I’m not a big fan of christmas sweets, rarely do I buy “turrones” as I find them overly sweet. But, I’ve always had a special fondness for polvorones”. Since I was a kid, I loved to crash them in between my hands to then slowly enjoy the powdery and cinnamon-spiced mixture…also to try to speak with my mouth full with one! So, when I was in cooking school and they taught us how to make it, I was thrilled that I’d learnt to make it myself (very easy, in fact!)! Since,I haven’t tweaked the recipe much, just adjusted the amount of toasted almond powder (it’s gone to double now) and slightly lowered the sugar.
This treat is from the family of “mantecados”, sweets prepared with flour, “manteca” (that is, pork fat), powdered sugar and flavourings of choice (cinnamon, lemon rind, coconut). What differs the “polvorones”, which were developed in La Estepa (Sevilla) is that they include almond (almond meal and sometimes also chopped up almonds..I prefer it just plain powdery!).
One of the key aspects of their preparation is that the flour used must be slightly toasted. This is done for two reasons, first, to dry up the flour, but most importantly to break up the gluten proteins. I think I read it in my food science book of reference “McGee’s On Food and Cooking” who recommends it for sweet pastry for crumbly tart bases. Well, also the lightly toasted flour brings out a very particular flavour…so, make it 3 reasons!
Although polvorones are often sold just around christmas time, I like to prepare them any time of the year as a “petit four”, that is, just as a small sweet treat after dessert or to go with a coffee etc. So I play around with the flavours used, the traditional include cinnamon and toasted sesame seeds, sometimes lemon rind. So, I use different citrus peels as flavouring, add some coffee powder, cocoa (substituting some of the flour) or other spices, like in this case, cardamom. Feel free to add your favourite spices and even substitute the almond powder for some toasted hazelnut powder. Just note that in that case a little less “manteca” is used, since hazelnuts have more fat content as compared to almonds.
Orange and cardamom polvorones
aprox 240g all purpose flour* (once toasted only 200g will be used)
100g of toasted almond powder
75g of icing sugar (or prepare your own, processing with a spice mill)
100g of pork manteca (I like to use iberian pork fat, from El Pozo)
pinch of salt
grated rind of 1 medium orange (or 1 small lemon if you prefer)
about 1 1/2 tsp of powdered cardamom (or substitute for 1/2 tsp of cinnamon powder
*As the flour toasts, it will lose some weight, so make sure to always account for that loss toasting more than the amount you really need.
Preheat your oven to around 160ºC (best without the fan or some of the flour will blow around!)
Place 2 trays, one with the almond powder, the other with the flour and turn around once in a while so they toast homogeneously. Otherwise they will burn on the sides and be pale in the center!
You are aiming to get the almond powder like this, to bring out it’s beautiful flavour!
And though I forgot to take one of the flour on it’s own, here are both almond and flour toasted. I hope you can see the lightly toasted colour of the flour as compared to the white bowl. Just do not toast too much or it will get bitter!:
I like to sift the almond powder a bit, to remove any bigger pieces first and then mix with in a bowl sifting in the flour (remember to weight the right amount) and sugar. Add the spices and rind and the pork fat into chunks.
Begin mixing, at the begining it will seem like it’s never going to come together, just go on a bit and in no time you’ll magically see how it all forms a dough. That’s when to stop! Don’t keep on going or it will get greasier…The right texture is that it comes together, so if you shape a ball and press it down, which is the way it was traditionally hand shaped, it doesn’t crack..if it does knead a tad more, or if it doesn’t work, add a tiny bit more “manteca”.
By the way, for those of you thinking “yack, pork fat, I’ll just use butter instead”…I thought that too as I’m not a fan of “manteca”, but it just doesn’t work the same!It doesn’t come together the same way. You need much more butter to get a similar texture (which considering “manteca” is pure fat and butter is only about 82% fat, it’s quite reasonable, plus you’d be adding water, so the resulting texture is not as powdery, melt in your mouth!
So believe me, in this recipe, you won’t feel or taste at all the pork fat. First because it is a fairly generously “spiced” dough, but most importantly you need to cook it enough and any “manteca” flavour will be gone!By the way, here is the manteca I use:
Back to the recipe, once the texture feels right, shape into a flattened round (for easier stretching afterwards) and wrap it in some film and rest it for about 20-30 minutes well covered in the fridge.
You could stretch it with a rolling pin into 1,5-2cm thick with a bit of flour, but I prefer to do so in between some cling film pieces, or some parchment paper.
Cut into the desired size, I make them small, for a bite size, but it’s up to you (you can cut shapes or shape individually, just avoid cutters with very thin strips, as they are fairly delicate!)
When you are done cutting up, reshape all the dough into a ball and stretch again (that’s one of the reasons I use cling film, to avoid adding any raw flour into it). Then, cut some more..repeat until finished with the dough.
If you like you can lightly press some toasted sesame seeds over the tops of the cut “polvorones”.
Bake in a 200ºC over for about 8 minutes for cookies under 4cm in diameter, like these ones. Note that all ovens heat differently so check yours, you may need to lower it to 180ºC. You are aiming to get a medium toasted surface all over (you’ll smell it too!). So, adjust if it is colouring too much, as you want the inside to cook as well.
Remove from the oven and DO NOT TOUCH! They are super delicate warm! You must let them cool completely before attempting to move them around!
Dust with some icing sugar if you like…and enjoy!
Either biting into it or crushing it first (best if wrapped individually, though ;)this was just to show you the smooth & delicate texture!