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Mantecados, Spanish Cookies with EVOO

A sure told sign that we are getting closer to Christmas in Spain is the display of mantecados in the supermarkets. Mantecados can be found year round but are a special treat during the Christmas festivities. A house without these crumbly cookies during the holidays is like a house in the US without a turkey at Thanksgiving.

These cookies are said to date back to the 16th century and originate from either the town of Estepa or Antequera. Today, Estepa is the Mantecado capital of the world and just passing by the town before the winter holidays can make anyone´s mouth water.

The name Mantecado stems from “Manteca” or pig lard. Lard being one of the main ingredients. For many of us that do not eat pig fat, have chosen to steer away from animal fats or are vegan, mantecados made with olive oil give us a great alternative!

People that have tried my mantecados with olive oil have said they even prefer their taste to the original ones with lard. Perhaps it is because I use some of the best olive oil that I can get my hands on.

I will preface this recipe by saying that it is not difficult but it is definitely for those who enjoy cooking. You must be observant and tend to your cookies or you run the risk of burning.

INGREDIENTS

18 ounces All purpose flour

9 ounces Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I used an olive oil from the variety Picual but a fragrant Arbequina or an Italian Frantoio would also be perfect.

2.5 ounces Raw white almonds, no skin.

7 ounces of Powdered sugar (icing sugar)

1 heaping tablespoon of Cinnamon

Zest of one whole lemon

COOKING EQUIPMENT

Cookie sheet

Parchment paper

Mortar and pestle

Small 2 inch cookie cutter

Sieve

Wooden spoon

Pan

Zester 

STEPS:

  1. In a pan heat the olive oil on medium to high and fry the almonds until they are brown. This usually takes about 7 to 8 minutes. I recommend having an instrument on hand to get the almonds out as soon as possible. You want them browned but not burnt. I think 320ºF/160ºC should be a good temp for browning the almonds. Extra Virgin Olive Oils can withstand heat up to 410ºF and 210º C. However, if the olive oil is smoking you have the temperature too high and remove it as soon as possible and work at a lower heat.
  2. Drain the almonds from the oil and set the almonds and the oil aside to cool.
  3. Heat the oven to 150º F. On a cooking tray lined with parchment paper, evenly spread the flour out. Let the flour brown in the oven. During this process, frequently redistribute the flour on the pan and break up hardened flour so that it can brown evenly. I use a wooden spoon. The edges brown the quickest so make sure you mix them well with the center. This should take about 30 minutes. The trick to making mantecados is not perfectly timing every step. It is guiding yourself by color. My first batch completely burnt after following directions. You want everything to have a toasted camel color. Once the toasted color is reached remove the tray from the oven. If it starts to get too brown you are really at the limit and are at risk of burning.
  4. When your flour is ready remove it from the oven and let it cool.
  5. Turn the oven up to 180º F
  6. Crush the almonds. I use a mortar and pestle.
  7. Working now with all of the ingredients cooled, sieve the flour, powdered sugar, and cinnamon together in a large bowl. You must sieve or the recipe will not turn out.
  8. Mix the lemon zest and the crushed almonds into the sieved mixture.
  9. Add the olive oil and mix until uniform. It should be the consistency of a very thick paste or almost like wet sand. Don’t worry if it seems crumbly. Just form it into a ball and have a little faith.
  10. Working with small handfulls of dough at a time, pat out the dough to about 3/4ths of an inch thick and then use the cookie cutter to form the mantecado. Carefully, transfer the cookies to a cooking tray lined with parchment paper. They do not expand so don’t worry about close spacing.
  11. Transfer the tray to the oven on a middle shelf. The mantecado is ready when it is just starting to brown on the edges, is slightly hardened to touch and no longer has the texture of wet sand (careful no to burn your finger). This is usually about 10 minutes but it could be less or longer.
  12. When ready, remove from the oven and let cool. I like to decorate them with a little powdered sugar. Enjoy.

Try them with orange zest instead of lemon or add sesame seeds to the mix.

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