Tapa Thursday: A Field Guide to Spanish Christmas Treats

Two weeks ago, I couldn’t find the aisle that is home to eggs and milk in my local supermarket. I walked in circles, desperate to locate what was needed for the Novio to make me croquetas.

The aisle where they normally resided, next to the sliced meat and dry pasta, was empty. Gutted (as was I).

The following day, the milk aisle was replaced by my worst nightmare: the Christmas goodies aisle.

If Spanish sweets disappointed me, Spanish Christmas treats take it to the next level.

As a child, we’d spend hours baking cookies and cakes to leave for Santa or hide under the tree for my dad. My Christmas memories are flavored like peppermint and fudge. Spain’s sweets leave me with much to be desired, sadly, and any time I bring them for my family to sample, they go uneaten.

Turrón 

Far and away the most common treat you’ll find, turrón is a nougat bar made from sugar, egg whites and honey, and are most traditionally made with nuts. The most celebrated types are hard (Alicante sort) and soft (Jijona type), though you can find them made of chocolate, infused with liquor, containing candied fruit or puffed rice or even with candy brands inside.

Marzipan

A traditional shortbread in Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha, this almond paste-based confection is often shaped into bite-sized morsels and have sugar or egg yolk filling.

Yemas

So, I hate eggs, and they’re about the only food I can’t stomach. What say you, then, about a traditional Christmas sweet that’s called Yolks?!

Mantecados and Polverones

Made of pig lard (sorry I just ruined them for you, but the clue is in the name people!) and olive oil, mantecados are quite popular in Andalucía and mass-produced here. These crumbly cookies are often sold like we sell Girl Scout cookies, and come in a dozen varieties, like cinnamon, lemon, chocolate and anisette. Polverones take their name from dust, as these small cakes often break apart as soon as they’re out of their wax wrapper.

If you’re in Seville and love them, consider taking a day trip to Estepa, where you can visit the factories and sample until your heart’s content. About 95% of the workforce in their traditional despensas are women, and the city has earned the moniker of ‘Ciudad del Mantecado.’

Las 12 Uvas de Nochevieja

As per tradition, Spaniards leave room in their bellies for 12 grapes, which are to be eaten on New Year’s Eve at the 12 strokes of midnight for good luck in the coming year. During my first Nochevieja in Seville, my family and I didn’t know about this, so the Novio grabbed 48 grapes and a small bottle of champagne for us from his own family’s stash.

New Year’s is a holiday that’s most often spent with family, but my parents, sister, cousin and I braved the rain last year in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, where the official ball drop happens. Most of my grapes ended up on the ground, but I’d say 2013 has been pretty awesome.

Roscón de Reyes

source

Among one of the strangest traditions in Spain is the Three Kings parade on the evening of an epiphany. The three kings and their pages ride through the streets on elaborate floats, throwing candy and small toys to bystanders. The following day, families eat a flaky pastry cake with candied fruit, called the roscón. Two figurines are hidden within the cake – a toy or Christ figure, to be given to the king (who also gets the crown), and a bean. He who finds the bean must pay for the following year’s cake. 

Other popular dulces are nuts and mandarin oranges, and it seems that there’s always a box of the mythical Caja Roja chocolates. Thankfully, I tend not to overeat when it comes to sweets at Christmas. I save my calories for the G&Ts after dinner.

Do you like Spanish Christmas treats, or do you tend to stick to your home country’s traditional sweets?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Love, love, love me some Spanish Christmas sweets. If they were available year-round (ok, they kind of are…), I might have to move to the next belt loop over hahaha

    I love all things almond, so the mazapán, turrón, mantecados, and polvorones are more than a little dangerous ;)
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..On Saying “Bye!” to Say “Hi!” When Passing Friends in SpainMy Profile

  2. Mantecados? I’m out. Just like you with the eggs; anything derived from pigs turns my stomach.

    Do the marzipan treats taste different than in the US? When I was a little girl my dad would sometimes bring a box of marzipan treats home, little bites shaped and painted to look like miniature fruits.
    Linda Bibb recently posted..Dunbrody Country House Hotel: Foodies in WexfordMy Profile

    • I don’t recall ever eating marzipan before coming to Spain, Linda, but I imagine it’s very similar to what you ate as a kid. I’ve got a box here at home, though they’re individually wrapped and so, so sweet. I usually just have one!

  3. I’m with you, Cat. Christmas sweets for me are buttery sugar cookies, peppermint bark, and red velvet cake. I stay away from those hard turrones, which are also popular here in Puerto Rico. I’m always afraid I’ll break a tooth!

    • Pedro Meca says:

      you are so right Susan! los turrones duros or hard turrones are really a dolor de cabeza (headache/pain in the arse) because the almonds are so hard that sometimes you get exhausted and tired of them…i just prefer the turron with chocolate y arroz inflado (inflated rice), love it!

      • I’ll stick with the chocolate (sounds good, actually). Never heard of the arroz inflado. Don’t know if I’d like that, though. I’m not used to rice in my candy! El Corte Inglés sells some delicious cakes, which definitely go down easy. ¡Que rico es la Navidad!

    • Pedro Meca says:

      i think that inflated rice or puffed rice is also common in the USA…there are products like Crunch that if you split it you will see the puffed rice inside.

      by the way, i’ve just seen that you all seem to use the word “candy” to describe products like “turron/nougat”….well in Spain the US word “candy” only refers to those little sweetened things like children love, sweets in British English, we call them “chucherias o gominolas”.

      a turron isn’t candy or sweets at all, it’s just a “dulce”. In Spain “dulces” and “gominolas” are different things, whereas English speaking people seem to call both just candy.

      • You’re right, Pedro, there is a difference in those two words, even in English. “Sweets” translates to “Dulces” and would include something like turrón. Candy is chucherias (at least here in PR) and includes things like sugus and paletas (lollipop). Although here in PR I’ve heard people say to children ¿quieres un dulce? When they were referring to a chuchería. I guess the language gets twisted and turned in just about every country.

        Now I get what you meant by Arroz inflado. Those horrible rice crispy bars!

    • Pedro Meca says:

      WOW! i didn’t know that in Puerto Rico they say “dulce” referring to a “chucheria”, that would confuse a Spaniard for sure! isn’t it great how a same language may have differences overseas? that’s why i love the English language so much, because learning it on my own has made me see the differences between British and American, etc

      yes lollipops and sugus are what we call “chucherias” (candy), so that’s the reason i always get confused when you all refer to turron or marzipan as candy.

      as for the rice crispy bars…well the turron is different, it’s plain turron with chocolate and puffed rice that makes it delicious….you should give it a try, you’ll love it!

      • You wouldn’t believe the things I hear on the island. “Asomate al window” being one of them. Even I cringe when I hear things like that. Good for you, Pedro, for learning English, and for participating in blogs like Cat’s. That’s the beauty of the work these bloggers do–it unites our world by helping us to understand people on a deeper level.

        I promise I’ll try the turrón with arroz inflado. It’s probably available here. I’ll give you a full report.

      • Awww, thanks y’all!

    • Pedro Meca says:

      hahahaha! “asomate al window”, that’s of course Spanglish! i am really smiling right now! :)

      Spanglish may be so funny! when i went to the USA in 2010 and 2012 i learnt that US Mexicans say “vacunar la carpeta”, and i was really shocked asking how the hell can a person vaccinate a folder? then i learnt that they use “vacunar” as to vacuum, and “carpeta” as “carpet”….WOW!….but you know that carpeta is a folder, and vacunar is to vaccinate.

      as for the English language…well it’s really easy to learn from a Spaniard’s point of view because it hasn’t got masculine or feminine nouns, the verbs are quite easy, the past too, etc the reason why Spain is so bad at English is because the school system fails.

      oh not only you must eat turron de chocolate but also peladillas and cordiales.

  4. Lynnette McCurdy says:

    Totally agree with you. I find Spanish sweets (and most Spanish food) to be insipid and lacking in flavor. And don’t get me started on all the “yema” sweets… UGH!

  5. Gill morris says:

    In general the Spanish christmas treats don’t do anything for me, however I love Caja Roja – they are my very favourite chocolates!

    • I am always thankful for chocolates on Christmas – it distracts the Spaniards from seeing that I don’t eat anything else! In fact, I have a crumbled mantecado at the bottom of my school bag…

  6. Christine says:

    I will never forget the time I made chocolate chip and sugar cookies for my vecinos and the staff at my school. Was I a rock star or what?!!! something so simple that I had done a zillion times and never thought about became once again a special holiday treat. Yemas and I have a love hate relationship, I have had some really good and some truly awful.

    • Cookies, no matter how much a lack of a hand blender makes a difference in their consistency, always win! I love making pies for Spaniards.

  7. I’m just not a sweets person overall, so yeah—these don’t really do anything for me. I tried to give my family turron, but they didn’t eat it. The only Christmas sweets I get into are peppermint bark and this white-chocolate-covered trail mix my mom makes. (See? Even that is salty + sweet and not just sweet.)
    Kaley recently posted..My Spanish Students’ Reactions to Things I Say—GIF VersionMy Profile

  8. My favourites are Hojaldrinas, Bolas de coco and Marzipans from Soto.
    I dont like polverones or mantecados too much.
    Roscon de Reyes is delicious (especially the Nata ones)

    Looking forward to it already!

    • Ha, you may be alone in that! I can’t do coconut and am not one for chocolate. In fact, I’ve eaten about four marzipan since mid November and that’s all!

  9. I’m pretty anti-fruit in desserts (with the exception of apples and bananas) so some of this freaks me out a bit, can’t lie.
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..opening night at the christmas market in karlsruhe.My Profile

  10. As a professional baker who started out life as a charcuterer food with lard don’t bother me being brought up on pork pies, pigs trotters, etc. BUT Mantecados and Polverones are the most revolting thing I’ve come across since living in Spain. I have 7 rescue dogs, all starving when they arrived and even they refused to polish off a Christmas gift from our Spanish neighbours (Mantecados and Polverones) I think that says it all!
    Mister Paul recently posted..Domestic Duck with Orange SauceMy Profile

  11. It is that time of the year again. Madrid is full of Kioskos de Navidad that sprung up like Nizcalos in the cool rain. I am sure every Plaza in Sevilla has them too. I tried different Churros to fight off the cold weather and I found my favorite ones. I discovered Porras too but I prefer Churros. Have you heard of Tejeringos down there?
    Eduardo@Andaremos recently posted..Traditional booksellers in Madrid’s Cuesta de MoyanoMy Profile

  12. Very amusing to read and I couldn’t agree more with every word you wrote! Sorry to admit that after 25 years here I still can’t stand the traditional Christmas “goodies”. I too prefer to save my calories for the G&T’s in a nice sidra glass.

  13. I won’t be running to the supermarket to pick up any of these anytime soon. Especially the marzipan. Ekk.

    Give me some peppermint bark and a gingerbread latte instead!

  14. In general Spain is not really well-known for its pastries/desserts. In France, buche de Noel (yule log, the cake is in the shape of a tree log) is pretty typical at Christmas. My dad makes one every year and serves it with creme anglaise (a type of custard cream). He also adds a little Santa he makes out of dough every year as a cute little topper It is SO GOOD but also very rich so after about three bites you have had enough.

    They also have a version of Roscon de Reyes called Galette des Rois with a little figurine hidden inside called a feve (my grandmother has an entire collection of them! I was astonished to see so many). If you get the feve, you are the King/Queen of the meal and you get to wear a paper crown and pick your queen/king to “rule.” But thankfully it doesn’t mean you have to buy the next year’s galette!
    amelie88 recently posted..New York Comic Con 2013: The CostumesMy Profile

    • I was also so jealous of the kids in French class when they brought in their Christmas logs in high school. The French just know how to do sweets, period!

  15. Ah! I do love the turron and some mantecados — but only during Christmastime. They’re just so thick and heavy. And as far as normal Spanish pastries go, they look appetizing at the bakery, but I almost always feel dissatisfied after I eat them.There’s always a filmy taste in my mouth. And I think it’s because Spanish pastries are made of lard vs. butter. In my opinion, few bakeries make the exceptional goodies. And in Barcelona, I think they’re usually French!
    Justine recently posted..Christmas at the Santa Llúcia FairMy Profile

  16. At first I thought I disagreed completely, as I like polvorones, turron and mantecados. But like as in, sure I’ll have a few at Christmas. But then i went to a Feria de Dulces Navideños. So disappointing! There were 10 tables or so from around Andalucía with goods from each convent or monastery. ALL the same things. How many boxes of polvorones do we need in one place? The only exception was some had cabello de angel which is the one Spanish thing I think is completely disgusting! So…I was really missing gingerbread and peppermint too. At least most of the Christmas fairs here have some German and Scandinavian treats too!

  17. Prized by professional pastry chefs, pig lard is the secret ingredient for light puffy to pastry and baked goods, although I prefer to forget this :) Your descriptions of these sweet concoctions make we want to grab a bag of sugar and get to holiday baking!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..50 Christmas Traditions Around the WorldMy Profile

  18. Oh man!! I really hope I can still get some of these when I’m in Spain in January :)

  19. yum? Yes, make your own!!
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  20. Yum !!!

    We were in Andalucia earlier this year and I absolutely LOVED the mantecados and turron were a close second ! That was in August though, and I am sure during Christmas the Spanish come out with even more of their lovely sweet somethings :)
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  21. I love the 3 kings cake. Sounds like Mardi Gras to me! :)
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  22. I love to hear about local Christmas traditions. It enriches cultural heritage and binds people together. New Zealand (where I come from) culture is sadly lacking in Christmas traditions because we are a “young country”, however new immigrants no doubt do bring their own traditions.
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  23. I’m with you, Cat. The pictures are pretty, but these are not my kind of sweets. But sign me up for a buche de noel from the French kids.
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  24. Marzipan, marzipan, MARZIPAN!! I can’t begin to tell you how much I love marzipan. Looks tasty:)
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Trackbacks

  1. […] Of course no meal is complete without dessert. In Spain, traditional Christmas sweets include a variety of nougat candies called Turron, almond paste-based marzipans, and crumbly cookies like mantecados and polverones. For more information on Christmas sweets, go to A Field Guide to Spanish Treats.  […]

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  4. […] American post office lines to order a coffee). And, of course, there’s the question of Spanish Christmas sweets – lard cookies and sweet anise […]

  5. […] that you’re full of Christmas sweets and half-blinded from the Christmas lights on Avenida de la Constitución (and probably terrorized […]

  6. […] Gaspar, Melchor and Balthasar parade through the city on the eve of the Epiphany. After binging on Christmas sweets, families then gather to eat Roscón de Reyes, a flaky fruitcake laced with whipped […]

  7. […] and sunflower oil. So eat, drink and be glad you found out about this region. And try Marzipan, a traditional Christmas sweet that is mass-produced in […]

  8. […] you decking the halls, or are you more of a Scrooge? More on Christmas in Spain: Spanish Christmas Sweets | My Favorite Spanish Christmas Traditions | Snapshots of the Reyes Magos […]

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