Back in the UK, it is typical of us to gorge on as many chocolates and sweets that only come out at christmas time in the evening time. Some of my family’s typical favourites were quality street, matchmakers, gingerbread among many things, though we weren’t fussed. In Spain, families also have their own favourites of which many are consumed across the country. Here is a short list of five Spanish treats that are not consumed in the UK, but worth trying for yourself.
Just a disclaimer, I’ve saved talking about turrones and roscón de reyes for future blogs, as there is way more to write about for them.
Pestiños are a very typical dry pastry commonly found in the south of Spain. In Cádiz, they have more tradition and there is an organized event every December for them, and in other parts of Andalusia, such as Córdoba and Jaén, they are a really big deal. Not only are they eaten around Christmas time, but also Easter, and I’ve seen them in many bakeries all year round. Basically, they are just thin, fried squares of dough which are folded over to give the iconic shape, but in many other Gaditana towns there are more variants. They are often are flavoured with sesame, and topped off with sugar or honey. Again, I tried a variant that was more bite-sized and covered in a sugar glaze, very moreish. The honey ones are the traditional ones and not as dry as the sugar ones.
I was extremely confused when I first encountered alfajores, because I first tried the Latin American versions which resemble more dulce de leche sandwiched between two biscuits. Spanish alfajores are notably different, being oblong-shaped and not usually crumbly like a biscuit. They are commonly found in Murcia, Andalusia and parts of Castilla and Extremadura, though some variants are almost identical to alajú, which looks notably different. However, in Cádiz, they seem to be common all year round compared to the rest of Spain, and completely contrasts the traditions of pestiños.
Polvorones are common for Christmas in pretty much every part of Spain, and they are a rather strange type of shortbread in which you crush the biscuit in your hand before you eat it. I got told off by several friends when I first tried them when I didn’t do that, but I don’t there’s much difference, just makes it easier to eat. The most famous places for these treats are Estepa (Sevilla), Antequera (Malaga), Valladolid and Navarre, but they are not the exclusive areas of production. Most Polvorones are individually wrapped, and come in a variety of flavours, notably cinnamon, chocolate, fruit, just to name a few.
It’s very easy to confuse polverones with mantecados. Polvorones are a type of mantecado, but you can find many types of mantecados which are not the same, and the only similarities are that they are sweet and contain lard (manteca) hence the name. There are so many situations where they are exactly the same thing, that I have often been confused on what I’m actually eating, and in my opinion, so do most of the locals.
4. Batata Glaseada
This treat is actually one of the few instances where a sweet potato is actually sweet! You can find these in most bakeries in various parts of Spain and I must admit, I was curious when I first saw these. They are peeled and glazed in the same way as a doughnut, and they do have a a glossy shine to them. Compared to the other desserts on this list, it may be one of the more expensive things to orderfrom this list, and is almost always charged by weight rather than units. In all honesty, there isn’t much to them other than it tastes like an ultra sugary dough with essence of sweet potato. It’s weird, but nice at the same time, but I would go for the other things on this list before choosing this.
This last treat is a lot more difficult to eat on the road compared to the rest, and is very much exclusive to the Basque area of Spain, but seasonally, it is more than worth being put onto this list. It is exactly what it is translated from Basque, walnut cream, but their name sounds cooler. It has a similarity and consistency of another Spanish dessert called natillas, but has a stronger flavour, and with some added extras like cinnamon sticks or whole walnuts to garnish.
I have only tried it the once, and I would definitely have it again, as the walnuts give it a very hearty kind of feel when you eat it. Though it isn’t exclusively eaten around Christmas time, it is a lot more common during that period. Renowned Basque chef Karlos Arguiñano took this dish one step further by making it into a flan which sounds amazing. So yeah, if you’re thinking about going to the north for Christmas, give it a go, I’ll say no more.
So there you have it, five festive treats that you will have to come to Spain to try. 2020 is the first year I’ve been forced to stay here, so I have no doubts that having these, among many other delights of my adopted city will take the edge off not not seeing my family. For my fellow expats having to deal with the same situation as myself this year, make the most of things, and start by getting fat on as many turrones, polvoróne, and alfajores as you can. That’s my plan.