Already seen the tree and the Nativity Scene themes, now it is time to warm our stomachs and sweeten Christmas with the typical gastronomy of the holidays.
Given that the aim of Christmas is to celebrate it in company , every good gathering is celebrated since immemorial times around a table with good delicacies to the delight of the palates.
So let’s start with the origins…
Moorish taste Christmas
As we know, the Al-Andalus eight centuries of splendor have penetrated deeply into Andalusian cities, villages and towns, so it is not surprising that many of our delicious Christmas products come from their culture.
If we want to make them, we will need to get the traditional basic ingredients of its pastries, such as almonds, sesame, matalahúva, honey, cinnamon…
Already in Christian times, thanks to the proliferation of convents, these delicacies elaborated by the nuns by then, were extended throughout the Peninsula.
Let’s get down to business.
The Alfajor, from Medina
To speak of alfajor means speaking about this beautiful white town in the province mountains, Medina Sidonia, where the Arabs began to elaborate the “al-hasú”, called by the Christians “alaju”, which translated into Spanish means “stuffing.”
The name gives us a good clue already, since the alfajor is a roll covered with syrup, sugar and cinnamon whose “filling” is made from almonds, hazelnuts, flour, breadcrumbs, coriander, cloves, matalahúva, sesame and cinnamon.
Traditionally the alfajor was consumed by the peasants as an energy bar in the midday break to recover strength quickly… So when you end up your work out at the gym or need a boost of energy, leave the sandwich aside and eat a alfajor of Medina, a pleasure that nourishes taste and body.
These squares of dough joined by two sides, is made with flour, oil, sugar, anise, matalahúva, lemon peel and white wine (or a good glass of sherry wine)
Once the dough is made, it is cut and shaped. Then, carefully so they don’t get unfolded, they are fried in olive oil and let cool. The next step is to mould the pestiños, envolve them with honey, and then they’re ready for decoration as you prefer, either with sugar or colored anise balls. If this last step doesn’t motivate you, skip it and enjoy them alone with honey.
In the past, women of the several families living in the same palatial house that once belonged to a noble family, gathered in the kitchen of one of them to make kilos and kilos of pestiños, in order to keep the voices, guitars, zambombas and tambourines active during the numerous zambombas.
Let’s continue the Andalusian tradition with another of the sweets that originally combined nuts with honey presented in a flat and rectangular shape. Its name comes from the Catalan language «torró», which comes from the Latin «torrere», meaning, roasting or toasting.
The turron is one of those Christmas desserts that have evolved over the years, currently finding a wide variety, from the traditional hard and soft, through chocolate flavor, toasted yolk, marzipan, “gourmet”…
We must highlight the famous soft turron of Jijona, mande in Alicante, Spain, where it seems to begin its elaboration according to written sources by the 16th century, although it could be earlier, as this legend of the king and the Scandinavian princess points out…
Once upon a time a king married a beautiful Scandinavian princess. The lady, had to leave her cold lands in order to to be with her husband, which was not easy because as the days passed by she began to miss terribly the beautiful landscapes of her country covered with the eternal snow. The king, realizing the sadness that harbored the heart of his princess, had the idea of planting thousands of almond trees throughout his territories so that, when flowering, the landscape imitates the white tones that his beloved longed for. As the beautiful Scandinavian princess witnessed such a spectacle, was finally able to regain happiness. And so was how the inhabitants of Jijona gathered the fruits of the almonds and began to elaborate the turron that made them so famous.
Traditional Jijona turron contains egg white and sugar in addition to honey and almonds. As a curious fact, later on they began to pack them in poplar wooded boxes, to protect it from moisture and eliminate the excess oil originated by the almonds. No doubt, good presentation for such an exquisite delicacy.
By the 18th century proliferated the sale of Christmas turron and with popularity came also the search for new formulas and flavors that gave rise to the great variety to which I referred before.
Polvoron and Mantecado
We have talked about Medina, Jijona and now we have to focus on the town of Estepa in Malaga, where the abundance of lard gave rise to this typical Christmas sweet, also dated back to the 16th century. Flour, sugar and almonds are also needed. The dough is baked and hardened, although when we taste the bite, the powder melts into dust, hence its name.
It’s important not to confuse polvoron and mantecado. Although its presentation is similar, it is not the same… Polvorón differs from mantecado because it contains ground almonds in different proportions and more flour. The mantecado, on the other hand, can have almonds or not, and we can find flavours like chocolate, lemon, cinnamon…
Here we have another sweet of Islamic roots for which we use many of the ingredients already mentioned like sugar, oil, lemon zest, sesame, flour… In addition to these, we need orange peel or juice, milk, anise and egg.
Once the dough is ready, this time we cut it and give it circular shape, donut, hence its name. Then we fry them, and finally we cover them with sugar and cinnamon.
For the famous wine roscos, a glass of white wine is added to the dough (if you’re in Jerez, you already know what wine to add…)
Although the mazapán is made all over Europe, surely we knew the recipy from Arab hands. It is said that the word mazapan comes from the Arabic «manthában», the container where the almond paste was kept. Another version states that it comes from the Latin «panis martius» or April’s bread, because the mixture was used during the Christian Easter celebrations.
Once here we have to move to Toledo, where legend points to the nuns of San Clemente as their first producers.
It is said that after the Battle of Toulouse, wars, drought and epidemics had depopulated the fields and ravaged the villages. The famine was so pressing that the nuns of San Clemente, gathering the petitions of the parishioners, fervently begged their Patron Saint to help them to remedy such a terrible famine. The continuous nuns prayers caused that the intricacies of the divine delicacy were delivered from the sky in secret. At the beginning it was considered as a luxury product, but the nuns found a way to cut costs and provide holy remedy for the starving population. The remedy was said to have come as bread from heaven, from which some claim to derive its present name.
For its preparation, identical quantities of raw and peeled almonds are mixed and crushed with sugar, until a uniform mass is obtained. Before starting the entertaining work of shaping the figurines, the dough should cool. Finally the figurines are baked.
As the icing on the cake, we couldn’t miss this cherished delicacy of “Cadi Cadi” ladies and gentlemen….
the origins of this bread would be never really known given the tendecy of telling legend, facts and inventive resources of the citizens, although the history points it towards the 19th century.
The romantic legend tells that when the French wanted to invade the city by throwing with bad aim the famous bombs with which the Gaditanas made themselves hair corkscrews, the monks mocked the French and the Pepa constitution began her adventures, the siege of the enemy prevented the arrival of goods, which made the wheat scarce, so they chose to use almond instead, which gave rise to the sweet. Apparently, the almond surplus came from the Customs Palace, where they were stored pending export (this legend sounds to me like the French omelet one…)
To make the bread of Cadiz, starting with the mazapan dough, one form a medium-sized loaf filled with candied fruit. The final step is to baked it, hence it is now better known as Cádiz bread than as turron of Cádiz, its original name.
Knowing that there are many more, that’s all for now. I encourage you now to share your tastes, opinions and traditions. As you know, I’d love to read you in the comments.