the store bought ones- which made me happy of course, but…
I tried the store bought ones last Christmas and I couldn’t even finish one! I had gotten accustomed to mine that the store bought ones tasted too overly sweet for me, even though I used to love them. My guests said the same after having only tried the homemade ones first. The general consensus was that the homemade ones were better.
Now we need to conquer turrón. I’ve tried several times, but I haven’t come up with a recipe that I love yet- hopefully someday. 🙂
Thank you so much for this recipe – had these a few years ago in Spain and now whenever I visit, they’re on the top of my ‘to buy’ list so I’m excited to try at home. I was wondering if you had ever tried freezing them at any stage? Assuming similar to other cookies, the dough stage would be the best to attempt this?
Actually, I hadn’t even thought about it, but that’s a great question.
I wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t really have a clue.
Honestly, though, they whip together pretty quickly once the flour is toasted, so I’m not sure that freezing the dough would really save you that much time. I’d probably try freezing the actual cookie.
I may have to try it this year with both homemade ones and store bought out of curiosity. It won’t help you now, but could help others in the future.
I have just come up with a grain free version that turns out perfectly, too, and will be posting those soon for people with food allergies/intolerances. 🙂
Did you ever end up posting this grain free recipe? I was planning on attempting this recipe with a gluten-free flour blend, but would prefer your instructions!
Yes, I did and it turned out quite well!
Here’s the link to the grain free mantecados.
I hope to film and update this post this year. I just made some homemade lard the other day to get ready. 😉
I hope you have fun making them and that they turn out well for you! 🙂
Ha, well yes, I guess not being able to get ahold of mantecados and polvorones is a big problema. 😉
Wow thank you for this recipe! A biscuit/chocolatier shop just opened in my city, and out of curiosity, I went to check it out but the prices were ridiculous. SGD 5.50/100 grams! So no way I’m going to buy such expensive treats.
I’m glad to help.
I love being able to save money by making my own stuff. In the case of these, I think the homemade ones are really great, too; better than most I have bought!
I hope they work out well for you!