Mantecados, Los dulces de natal

Our guests from Seville this weekend were returning for their second visit, this time to celebrate their wedding anniversary.Like the wise men before them they came bearing gifts, not of gold frankincense and myrrh but cookies, chocolate and marzipan,all sweet traditional Andalucian Christmas goodies.
Well, it is December now so I suppose there is an excuse to consume some seasonal delicacies.I’m  not really sure if I like all of them or not, but I think that  when December rolls around basically anything sweet tastes good. I also love these drop in the ocean chances to be informed about other cultural and gastronomic traditions.
Mantecados and polvorones are little Spanish cookies they come in a variety of flavours, almond, cinnamon, chocolate,olive and even wine.
While mantecados can be found at any time of year in Spain, polvorones are usually consumed at Christmas.The history of Spanish cookies dates back to the 16th century, and it was first elaborated in Andalusia, some say in Estepa, others in Antequera and up till today these two towns are still in dispute over the invention. Unlike many Spanish foods, it wasn't the Moors that created them, as one of the main ingredients is lard.

typical home made mantecados from Estepa
We were told told that the town of Estepa smells like a cake factory in the run-up to Christmas, as local bakers and even home cooks work to meet the demand for its favourite biscuits. Some bakeries allow visitors to observe the baking process, and there is a small museum to the history of Estepa's biscuit tradition in the La Estepeña biscuit factory.
These traditional Spanish crumble cakes or "mantecados" crumble very easily. In fact, they are so soft, they will literally melt in your mouth. Light and with a delicate anise flavour, words will not do them justice. You'll have to make them to see why they are a Spanish family favourite and why no Spanish home is without "mantecados" at Christmas!

Sweet Lard Cakes (Mantecados)
( makes about 36 )
500g (1lb 2oz) plain flour
125g (41/2 oz )almonds blanched and skinned
250g(9oz) white lard
200g(7oz) sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tbsp sesame seeds,toasted(optional)or 1 tsp anise seeds
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to150C(300F) Gas mark 3
Spread the flour in an oven tray and toast it in the oven until lightly coloured,stirring frequently so it browns evenly.Toast the almonds lightly,then chop finely or grind( a processor works well for this).Cool the flour and combine with the ground almonds.Beat the lard until smooth and fluffy.Beat in the sugar and cinnamon,then add the flour and almond mixture a little at a time and the toated sesame/ anise seeds if using.The dough will be quite crumbly.Pat it to a thickness of 1 cm(3/8inch ).Cut into 5cm (2inch) circles and place on a baking tray.Bake in the oven until the cakes are dried,about 30 minutes.Let them cool,then dust with icing sugar and wrap them individually in white tissue paper.
If you are a bit pushed busywise:
For UK readers only a reliable brand is imported by  Garcia´s the Spanish delicatessen at 246 Portobello Road,London and also available at their online store.


  1. Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. In response to your request I have now updated the post to include a recipe.

  2. Do I HAVE to toast the almonds - the reason I ask is because I have some that were only ground yesterday and it's too cold (me being a softy) to go out and buy more! I really want to make these and I actually have some lard in the fridge (leftover from a failed attempt to make lardy cake . . . you don't want to know!)

    1. I dont think it would affect the taste that much but surely if you were careful ( not being distracted by the radio of course!!!!)I don´t see why you could not lightly toast the ground almonds?

    2. I toasted the flour, I toasted the almonds - I was a bit worried about using aniseed (as I am not a fan) and . . . they were absolutely SUBLIME! Dear god, what have you started!

      They didn't make it as far as being wrapped in tissue paper largely because I may have cooked them a little too long and they were exceptionally crumbly and secondly, as soon as they had cooled down, they were gone. Delicious. I shall be making more and posting them and a link to your recipe probably tomorrow!

    3. They are meant to be crumbly.So glad you enjoyed them.
      The trick is that when they are wrapped you squeeze them in the paper in the palm of your hand and then very carefully unwrap them and eat them out of the paper as if it was a napkin.ENJOY the next batch!!!

    4. They were absolutely divine - I think I am going to look like a pig by the time Christmas is over, or perhaps just a barrel!

      I have posted the story here and linked back to your site!


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