Monday, December 28, 2009


You may already be taking down the tree, deciding what to wear on New Year’s Eve and getting the kids ready to go back to school. But, in Spain, Christmas is just getting started! The twelve days of Christmas begin on December 25 and finish on the eve of January 6, the holiday of the Reyes Magos, when the three kings arrive from Bethlehem bringing gifts for good children.

And, on the fifth day of Christmas, only FIVE GOLDEN RINGS remain of the dozens of roscos made by my friend Antonia. Cherished at Christmas, homemade roscos are somewhere between a cookie and a doughnut. Typically, they are served with aguardiente, anise liqueur, brandy and sweet wine.

Antonia lives in the village, but frequently spends weekends on the farmstead in the country where she grew up. During the holiday season, she and friends fire up the horno de leña, the old wood-burning bread oven, to make roscos de huevo, egg doughnuts, enough to last the twelve days of Christmas.

Antonia prepares a dough using a dozen eggs, a kilo (2.2 lbs) of sugar, a cup of honey, grated lemon zest, baking soda, about 2 cups of oil (olive or sunflower) and flour, about 3 kilos (about 6 ½ lbs). The eggs are separated and the whites beaten stiff, then folded into the dough to lighten it. She rolls out ropes of dough, pinches them into rings.

The roscos bake in the residual heat of the brick oven, initially fierce, then slowly cooling. They’re not overly sweet, have a subtle smoky flavor. Sometimes they are dipped in a honey syrup, but they are delicious unadorned for dipping into sweet Málaga wine or Sherry.

Other typical homemade Christmas sweets come not from the oven but the frying pan. Such are the empanadillas, little fried turnovers, that Carmen makes. She prepares a soft dough using olive oil, white wine, sweet Málaga wine, cinnamon, a bit of sugar and flour. She rolls out circles of dough and  places a spoonful of sweet potato filling on each. The filling she made earlier—sweet potato puree cooked with an equal weight of sugar, flavored with cinnamon and aniseed. She folds the dough over the filling, making half-moons, and crimps the edges. The empanadillas are lined up on a tray as she heats the oil in a deep frying pan. For the frying, she prefers sunflower oil. Olive oil, she explains, turns them darker.

Carmen fries up dozens of the little turnovers. She drains them on paper towels, then sprinkles them with granulated sugar. Many are special-ordered for family gatherings during Christmas. The rest are sold by her daughter who has a stall at the local market.

My recipes, below, for roscos and empanadillas, while not identical to Antonia’s and Carmen’s, are traditional homemade Christmas goodies. By the way, those fried turnovers would be ideal for Chanukah, so save the recipe for next year! 

Cinnamon-Wine Rings
Roscos de Vino

Makes 24 rings.

3 ¼ cups flour plus more for board
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup mild-flavored olive oil
½ cup white wine
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon sesame seed, toasted
Pinch of salt
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting (about 1/3 cup)

Preheat oven to 350º.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. Combine the oil, wine and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Add the zest, sesame seed, and salt. Stir in the dry ingredients to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured board and knead until the dough is shiny, about 4 minutes.

Divide the dough into 24 walnut-sized balls. Roll each ball into a cord, about 6 inches long and ½ inch thick. Pinch the ends together forming a ring. Place the rings on baking sheets lined with parchment.

Bake in the middle of the oven, changing position of sheets once, until rings are lightly golden, 40 to 45 minutes.

Cool the rings on a rack. Sift confectioners’ sugar over them.

Fried Turnovers with Pumpkin Filling
Empanadillas de Calabaza

Makes about 28 small turnovers.
¾ cup olive oil
1 strip orange peel
1 tablespoon sesame seed
1 tablespoon aniseed
½ tablespoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon brandy or anise brandy
2 tablespoons orange juice
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour plus additional for flouring board
1 ½ cups pumpkin jam (recipe follows)
Vegetable oil for deep frying
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Heat the oil in a small skillet with the orange peel. Remove from heat, cool for 1 minute. Remove and discard the orange peel. Then stir in the sesame seed and aniseed. Pour into a mixing bowl and allow to cool.

Add the cinnamon, cloves, wine, brandy, orange juice and salt to the oil. Using a large wooden spoon, stir in the flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead very briefly, just to combine well.

Let the dough rest, refrigerated, for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.

Roll out the dough thinly on a lightly floured board. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Use a 4 ½ -inch cookie cutter to cut circles.

Working with one disk at a time, place a spoonful of pumpkin jam on one half. Moisten the edges of the dough with water, then fold the circle in half, enclosing the filling. With fingers or the tines of a fork, crimp the edges together firmly to seal the turnover. Place on a tray. Continue filling and shaping the remainder of the dough.

Heat oil in a deep skillet to a depth of at least 1 ½ inches. Fry the turnovers, four or five at a time, until they are golden brown on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towelling. Dredge in sugar while they are still hot. Let the turnovers cool completely.

Pumpkin Jam
Dulce de Calabaza

Make this jam also with sweet potatoes. Use it with breakfast toast or as a filling for pastries.

Makes about 2 ¾ cups of jam.

You will need a small pumpkin or other winter squash weighing 2 ½ -3 pounds, to obtain 2 cups of cooked pulp. Steam it until tender and drain before pureeing.

2 cups pumpkin purée, well drained
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon minced lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick

Place the purée, sugar, lemon peel, cloves and cinnamon in a heavy pan. Place on heat, partially covered to prevent splattering, until mixture is bubbling. Reduce heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the purée is thickened to jam consistency, 20-25 minutes. (A heat disperser is useful to prevent the purée from scorching.)

Place in clean jars and seal. Cool completely, then refrigerate. Use within two weeks.

©Janet Mendel

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