Many countries and cultures boast a variety of cookies during Christmastime, and Spain is no exception. The pastry shops stock their shelves with traditional Spanish sweets like mantecados and polvorónes, delicious cookies filled with almonds, anise, lemon, and cinnamon. Spanish Christmas cookies are simple, time-honored sweets that pair nicely with coffee, espresso, hot chocolate, or liqueurs. Bake up a batch or two for some extra-special treats this holiday season.
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Mantecados are synonymous with Christmas in Spain. The Spanish word for lard is manteca, and this traditional recipe calls for lots of it (or vegetable shortening in this case). This makes the mantecados incredibly soft and airy, so much so that they will literally melt in your mouth. They have a delicate anise flavor thanks to anís liqueur, but you could substitute vodka mixed with a little anise extract if needed. In Spain, these rich and crumbly cookies come wrapped in brightly colored wrappers. Follow that tradition to make them extra special for your guests and family.
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Polvorónes are very traditional Spanish shortbread sweets that have not changed in centuries (the cookie is tied to the days of the Spanish Inquisition), except for the use of a modern mixer to whip up the batter and substituting shortening or butter for pork fat. These soft, crumbly cookies are made with almonds and cinnamon for a lightly sweet taste. Polvo means powder or dust in Spanish, which may refer to either how the cookie crumbles when you eat it or the fact that they are sometimes dusted with powdered sugar once they're out of the oven.
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Light and almost macaron-like, almendrados are another traditional Spanish treat that uses almonds. With just four ingredients—lemon, egg, sugar, and almonds—these classic cookies are simple to make. Naturally free of gluten, the whipped egg whites add lightness while a touch of lemon zest adds flavor. Feel free to add ground cinnamon for a bit of warm spice.
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The traditional Spanish version of these Latin American cookies is called alfajores de Medina Sidonia. They are in the shape of cylinders and covered in syrup and powdered sugar. The cookie originated in southern Spain, which was under Moorish rule for centuries, but this South American sandwich cookie version has a similar texture and flavor and is sure to make your holidays special. Add some ground anise and cinnamon to the batter to make them more like Spanish alfajores.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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The flavors of almond and anise make these cookies quintessentially Spanish, and their tender texture reminiscent of Mexican wedding cakes. The thick cookie's distinctive taste comes from the fact that the almonds and flour are toasted before being incorporated into the dough. Although traditionally prepared with lard, this recipe subs in butter for the fat.
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This version of polvorónes adds coconut to the mix for extra flavor and texture. All of the dry ingredients are toasted in the oven before mixing, even the flour. This gives the delicate cookies their signature crumbly texture and a toasty flavor. Serve with coffee, tea, or a liqueur to wash them down, or package up to give as gifts during the holidays.