You know what happens when you eat a Santa Clara Cookie?
When you first bite into it, you go through a soft layer with grainy texture that tastes like a moist version of marzipan. But as your teeth sink in they hit the hard crust of a buttery cookie that breaks into the crunchiest of chunks in your mouth. It makes for such tasty contrast that you have to take more bites to understand their beauty. Since one cookie doesn’t explain it, you will reach for another one…
There you go! Another sweet concoction from the nuns of the Santa Clara convent in Puebla whose recipe has been passed down for over a dozen generations. Together with the nuns from Santa Rosa Convent (where Mole Poblano is believed to have been invented) and Santa Monica Convent (where many say Chiles en Nogada come from) they are much to blame for the baroque foods, which mixed European and Mexican ingredients with much passion and devotion, that shaped the cuisine of this city – and has made it an epicenter of gastronomy in Mexico.
Yet it was the nuns from Santa Clara who were most famous for their sweets. You can read what the plaque says outside of the standing convent which shut its doors long ago but left behind a strong legacy and a trail of sweets.
Continue reading Santa Clara Cookies
GLAZED SANTA CLARA COOKIES
Tortitas de Santa Clara
Makes about 24 3-inch round cookies
For the Dough:
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour, plus more for rolling out dough
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup lukewarm water
For the Glaze:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3 cups raw and hulled pumpkin seeds or slivered almonds
1/2 cup milk
To Blanch the Pumpkin Seeds:
1/2 teaspoon baking powder or baking soda
To Prepare the Cookies:
In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Reduce speed to lowest setting and gently add the confectioners’ sugar and baking powder. Continue mixing until everything is incorporated.
Add the flour, one cup at a time, and then the egg yolks, one at a time; continue beating for a minute. Pour in the water and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and can form a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. Let it cool until it hardens enough to be manageable, at least 1/2 hour (can refrigerate up to a couple of days).
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place half the dough on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, sprinkle some flour over it and then place another piece of parchment paper on top. Use a rolling pin to gently roll out the dough, to about 1/4-inch thick. Remove the top piece of parchment paper and cut out circles with a round, 3-inch cookie cutter. With a smaller cookie cutter, make a circular indention in the middle of each cookie, without cutting all the way through the dough (there should be about a 1/4-inch space between the indentation and the edge). Press the edges of each cookie with a fork, as if marking the edges of a pie. Repeat the process with the remaining dough and roll it out again, making as many cookies as possible.
Space the cookies at least 1/4-inch apart on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, until they are fully cooked and the bottoms are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool; repeat with the remaining cookies.
To Prepare the Base for the Glaze:
To make the candied pumpkin seed glaze white, as the nuns of the Santa Clara convent traditionally used to, prepare the pumpkin seeds this way:
Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan, add pumpkin seeds, simmer about 5 minutes and turn off the heat. Let it cool, stir in baking soda or powder and let it sit overnight. With your hands, rub the pumpkin seeds between your fingers and thumbs to try to release their skins. The skins will float in the water. Carefully pour off the water, cover again with clean water and drain again. With a slotted spatula, place the pumpkin seeds on a clean kitchen towel, rubbing them so that the remaining skins come entirely off. Place the seeds in a bowl, cover them with water, rinse and place them on a cloth towel or paper towels to dry.
To make the candied pumpkin seed glaze green, which is a lot less work, prepare the seeds this way:
Place hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds in the jar of a blender or food processor and grind completely.
To make the a white glaze that’s even easier, just:
Place already-blanched, slivered almonds in the jar of a blender or food processor and grind completely.
To Prepare the Glaze:
In a medium saucepan, place the sugar and 1/4 cup of water over medium low heat. Cook until the sugar has completely melted into the water, is no longer granulated and appears to be light syrup, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the ground pumpkin seeds or almonds and stir well, creating a thick paste. Let the mixture cook for another 3 to 4 minutes — it will thicken and become even more pasty. Turn off the heat, pour in the milk and stir well. It should be thick yet shiny and a bit more liquid.
Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool until it slightly thickens and can top the cookie without spilling all over. It will spread as it settles, but if it has cooled enough it will not be too runny. Yet, before it completely cools and hardens. If it does harden, just heat the mixture over low heat with a tablespoon of water until it becomes runny again.
To Assemble the Cookies:
Once the cookies have cooled, add about one tablespoon glaze to each cookie.
Travel with Pati to the state of Puebla to see why it isn’t just the site of the legendary Cinco de Mayo battle — it’s also home to some of Mexico’s most luscious, delectable culinary treats.
MEXICAN WEDDING COOKIES
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup pecans, ground or finely chopped
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large cookie sheet.
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the pecans until they are finely chopped. Add the powdered sugar, flour and salt, and pulse again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula if necessary.
Drop in the butter and shortening chunks, and pulse a couple of times. Add the egg and pulse again, just until the mixture starts to come together. Roll the dough into 1- to 1 1/2″ balls with your hands.
Place the balls on the baking sheet, spacing them 1″ apart; give them a light pat on the top. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes. You may need to bake two batches.
Generously, really super generously, dust extra confectioners’ sugar over the top of the cookies.
Mexico is now the largest importer of cinnamon in the world–but how do they use it that’s so special? Just how different is the Ceylon or True cinnamon used in Mexico from the Cassia cinnamon of Southeast Asia?
PIGGIES: CINNAMON AND PILONCILLO COOKIES
Chochinitos: Galletas de Piloncillo y Canela
Makes 30 medium sized cookies (with a 4-inch cookie cutter)
12 oz piloncillo, chopped or grated, or substitute for 1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup water
1 true or ceylon cinnamon stick, about 3″ long
2 sticks or 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp honey
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour, you may need a bit more
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
Butter to grease a cookie/baking sheet
2 to 3 tbsp all purpose flour, you may need a bit more or less, to roll out the dough
1 egg, lightly beaten to be used as a glaze
Confectioner’s sugar to sprinkle on top, optional
In a saucepan, combine grated piloncillo or dark brown sugar with water and cinnamon. Place over medium heat, once it simmers, lower the heat to keep it at a medium-low simmer for about 15 minutes, until it thickens to a light syrup consistency. Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. You should have now about 1 1/4 cups piloncillo liquid, need not be exact! Add butter and honey into the hot liquid and stir until it dissolves.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a hole in the center and pour in the piloncillo mixture. Mix it all together with a spatula until it is well incorporated. Combine the eggs into the dough, which will be sticky and gooey. Seriously: it will be GOOEY and that is OK.
Place plastic wrap in the bottom of a mixing bowl to have wings on the sides. With a spatula, push the dough onto the plastic wrap, wrap the dough, and refrigerate anywhere from 2 hours to a couple days.
When you are ready to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a couple cookie or baking sheets with butter.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle a couple tablespoons of flour on a countertop. Rub a bit of flour on the rolling pin as well. Roll out the dough which will now be firmer, until you have about 1/4 -inch thickness. Using piggie cookie cutters (or other shapes, but then you may need to change the name!) press down on the dough, moving it a bit on the counter top, to make it easier to lift the shaped dough.
Place the piggies on the baking sheet as you shape them along. Gently brush the cookie tops with the remaining egg. Roll the leftover dough into a ball, wrap it with the plastic wrap, and place it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes before using it again, or it will be too soft and sticky. Repeat to make the remaining cookies.
Bake the cookies anywhere from 7 to 9 minutes. Remove them from the oven and place on a cooking rack. You may sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on top. Keep them covered so they remain soft.
My boys love to eat them with a tall glass of milk, I like them with a hot cup of coffee.
What’s on the menu at a typical Mexican picnic? Are some foods, like hot dogs and hamburgers, universal? Turn your backyard into a little slice of Mexico by tweaking some old standbys. Learn how not only Mexican food has been adapted outside of Mexico, but also how American dishes have been transformed in Mexico.
GARABATO OR SCRIBBLES COOKIES
Galletas Garabato con Chocolate
Makes about 16 to 18 cookies
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for chocolate filling
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
In a mixer, at medium-high speed beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and keep on beating until fluffy. One by one, add the eggs until well combined. Lower the speed to low, and add the flour half a cup at a time, along with the salt, thoroughly mixed. Remove from the mixer, turn into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate anywhere from 1/2 hour to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly dust all-purpose flour on your countertop and roll out the dough to about 1/4″ thickness. Cut circles of about 3″ round. Place them in a buttered and floured cookie sheet. Bake anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes or until they appear lightly tanned. Let them cool on a cooling rack.
In a saucepan over low heat, combine the cream and the chopped chocolate. Stir constantly, until the chocolate is well dissolved. Turn off the heat and let it cool.
Once the cookies and chocolate filling have cooled, add a couple tablespoons of chocolate on top of half the cookies. Top with another cookie without pressing down on it. Then with a spoon or fork, drizzle more chocolate on top of the cookies, making your own scribble designs.
Once the cookies are set, you may cover and refrigerate. I love them cold!
ROSQUITAS: SWEET ANISE ROPES
Rosquitas de Anis
Makes about 24
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 tsp anise seeds
4 oz, or 1/2 cup butter, cut into chunks
4 oz, or 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup warm water
Confectioners’ sugar, optional
Mix the all purpose flour, baking powder, salt and anise seeds in a large mixing bowl. Toss in the butter chunks and the vegetable shortening in spoonfuls. Begin to mix it with your hands, until the butter and vegetable shortening are mixed in with the rest of the ingredients.
Add the sugar, egg yolks and warm water, working everything together with your hands. In less than a minute, the dough should be soft and malleable enough to be turned into a ball. Don’t knead it more than necessary, as soon as it all comes together in a homogeneous mass it is good enough.
Butter a large cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
One by one, make cookie balls with the palms of your hands, of about 1 1/2″. Then roll it out either with your hands or on a lightly floured surface, into a short rope form, of about 3 to 4″ long and less than 1″ wide. Twist the rope a bit and close the two ends making a loop. It is very easy! Like a doughnut shape!
Place the finished rosquitas on a buttered cookie sheet until you have finished the dough. Place them in the oven anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes, or until cooked and lightly browned on top. Remove them from the oven, let them cool, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
I had never heard the name Mexican Wedding Cookies.
I was born and raised in Mexico City. I lived there all my life until I married my husband, another Mexican, and moved to the U.S.
There were no Mexican Wedding Cookies at our Mexican wedding (though there were a ton of roosters doing their Cock a Doodle Do thing next door, which made it hard for us to say our vows real loud…). Nor were there any of those cookies, at any wedding in Mexico that I have ever attended. None.
The first time I heard the name Mexican Wedding Cookie was once we moved to Washington D.C. Since then, I have been asked about them continuously. What’s more, once I started my blog, I began to receive a lot of requests, via lovely emails, for their recipe.
It took me a while to realize that those Mexican Wedding Cookies, so liked this side of the border, are what I love and know as Polvorones. One of Mexico’s most popular treats, consumed on an every day basis, and found in just about every Panadería (bakery) and any grocery store throughout the whole country.
Continue reading You Say Mexican Wedding Cookies, I Say Polvorones
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