|Mexican Wedding Cookies (Polvorones)|
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Making your family happy is not that difficult, especially if you make your home ambience a little more festive with special treats that summon everyone to always rush home after a full day of work or school. Remember, food is happiness! You don’t have to be a pastry chef or have an encyclopedic catalog of recipes and be master at them. All it takes is a little ingenuity, sensibility to flavors, a few tools, good, natural ingredients and you’re on your way to transform your kitchen into a food paradise.
I love cooking, but I don’t always have the time to bake and make pastries or desserts. But I love to eat the sweets and fruits that I grew up with. In Mexican culture, it’s very evident that there is a passion for desserts and tropical fruits that always end a savory meal. Sweet empanadas, pan dulce or Mexican sweet bread, crystallized or dried fruits and an assortment of repostería or pastries are also a big custom for the meriendas, or light meal in the afternoon.
Don’t be surprised to see huge markets all over the country with some dedicated only to sweet shops. Thru the centuries, each region and pueblo (town) developed their own particular specialties, from the sweet almond-paste sweets from Saltillo, in Coahuila, to the borrachitos (tequila jellies) from Guadalajara and the almond pastries filled with coconut from Durango. Crystallized strawberries are a specialty of Irapuato, in Guanajuato, and camotes (yam-sweets) are found in Puebla. In the central plaza or square of Toluca, under the portales (stone arches lining the square), a huge array of sweets is displayed in little baskets. In Linares, Nuevo Leon, you can find many shops making small little packages wrapped in red wrappers called glorias. They’ re an exquisite dulce de leche with pecans (goat’s milk caramel). They're heavenly little glories!
With the growth of sugar cane plantations in many regions producing a raw byproduct of the refining process called piloncillo, and the cultivation of vanilla, many sweets were being made with these fine, glorious ingredients. Piloncillo is a hard molasses that comes from sugar refining. The liquid molasses that is spun out from the raw sugar is reheated and crystallized into small, conical molds the size and shape of pestles, like the ones that are used to grind in the molcajete grinding stones. The deep, rich flavor of this dark sugar characterizes many of Mexico’s sweets.
One particular sweet that is so simple to make and one of my favorites are the Mexican Wedding Cookies or Polvorones. There are legendary convents where these sweets probably originated from. They were very popular on wedding occasions since vanilla and pecans or almonds were an expensive luxury and therefore, reserved for those occasions. I remember attending plenty of weddings and even quinceañeras (sweet fifteen parties for girls) where the host placed a small basket full of the little cookies in the center of the table as a centerpiece . It’s such a marvelous aperitif, except don’t forget to wipe your mouth with a napkin or else risk walking around with powdery white sugar all over your mouth.
They’re so simple to make and you don’t even have to wait for a wedding to enjoy them. Here is the recipe:
1 cup butter (room temperature)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 teaspoons of water
In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add vanilla and water. Add the flour and pecans, mix until blended. Cover and chill for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Shape dough into balls. I like to leave them not so rounded and smooth so that they look like rustic stones. That way I’m reminded of a very traditional Mexican song by Cuco Sánchez, “Grítenme piedras del campo”, and I can sing along as I shape the cookies. Place on an un-greased cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the oven. Remove from the pan and cool completely. When cookies are cool, roll in confectioners’ sugar. Enjoy with hot chocolate or even a light cocktail, dessert wine, or champagne.
The Mexican Gourmet
Authentic Ingredients and traditional Recipes
From The Kitchens Of Mexico
by Maria Dolores Torres Yzábal
By Leticia Alaniz © 2015