Saturday, December 19, 2015


Roscos de vino--an Andalusian Christmas cookie.

It took me a long time to get to like Spanish Christmas sweets—the ring cookies heavily flavored with aniseed, fried pastries filled with a sort of pumpkin jam and tiny lard cakes that crumbled into bits in the hand. They were all so different from the buttery, icing-topped cookies I knew growing up in Midwest America.

When I began collecting recipes, I joined village women in their kitchens to make many of these beloved holiday cookies and pastries. Gradually, I came to love them.

Mantecados are melt-in-the mouth cookies made with lard, almonds, cinnamon and sesame.

Nowadays, in my village, a few women still make homemade sweets. But, more and more, these are produced industrially. The town of Estepa in the province of Sevilla is renowned for its mantecados, cinnamon lard cookies, which are said to have originated in the 16th century in the Santa Clara convent.

Mantecados are the first in the trinity of Andalusian Christmas cookies—the other two are  polverones, “powder” cookies, and roscos de vino, tiny, wine-scented doughnuts. Polvorones are made with virtually the same lard dough as mantecados. After baking, they are dusted heavily with powdered sugar to “powder” them.

The winter hog-butchering season coincides with the Christmas holidays. After the hams are salted and the sausages hung to cure, pork fat is rendered to make pure, white lard. Lard makes melt-in-the mouth cookies. Mantecados also are made with olive oil. However, butter or other shortening is definitely not a substitute. (Yes, I know that so-called "Mexican wedding cookies," with butter, were originally Andalusian mantecados and polvorones.)

I call my homemade cookies “artisanal” because I bought a hunk of ibérico pork fat, rendered and strained  it to make pure lard.  I picked the almonds, cracked them, blanched and skinned them, toasted them in the oven, then ground them to meal.

Pork fat for making lard.

Do not use packaged lard for these cookies, as it is a hydrogenated product. Either render your own or find a butcher who makes it. You will need about 1 ½ pounds of pork fat to make 2 cups of lard. Chop the fat and heat it gently until melted. Strain. Cool and refrigerate, covered. The rendered fat solidifies and turns white as it cools.

In both of these recipes, the flour is lightly toasted before mixing. If you are making both cookies, prepare enough flour for them both in one go. This can be done a day or more in advance. Stir the flour every 5 minutes while toasting to avoid scorching it. It should be a pale gold in color. Let it cool completely, then sift the flour.

You can make these cookies bigger or thicker than I specify in the recipes. But, remember, that will change both the baking time and the yield. 

The cookies keep well in a cool place. They stay firmer if kept refrigerated.

Cinnamon-Lard Christmas Cookes

Let the baked cookies cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet before lifting them with a spatula, otherwise they will crumble.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Toast flour and almonds.
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 cup lard
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon sesame seed

Preheat oven to 350º. Place the flour on a rimmed baking sheet and almonds on a shallow oven pan. Toast them in the oven, stirring every 5 minutes, until flour and almonds are lightly colored. The flour will be pale gold, not brown, in about 15 minutes. Ground almonds need only about 4 minutes.

Cool the flour and almonds completely. Sift the flour with cinnamon and salt.
Beat lard until fluffy.

Place the lard in a mixing bowl and, on medium speed, cream it until fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar. Stir in the toasted flour, then the almonds.

Turn the dough out onto a board or marble work surface. Combine the dough by kneading it with a few squeezes. Gather it together in a ball and chill it for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Press sesame seed into the top of the dough.
Divide the dough in half. Keep one half refrigerated. Roll the other half out on an unfloured surface to a thickness of ¾ inch. Sprinkle some of the sesame seeds on top of the dough. With the rolling pin, press them into the surface of the dough.

Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut rounds of the dough. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with oven parchment. (Use a knife or offset spatula to lift them from the board.) Gather remaining dough, roll out and cut again.

Repeat rolling and cutting with the remaining half of dough.

Cool before lifting the cookies from baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes until they are lightly golden on top. Let them cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. Use a spatula to lift them onto a rack to cool.

Once the cookies are cool, wrap each cookie individually in 7-inch squares of tissue paper, twisting the ends to enclose.

 Wine-Scented Ring Cookies
Roscos de Vino

There’s no sugar in this dough. The wine gives the cookies a slight sweetness. (Use Málaga muscatel, Pedro Ximenez or oloroso Sherry.) Once baked, the cookies are dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

Improvise--cut doughnut holes with cap from a marker.

Use a 2-inch doughnut cutter to cut the dough. If you don’t have one that small, use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut circles, then improvise with an apple corer or other tool to cut out the holes. (I used a champagne flute to cut the circles and the cap from a marker to cut out the holes.)

Makes 30 2-inch rings.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½  cup (unsweetened) ground almonds
1 cup lard
½ cup sweet wine, such as Málaga muscatel,    Pedro Ximenez or oloroso Sherry
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Spread the flour in a shallow baking pan. Place the almonds in another pan. Toast the flour and almonds in the oven, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly toasted. Let the flour and almonds cool completely.

Sift the flour and combine it with the almonds.

Using a mixer on medium speed, beat the lard until fluffy. Beat in the wine, cinnamon and cloves. Add the flour-almond mixture in three additions, stirring in at low speed just until combined to make a soft dough. Refrigerate the dough for at least 45 minutes or up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Divide the dough in half. Roll one half out on a board or marble work surface (you can cover it with baking parchment to avoid sticking) to a thickness of ½ inch. Use a 2-inch doughnut cutter to cut into rings. Place them on baking paper on a baking sheet. Gather up scraps of dough. Roll and cut remaining dough in the same manner. If dough becomes too soft and sticky, return it to the refrigerator to firm up.

When all of the dough has been cut, bake the rings until lightly browned, about 23 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.

Place half the powdered sugar in a rimmed baking sheet. Use a spatula to transfer cookies to the sheet. Sift the remaining sugar over the cookies. Let them cool.

Once cool, the rings can be wrapped in tissue paper, as in the previous recipe.

Sweet wine in the cookies and a dusting of powdered sugar.
A basket of mantecados and roscos de vino, individually wrapped in tissue paper. (White is best.)

Cookie packets for giving to friends.

Another Spanish recipe with lard is here.

Here's a link to a Spanish TV chef making mantecados with extra virgin olive oil instead of lard (in Spanish)


  1. I've been looking for different Christmas cookies that what I've grown up with. Will be sure to try these. Do you know if one would need to change any ingredient amounts when baking in high elevations?
    The New Mexico State cookie (yes, they have a state cookie) is the Biscochito. I plan to try them and if they turn out, I will send you the recipe. MERRY CHRISTMAS, Janet! Patty

    1. Patty: I don't know anything about high-altitude baking. However, as these cookies have no leavening, probably the recipes don't need adjusting. They need to bake long enough to lightly color the tops.

  2. This looks so delicious. I might try this later when I get home as I have all the needed ingredients in my fridge.