Courtesy of Fany Gerson
Try these sweet cookies for an authentic Mexican treat.
Cinco de Mayo isn't just about an excuse to down some margaritas. In honor of the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo—the day in 1862 when a small Mexican militia defeated a French army attack in the Battle of Puebla— NBC Latino is devoting an entire week to celebrating the food of Puebla. They asked several Mexican-born and Mexican-American chefs to share their personal stories and memories of Puebla, along with a favorite recipe from the region, one of Mexico’s most important culinary hubs.
They say Puebla has one church for every day of the year. I’m not sure if that’s true, but Puebla is surely known for its beautiful churches and convents. As it happens, those convents are also home to legions of nuns (monjitas) who are among the most amazing bakers — devotion and passion passing through their patient hands and making their sweets ever more special. This is why Puebla is known as much for its desserts as for its sacred structures.
When Spanish conquistadores colonized Mexico, they brought with them many things—food and religion being two of the most important. The nuns who accompanied the colonizers were the ones who kept alive certain culinary traditions, like the making offlan, arroz con leche and my favorite cookie: the polvorón.
I remember eating polvorones as a kid. While growing up in Mexico City, a friend of my parents, a man named Abdón, visited frequently. He was from the neighboring state of Puebla and he always brought with him a box of traditional candy packed in a white cardboard box tied with a thin red and white string. I can’t remember Abdon’s face, but what is etched into my memory is that little box and the treasures it carried inside: cigar-shaped sweet potato candies wrapped in a white waxy paper, beautiful cookies shaped like a sun with an ivory-colored center made from pumpkin seeds. And every once in a while the polvorones, which would come individually wrapped just like candies.
I remember not-so-carefully peeling away the paper and placing into my mouth the most buttery, crumbly cookie I’d ever taste. Crumbs would drop to my lap and, eager to not miss so much as a morsel, I’d patiently collect each one and eat it. Abdón would try to share with me the story of these cookies — that they had been made in a convent in Puebla, and that the nuns sold them from their patio. But I was too young to care, too distracted by every delicious bite.
A few years ago, when I decided to write "My Sweet Mexico," my collection of Mexican dessert recipes, I knew the book would not be complete without a recipe forpolvorones. I tried and tested many, many recipes but this is the one that came closest to reminding me of the cookie of my childhood.
Polvorones (Mexican wedding cookies)
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 1 cup superfine sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Sifted confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
To clarify the butter, cut the butter into pieces and melt in a saucepan over low heat. Skim off any foam and discard. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes or so, until the remaining milk solids sink to the bottom. Gently strain the butter, making sure not to include the solids. Will make 1 cup. Set this aside.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
In a bowl, combine the warm clarified butter with the sugar and refrigerate until it solidifies, about 30 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and whip until thickened (it’ll look a bit like whipped cream). Stir in the all-purpose flour gradually, using a spoon or spatula, then add the almond flour and vanilla and combine. Knead, still in the bowl, with the palm of your hand until it starts to come together.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 1 inch thick, making sure the crumbly dough stays together. With a cookie cutter or glass, cut out 2-inch circles. They might crumble when you cut them as they are very fragile, so be gentle and patient, pressing the dough together as needed. Place on a baking sheet lined with a nonstick mat or parchment paper and bake until the edges are just starting to turn color (the tops should still be pale), 10 to 12 minutes.
Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes. Dust them with confectioner’s sugar and carefully transfer them from the baking sheet with an offset spatula; avoid touching them at all unless you are going to eat them. Makes about 2 dozen.
Fany Gerson is the author of "My Sweet Mexico" and Paletas & Aguas Frescas."
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