Without a doubt, “La Semana Santa” (Holy Week of Easter) is one of the most wholeheartedly celebrated holidays in Valencia. As the matter of fact, the city has its own version known as “Semana Santa Maritima”. It reflects a sort of “Union in Life & Death” of the City and the Sea” as the first one is bringing lives, while the latter, quite often takes them back… The most visible parts of celebrations are colorful processions organized by brotherhoods (“Cofradia”) in a tribute to Passion of Jesus Christ. The Holy Week ends however, on the optimistic note. Obviously, the overall joy and enthusiasm visibly manifests on our dining tables not only in form of paellas, but also sweets, cakes, desserts. Below, you will find the presentation of some typical Valencian (but also Spanish) “Dulces de Santa Semana” traditionally served for Easter.
Arnadi is a delicious golden-brown pumpkin cake shaped in a form of pyramid, traditionally baked and served in small clay pots. Usually, lavishly garnished with almonds and pine nuts, it represents a sort of “gourmet art” extending “pleasures” into the domain of visual effects. Habitually, “arnadi” is made from roasted pumpkin mixed with almonds’ flour, egg yolks and sugar as well as small amounts of taste “shaping” ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, citrus rind…. That’s why it is often called Calabaza Santa (what can be translated as “Easter’s Pumpkin”). Sometimes (depending on individual preferences) pumpkin is mixed with or even fully replaced by sweet potatoes (Spanish – “patatas dulces”, or in Catalan – “moniatos”). This version of “arnadi” has its local name “Moniato Sant” (in other words “Easter’s Potato (cake)”. Once well mixed and ready, the dough is placed in small clay pots, shaped in the form of pyramid, garnished with almonds and then baked at temperature of about 180oC until it reaches golden-brown color (usually it takes 1 to 1.5 hours). This very popular Valencian Easter sweet, is the legacy of the Moorish presence in the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, according to etymologists, most likely the word “Arnadi” is derived from the “capital” of Moorish culture and traditions (including sweet ones) – today’s Granada (Gharnati in Arabic). Due to the fact that “Arnadi” is a traditional Easter cake, it is also often called Santa Calabaza (or Santa Carabassa) cake – farther proving its origins. The name “Carabassa” (meaning “gourd”) is derived from Arabic words “quar” (gourd) and “yabisa” (dry), what also points out that these original Moorish cakes had been made from gourds. While arnadi is traditionally served during the Lent and Holy Week, in some areas (especially in Xàtiva, but also in La Costera, Marina Alta and La Safor) the cake is available throughout the whole year. “Pastelería Monpla” (Carrer de Pizarro 32, Valencia), “Horno San Pablo” (Avenida de l’Oest 25, Valencia) and “Dulces Campos” (Plaza Andrés Estelles, 2, Xàtiva) are some of the best bakeries & cakes shops where you can buy arnadi.
Mona de Pascua
The Mona de Pascua is a yeast-based bun cake made from a mix of flour, butter, milk, sugar, egg yolks and aroma-enhancing ingredients (usually citrus rinds and anise extract or crushed seeds). Typically, it is topped with colorful candy sprinkles (“anisetes”) and sugar. In contrast to other cakes made from similar brioche-type of dough, the Mona de Pascua (as its name suggests) is especially designed for celebrations ending the Lent and is traditionally served on Easter Monday. No wonder, that its main decorative element is a boiled egg with dyed shell. Since ancient times, the egg was considered as a symbol of new life, but in Christianity such symbolism gained extra dimensions – especially during Easter, when it is used to epitomize the incoming resurrection. According to the local traditions, the cake is served on an outdoor picnic (often on the beach) with family and friends. And it is a duty (and privilege) of godfather to give it to his grandchildren. Slightly “less” friendly side of the tradition was the custom to punch the hard egg on someone’s forehead to crack it (the egg, not the head 😊). As the matter of fact, the whole day is so much dominated by these customs that it is often called “Mona’s Day”. Given the fact that Mona de Pascua cakes were mainly designed for children, with time quite often the hard-boiled egg was replaced by chocolate ones and even by Kinder egg. As the matter of fact, chocolate ornaments became more popular and nowadays, some Mona de Pascua cakes are richly decorated by very much appreciated by kids – sculptures made from the dark chocolate. The historical background of the Mona de Pascua is not that clear. Mona de Pascua is usually translated as “Easter Monkey” what may possibly refer to the shape of the cake. In fact, traditionally this cake is dedicated to kids so very often it comes in shapes of animals (turtle, snail, snake, lizard, croc….). Well, monkey is a bit more demanding form to be made, however quite often we use such name for something funny, so it is plausible that indeed this is the case of Mona de Pascua. On the other side, etymologists claim that the name “mona” comes from Arabic terms “munna” or “mouna” meaning “provision of the mouth” and it was a gift that Muslims had been offering to their masters. Obviously, it was a sort of “gourmet” gift for gratifications at the table. As we know, such pleasures belong to all ages, all conditions and all countries, so such ideas were promptly adopted across the nations. Given this etymology and subsequent practice, the right translation of the name “Mona de Pascua” should be rather “Easter’s Gift”, for what it exactly was and still is. It is believed, that the tradition of Mona de Pascua originated in the province of Valencia (today’s municipality of Alberique in Ribera Alta), but since long it is also the custom in Aragon, Catalonia, Murcia and Balearic Islands.
Panquemado is a brioche – sweet, soft, yeast-based bread usually made in a form of a small round roll. Essentially, it is made based on very similar recipe and dough as the Mona de Pascua (if not the same). The main difference is that the latter is mainly intended for children (hence special decorations like painted egg, chocolate and colorful “anisetes”), while the Panquemado is more focused on “pleasures” of older generations where decorations and visual effects are not of utmost importance. The name “Pan-quemado” literally means “burned-bread”. Indeed, from the outside it is dark-brownish as the result of covering it with the layer of beaten egg just before baking. However, under the dark almost burnt crispy skin you will find a sweet, spongy and light interior. For these reasons, in many places panquemado is consumed almost throughout the year, although unquestionably, it’s time of “glory” is definitely the Easter, when it is traditionally served with the cup of the hot chocolate. As expected, there are many versions of panquemados, BTW, quite often known under different names like Portuguese “Panquemao”, or Spanish regional “Panou”, “Pa Socarrat” (crusted (bread)), “Toña” and “Fogaseta” (popular in Alicante and Murcia). Interestingly, Alicante also has a more elaborated version of Toña, known as “Toñita”. Basically, it is the traditional panquemado (toña) that is horizontally cut in half, filled with ice-cream and then served in form of sandwich! What can I say – Welcome to Alicante!
Buñuelos de Cuaresma
Buñuelos de Cuaresma (Lenten Fritters) are some of the most popular Valencian sweets served during Holy Week. They are made from the mixture of flour, butter, milk, sugar and eggs with addition of (according to taste) anise seeds, cinnamon, lemon peels, bit of sweet wine (preferably Moscatel). During the frying process, pockets of air captured inside the dough expand giving buñuelos ball-like shapes. Once fried, buñuelos are very spongy (airy if you wish) and actually quite empty inside. That’s probably the reason that sometimes they are also called Buñuelos de Viento (viento means “wind”). Frying is the crucial moment of preparation, it should be done in soft oil that will not affect the taste of fritters (preferably sunflower one). Once fried, the excess oil should be drained, and then fritters are ready for the sugar coating (often with a bit of cinnamon). While the name “fritter” is somehow self-descriptive (it is common name for fried food), the equivalent Spanish name “buñuelo” is more elusive. While there is no doubt that they were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by Moors, etymologically the name is probably derived from the French word “Beignet”, itself probably coming from the Celtic word “bigne” (to raise). Buñuelos de Cuaresma are also some of the simplest sweets from the family of buñuelos. Very popular across the world (especially in Spanish-speaking countries), they can come in various versions for example filled with cream, fruits (very trendy with passion fruit), chocolate. They can be also made from potatoes or pumpkin as the main ingredient. Among many Valencian pastry shops, some of the best Buñuelos de Cuaresma you can get at “Horchatería Santa Catalina” (Plaza de Santa Catalina, 6), “Horchatería Fabián” (Carrer de Ciscar, 5), “Buñoleria Churreria El Contraste” (Carrer de Sant Valero, 12)…..
The name “Higos Albardados” is actually the short form of what should be called as “Buñuelos de Higos Albardados”. To farther clarify the essence of this sweet we have to understand the Spanish word “Albardar” which in culinary art means “To wrap the food with… “. After this introduction, it should be clear that “Higos Albardados” are simply dried figs (often sliced) wrapped with typical Buñuelos’ dough and fried in oil. While in Valencia, they are very popular during the festivity of Fallas (March), probably by the “force of nature” (read it – delicious taste), they usually make it into last days of Lent.
Rollitos de anís y mistela
“Rollitos de Anis y Mistela” are sweet rolls usually made in form of small bagels (donuts). “Rollito” means “roll”, so as expected, they are made from the similar dough as traditional sweet rolls (flour, eggs, sugar and olive oil). What makes them however very special are extra ingredients: very appreciated in Spain for its taste – anise (usually paste) and mistela. The latter is a sweet liquor belonging to the class of fortified wines produced by mixing partially fermented grapes’ juice with strong alcohol (brandy). Traditionally, the final finish includes the coating with marzipan (paste of ground-almonds with sugar and eggs’ whites) or in more modest version – just with the sugar. Often, due to the “significant” content of alcohol, the Rollitos de Anis y Mistela are called “borrachets”. The best explication for this name (incomprehensible for foreigners but rather self-descriptive for residents) comes from translation of the word “borrachera”. It means – quoting: Temporary impairment of physical and mental abilities due to excessive alcohol consumption”, or in short – “drunkenness”. And this tells you everything. Due to their undisputable benefits, Rollitos de Anis y Mistela are consumed pretty much throughout the year, although big occasions like the Holy Week or Christmas create very favorable environment for such forms of “gratification” 😊. Rollitos de Anis y Mistela are typical sweets of Puçol (small municipality located about 20km north from Valencia), so evidently this is the place to explore pastry shops for these delicacies. But not surprisingly, these heavenly sweets are popular throughout the province and according to connoisseurs, the best places to order the Rollitos de Anis y Mistela are: “Horno San Pascual” (Carrer d’Aguado 1, 46420 El Perello) and “Horno La Beata Inés” (Avinguda Nazaret-Oliva, 3, 46419 Mareny de San Lorenzo)– both small municipalities some 20km to 35km south from the center of Valencia.
Almoixàvena is a delicious sweet cake made from flour, oil, sugar, eggs, lard (sometimes substituted by butter) and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Once cooled after baking it has the irregular form and quite crispy consistency. Traditionally it was prepared on the last carnival’s Thursday before the Lent, but now it is consumed almost throughout the year from San Antonio’s holiday (July 13) till the beginning of Lent. Apparently, like many other culinary traditions, the almoixàvena is of Moorish origins, although for obvious reasons, the lard must be very local, post-Moorish addition. Interestingly, almoixàvena is known under several names (mostly Catalan-Valencian) – like “almoxàvena”, “monxàvena” or “monjàvena”, but none of them seem to have any etymological roots in the Arabic language. The cake is very popular in areas of southern regions of Valencia and northern Alicante (Xàtiva, Gandia, Ontinyent, Cocentaina, Alcoi) where these days is often served as “merienda” (mid-afternoon snack). By contrast, the almoixàvena is almost unknown and impossible to find in other regions of Spain. Not surprisingly, all suggested pastry shops to buy good almoixàvena are outside of the city of Valencia. The best chance you may have in one of the following: “Pastelería Boscá” (Carrer Baixada Estació 19), “Confitería Ortiz” (Calle de Vicent Boix, 10), “Dulces Campos” (Plaza Andrés Estelles, 2) – all in Xàtiva, some 60 km south from Valencia.
Coca de llanda
Coca de llanda is a very typical yeast-based Mediterranean cake made from flour, sugar, milk, olive oil and eggs with the “touch” of lemon. Once the dough is ready, it is placed in cake’s mold (container), sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and then baked. It is one of the simplest cakes, enjoyed by all layers of society, be it rich and poor since at least the 19th century. It is deeply rooted in culinary traditions of the eastern Spain (Catalonia, Valencia) especially during big holidays like Easter (Pascua) or Christmas. Before going farther, we must clarify the name “coca”, because for many of us it can be “promising too much” and so quite misleading. Well, it has nothing to do with “Coca (leaves)” nor popular Coke drinks. So sorry if it is disappointing but the Catalan (Valencian) word “coca” means “cake”! More difficult is to give some sense to “llanda”. In an old Catalan llanda (or “launa”) means small, tin-plated metal dish. In fact, the coca de llanda needs the special oven tray (container) with raised edges to give it its characteristic shape but also to prevent it from overflowing during the baking process. After demystifying the name of popular Valencian cakes, few more details. The coca de llanda has a soft, “spongy” texture. It is often served with a cup of hot chocolate, so one can dip the bite of cake in the godly drink greatly extending epicurean pleasures. Due to its popularity, the coca de llanda earned some local names like for example: “coca de llauna”, “coca boba”, coca rápida” (fast cake), “coca de mida”, “coca dolça” (sweet cake) etc… It mostly reflects the fact that the coca de llanda is easy to make and that its basic recipe may undergo many variations pleasing local tastes and/or showing individual creativities. So, for example, the basic coca de llanda may be “enhanced” with orange juice, nuts, raisins, chocolate nuggets etc.. Due to its popularity, these days the Coca de llana can be find in almost any Valencian pastry shop. Experts in this matter suggest the “Tahona del Abuelo” (Carrer dels Àngels, 84, Cabañal ) – a pastry shop operating since 1886 and run by the 5th generation of bakers.
Coca de Nueces y Pasas
Coca de Nueces y Pasas (Cake with nuts and raisins) is an enriched version of the basic “Coca de LLana”. While the latter, due to its simplicity is consumed throughout the year, this one, being more elaborated version is served during bigger holidays, especially for Easter, when it is “competing” with the Mona de Pascua and Panquemado. In difference to the Coca de Llana, this cake is baked on flat tray, so its shape is usually round (like old breads) and slightly slimmer. The grated lemon (or orange) skin, touch of cinnamon as well as nuts and raisins give the Coca de nueces y pasas a distinguishable flavor. BTW – quite often, nuts and raisins prior to mixing with dough are soaked in a brandy (preferably mistella) what adds extra flavors to anyhow already delicious cake. It is one of the most popular Valencian Easter cakes, so you will find it easily in most pastry shops across the Valencian community. You may find that in some areas of Valencia, the “Coca de Nueces y Pasas” is called “Reganya”. Well, it’s rather an unfortunate misinterpretation of what is the authentic “Reganya”. Quoting the website of a Municipality of Alzira (about 40 km south from Valencia): “La Reganyà is a traditional sweet of humble origin that combines Easter cakes with pumpkin and has been chosen by the Homeros Guild for being a unique product in Alzira. Just to remind all readers: the basic “Coca de LLanda” (and its numerous variations) are made from wheat-based dough!
Coca Escudella is a sweet cake that is prepared similar way as typical “coca”, but with two exceptions. Cake’s main ingredient is a roasted pumpkin (actually it is mixed in roughly half/half proportion with the traditional flour). Second difference is rather marginal in terms of the final outcome, but important enough to give the cake its mysterious name: “Escudellà”. In the culinary world, “Escudellar” (or “Escudillar”) means to “pour” (literally “throw” or “toss”) the food into a bowl or plate. In difference to other cakes, the dough of Coka Escudellà is quite fluid (only slightly firmer than the one used for pancakes). As the result, you cannot place pieces of it with hands on an oven tray. It is rather poured with the help of a ladle over small, individual wafers (Spanish – “obleas”) on which it is later baked in the oven. Wafers are usually made with wheat-flour and water with a bit of oil, but these days, you don’t make them but rather buy them in grocery shops. I hope that this “demystifies” the name Coca Escudella.
For extra effects, before baking, the raw cocas escudellas are sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. You can also add into the dough almonds, nuts, dates, raisins (according to preferences) as well as grated lemon rind. Once baked, the Coca Escudella will have a golden-brown color.
If not the special final stage (pouring the dough over wafers), one could say that taste-wise the Coca Escudella is similar to previously described pumpkin-based sweets like Arnadi, Panquemado, or even mentioned above Reganyà.
Note, that pumpkins are very popular in Valencia. These used in pastry belong to the family of low-calories, sweet calabashes known here as “dulce horno calabazas”. Needless to say, that Cocas Escudellas are very popular in the region of Valencia and very appreciated on the Easter table!
Please note that these days, cakes and in general sweets are part of our daily life and culinary pleasures. That’s why most of “treats” that in the past had been made only for big holidays like Christmas, Holy Week or All Saints, today you will find available throughout the whole year. Being popular and readily available, they probably lost a lot of charm inherent in “rarities”, but nevertheless, I’m sure that they are still as mouthwatering as ever.
Farinosas de Pascua
This is a traditional Easter cake popular in the region of Castellon (north of Valencia). The cake’s dough is made from flour, eggs, oil, sugar and water mixed with yeast as well as with enhancing taste slice of orange or lemon. Essentially, it is a similar dough as the one used for Mona de Pascua, with one exception – it is based on water instead of milk.
The main difference however is its elongated form (sort of a loaf of bread) and filling. Traditionally, it will be filled with a “cabello d’angel” (it is an “angel’s hair jam”) or sweet potato. Recently there are also versions with pastry cream, chocolate and even with cottage cheese.
What makes Farinosas de Pascua so unique is exactly the “cabello d’angel”. It is a sort of preserve (or confiture) but this statement still requires explanations because you can rarely find it outside of Spain. Cabello d’angel is made from cooked pumpkin with addition of sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. Its poetic name comes from the fibrous texture of the cooked pumpkin – looking like a mixture of very delicate, fine, so obviously “angelic” hairs. Well, those scared that Farinosas de Pascua are stuffed with sort of “spaghettini” (or Chinese noodles) can now relax. The preserve Cabello d’angel is sweet and delicious, and it has nothing to do with the pasta.
When the dough is ready, small portions of it should be placed on the wooden board (or silicone sheet) and one by one flattened with a rolling pin. The filling (presumably – cabello d’angel) is placed in the center of the flat dough and then each Farinosa de Pascua is folded. In a way, we could say that the filling (Cabello d’angel”) is wrapped in the sheet of cake’s dough.
Please note that Farinosas de Pascua are also very popular in Majorca, although there, the pastry is known as “Robiols”.
Rosegons (Rosegós in Catalonian) are almonds-stuffed, roasted biscuits in shape of small, narrow slices of bread. In difference to typical soft and spongy sweets, Rosegons are “hard sweets”. Such consistency is achieved by double-baking process. First, the sort of elongated, narrow bread is made from a mixture of flour, sugar, (sometimes also egg), toasted almonds and addition of bicarbonate of soda (in the past known as “powdered lemonade”). For best effect, almonds should not be peeled, and a touch of lemon flavor should be added to the dough. The loafs of bread is then baked similar way as the traditional bread.
However once ready, it is removed from the oven, sliced and then once again baked (or rather roasted) in the oven. As the result, you will find usually moderately sweet, crunchy bars (or treats if you wish), ideal for chewing. Because they are quite dry, ideally rosegones are served with drinks. It can be a cup of coffee, but also a glass of sweet wine (preferably muscat).
The name “Rosegon” seems to come from the Catalan “rosegar” which means to chew, bite, crack – what pretty-much reflects the way rosegones are consumed.
Apparently, rosegones come from Alicante, however they quickly gained popularity all over the Spain. Part of that success is probably easiness to keep them edible and at the same time delicious for the long time what is not possible for spongy cakes. While now they are available throughout the year, in the past they were specifically prepared for the Holy Week of Easter. In some areas of Spain (Balearic Islands, Aragon….) they are also known as Carquinyolis or Carquinyols.
It may be worth to mention that Rosegones belong to the category of biscuits. The Italian “Biscotti” originates from the Latin “biscoctus” meaning “twice-cooked” (in this case “twice-baked”) and it is exactly the case of rosegones. Note however, that these days in many countries the word “biscuit” refers rather to soft breads.
Spanish Easter Sweets
Torrijas de Leche
Torrijas are some of the most characteristic Spanish sweets for Easter, especially popular in central Spain (Madrid) and Galicia (where they are known as “torradas”). The concept of torrijas is centuries old and for most of us known under its popular US name of “French Toast”. The Spanish Torrijas de Leche are enhanced version of traditional recipe based on a slice of bread soaked in beaten eggs and fried on the oil. Usually they are made from thick slices of special (wider and softer) bread specially baked for torrijas.
The whole process takes four steps requiring preparation of “flavored milk” and beaten eggs for dipping slices of bread, then frying and coating with outer layer of sugar and cinnamon. The flavored milk and the final step of coating are essential elements making Torrijas de Leche a delicious dessert. The whole milk is mixed with grinded lemon rind, vanilla, cinnamon stick and here is the critical part – with a noticeable amount of Porto (Spanish – “Oporto”) or Muscat (in general strong but sweet wine). The mixture is warmed almost up to the boiling point and then left to allow time for flavors to blend.
Similarly, important is the last step that consist of coating the freshly-fried and still hot torijjas in the mixture of fine sugar and cinnamon. Once cooled to room temperature, they make sweet, soft and truly delicious dessert with an intense bouquet of flavors.
Historically, the idea behind all sorts of “French Toasts” was to find a practical solution for an old bread, not anymore suitable for direct consumption. That’s why for example in France, the “French toast” is called “Pain Perdue” (meaning “lost bread”) that otherwise will be wasted. The “rejuvenating” flavoring and toasting process was a way to give it the new life. In other words – new taste and touch of freshness, at the same time destroying by heat potentially harmful germs.
Pestiños con miel
Pestiños are small pieces of thin, rectangular-shaped dough, folded in a loop from two opposite sides, deep-fried in an oil and then dipped in honey (hence the name “Pestiños con miel”). They are very popular in Southern Spain (Andalusia, Murcia, Extramadura) as desserts served during big holidays like Christmas or Easter. Pestiños’ traditional dough is a combination of flour, sugar, sesame seeds, orange or lemon rind, cinnamon and white wine. Traditionally, also anise seeds (or Andalusian green anise liqueur “Matalahúva”) as well as orange blossom water are added to the dough setting a powerful flavor not only for pestiños, but also, due to its intensity – to the whole surrounding area where the sweets are fried. In fact, usually, the process of frying “Pestiños con miel” is a delightful outdoor event shared with family, friends and neighbors.
Pestiños have deep roots in the Moorish cuisine (no wonder – we are talking about Andalusia, a land for centuries controlled by Arabs). They are already mentioned in 16th century Spanish herbal-medicine book (“La Lozana Andaluza” by Francisco Delicado, where “Lozana” can be translated as “healthy or lush”). BTW- very similar sweets you can find just across the Mediterranean Sea in today’s Morocco where they are known as “chebbakias” or “shebakias”. They are made pretty much the same way as pestiños, although shaped in more artistic form of flowers.
Regarding Valencianos and visitors to this beautiful city – well, it may be not that easy to find pestiños locally, but well, Andalusia deserves your time, so at least you know where to go on your next trip 😊.
Borrachuelos malagueños are made very similar way to Pestiños. The main difference is that their dough is soaked with three different types of wine: white wine, anise liquor (aroma intensive “Matalahúva”) and sweet Malaga wine (usually Muscat). This part of the recipe tells you everything. The reason that they are not called “Pestiños” is determined by the fact that in Spanish “Borracho” means “Drunk” and correspondingly “malagueños” – “from Malaga”. Well, it’s quite inviting, so Welcome to Malaga 😊
But there is one more difference compared to Pestiños. Often, Borrachuelos Malagueños are filled with “cabellos de ángel” (literally “Angel’s hairs” – in practice, sweet jam made from pumpkin and sugar) or with sweet potatoes. BTW- the latter are very popular in the region of Malaga, so often they end-up in sweet treats.
Roscos de Semana Santa
The main characteristic of all Roscos (also known as “Rosquetes”) is their toroidal shape – so familiar for all aficionados of donuts. It does not mean however, that all roscos are the same, because the shape does not determine more than just a physical appearance. After this introduction, we can move to the sunny Andalusia (specifically in Cádiz) where Roscos de Semana Santa are some of the most popular sweets prepared for Easter. Their basic ingredients are quite typical: flour, milk, olive oil, eggs, sugar mixed with yeast and lemon rind. Quite often however, Roscos de Semana Santa will come with a touch of cinnamon, anise (green liquor Matalahúva), cloves (Clavos de olor), and honey (miel) giving them distinctive Andalusian-Easter’s flavor.
What makes this version of Roscos different from many other popular donuts (including Valencian Roscones) is the fact that they are fried on oil instead of being baked.
Canutos de la Semana Santa
Canutos are typical sweets of Holy Week in the central Spain (Castilla-La Mancha). Their dough is made from the combination of typical ingredients like flour, sugar, virgin olive oil and very Spanish ones like orange juice, orange rind, white wine and anise liquor (or brandy). The major difference compared to all so-far described Easter sweets is their form. Simply speaking – Canutos are fritters made in form of “pipes” (something like famous Sicilian Cannoli) although narrower and rarely stuffed.
In order to form canutos’ characteristic pipe-shape, the flattened dough is rolled over the piece of sugar-cane stem (or any bamboo or reef-like sort of stem). It must be something that will not be harmful, because canutos are fried in the oil together with the supporting carrier. The latter is removed only once canutos are taken out from the oil (best indication of being “ready” is their golden-brown color). Right after, in a final touch of “heaven”, canutos are coated with the layer of sugar and cinnamon.
Traditionally, canutos are served “empty”, because their taste and rich flavors make them more than delicious for any fiesta. Recently however, it can be observed that in our endless pursuit of “culinary excellence”, canutos are filled with creams, jams etc…
Marañuela is a popular Easter sweet in the areas of northern Spain (Asturias). Compared to many other Spanish confections, their dough doesn’t make big difference, but rather their shape. In its basic version, Marañuelas’ dough is made from flour, eggs, sugar and butter with addition of yeast, grated lemon rind and quite often a shot of anise liquor. Once the dough is ready, it is divided in smaller pieces subsequently formed in elongated strips. This opens room for imagination. Traditionally marañuelas are made in the spiral form, but it could be also braid, twisted-&-folded bagel or four-corners star (to name only few most common). Once baked, they have soft consistency of a bun, so sometimes they are even called as “bollo de marañuela” (marañuela bun).
For Asturians, marañuelas are more than just a sweet treat, it seems to be a social event culminating during the Holly Week with Marañuela Festivals. In fact, enjoyable marañuelas street-fairs are organized by competing municipality of Candás and Luanco. While for foreigners, it may be difficult to identify differences between “Marañuelas de Candás” and the “Marañuelas de Luanco”, for proud residents they are obvious. Those closer to the “sources” claim that the first are softer compared to the latter.
Bartolillos are popular Easter sweets in the area of Madrid (no wonder that often they are called “Bartolillos Madrileños”. They are sort of triangular-shape “Empanadillas” filled with custard (pastry cream). Traditional pastry’s dough is a combination of flour, wine and lard! In recent times, due to our increased health-consciousness, the lard (frankly, great ingredient but quite fatty), mostly had been replaced by virgin olive oil what affected the very unique taste of traditional bartolillos, but at the same time made us feeling better. The typical custard is made from flour, milk, eggs, yolks and a touch of vanilla. Once stuffed, they are fried in an oil until brown.
Traditionally bartolillos are served hot, usually sprinkled with powdered sugar. Interestingly, despite their long and deeply rooted presence in the Spanish capital as well as unquestionable taste values, these days they seem to be on the brink of extinction. Pushed out of the market by newcomers like muffins, donuts, tiramisu and all “Ferrero-Rocher-likes etc…), bartolillos are now mostly present in memories of older generations and poetry dating to the 19th century Madrid.
Note, that there are also versions of bartolillos stuffed with meat. While certainly they are as delicious, is its sweet versions, by definition, they belong to the world of “carnivorous delicacies”.
Given the fact that these days finding good Bartolillos Madrileños is a “full-time-job” we provide some tips where to go: Restaurante Botin (Calle Cuchilleros, 17, – BTW, this 17th century restaurant is probably the oldest one in Spain), Antigua Pastelería del Pozo (Calle de Alcalá, 8), Pasteleria El Horno de San Onofre (Calle de San Onofre, 3), Confiteria El Riojano (Calle Mayor, 10), Mantequería Andrés – all in Madrid.
Well, whoever went through all the text, congratulations for perseverance! And if you already got here, then let me share my personal impressions regarding Spanish sweets.
- What seems to make them different from the rest of the world, is the that their recipes call for large quantities of wine (alcohol in general) and in fact, this alcohol ends-up in the pastry’s dough. I’m pointing it out, because in our traditions of pastry with wine, wine usually makes into its destination (stomach) directly, somehow “skipping” the path of dough.
- Spanish pastry makes use of many “aroma-enhancing” ingredients of which the most unique and “powerful” seems to be anise. It will be used in form of seeds, crushed seeds or as an anise-based liquor (Matalahúva). Other powerful and often used ingredient is a clove.
- Spanish pastry reflects the fact that the Iberian Peninsula was a crossroad of different culinary arts, customs, habits and coming with them unique ingredients. Influence of Arabic and European kitchens combined with East-Asian and South-American ingredients left deep roots that today we can still see and enjoy in Spanish pastelerias.