01 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Day 1: Navidad

When you think of "Europe"...where is the first place your brain names or thinks of?  For me, until I met my Mister, it was always France.  Quite literally I'd think of the Eiffel Tower lit up for Christmas and the whole city of Paris lit up for Christmas....even if it was the middle of summer when someone mentioned "Europe".  But, after I met my Mister it became Scotland...then immediately after Scotland again, I'd think of France.  

I tried for quite a while when I was coming up with my list of European Christmases to think of places most people wouldn't think of first off.  For instance...Poland.  C'mon...when is the last time you thought "Golly....I can't wait to see Krakow, all that snow!"?  Or wondered, "Gee, is there anything awesome happening in Budapest on Christmas Eve this year?"  Right...you probably haven't.  Likewise, a lot of people don't think snow even falls in Spain.  They don't.  I Googled it.  When I started to type "Is there snow in Spain at Christmas?" its initial hit brought me to a page where there were 10 strings based on variations of the question "Does it even snow in Spain?".  Being that Spain is the second most mountainous region on the continent, I can tell you...yes, it absolutely snows there and sometimes too much.  Just like Minnesota.

After researching all things Spanish for Christmas I kept coming to the same result for the "must have" on every Spanish table when Christmas baking is going on...Polvorones.  Quite literally translated "polvo" refers to the texture of the cookie, which is "powder" or "dust".  When you bite into these simple, tender cookies they literally melt in your mouth.  In some countries they are referred to as "Mexican Wedding Cakes" or "Russian Tea Cakes" but, make no mistake...these gems originated in Spain and were transported to the Philippines, Latin America, and the United States when the conquistadors were on their uh..."adventures" around the globe.  Even though they have quite the status on the table at Christmas, there is no perfect recipe when you look for one.  So, I adapted the recipe I used for this post from two separate recipes that almost made sense, but they needed some help.  One recipe was too dry and the other was too wet.  Go figure...   

Coming from the state of Andalusia in the south of Spain, being on the coast it was quite easy for these to be produced and packed for voyages.  Dating all the way back to the 16th century, these delicate little morsels are still just as popular today as they were back when they were first introduced in Estepa and Antequera.  Ask anyone you know living in Spain today and they'll tell you that although their cousin, the mantecados, may be served year round, the polvorones is a special Christmas treat that any Spaniard would jump at the chance to treat you to!  ¡Feliz Navidad to you all!!

**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given.  I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons.  You can thank me later.

1/2 c. lard, no substitutes...ever
1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. almond meal 
1 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 large egg yolks
2 T. dark rum
pinch of salt (1/8 tsp.)
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 300 F

Measure and pour flour into a frying pan and place it on the stove to “toast” the flour, shaking the pan occasionally to ensure all over toasting.  Add the almond meal and shake the pan a bit…only for a couple of minutes then set aside to cool completely.

Cream lard, sugar, egg yolks, and dark rum in a large mixing bowl.  When the lard appears foamy, you can add the toasted flour and almonds to the mixture if they are completely cool.  This dough is very, very crumbly!

Place a sheet of waxed paper on a work surface.  Press the dough together to form a ball then press the dough onto the waxed paper, carefully flattening it down to about 1/2 inch.  Use a cookie cutter to create the desired shapes.  Use a small spatula to carefully move the cookies from the waxed paper to a cookie sheet for baking because the dough is very delicate.   Or...you can do what I did and use the Pampered Chef medium scoop and then mash them a bit with something flat.  I used the bottom of my 1/4 of a cup measuring cup.  Easy...

Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheet for 15 minutes.

Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow cookies to cool completely before removing them. Take special care not to break them.

Dust with powder sugar when ready to serve.  

Everyone that I have given one of these beauties to has absolutely loved them.  It is no lie that they melt in your mouth and that they have a flavor that you just fall in love with instantly.  These are the perfect size for a snack and for sharing.  I know if someone offered me one of these with a cup of steaming hot chocolate, they would be my new best friend!

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