I know at Christmas time one should be excited by family reunions,the birth of Jesus, presents, by Father Christmas, and in Spain by the Three Kings who bring presents on 6th Jan but I have a secret that I am going to share with you. I dont actually get too excited about all those things although they are all fun,relevant etc but I await with bated breath and awe for something much more important at this time of year.When the holiday period is upon us I break out in cold sweats and dream at night. No,it’s not carol singing.
In fact, it is not any kind of British tradition or festive food. It is something which I admit I have become addicted to over the many years here in Spain and it is something which I can only get through a very close knit chain of supply. Even writing about it makes me anxious. But I need to get it off my chest and freely admit that I have this uncontrollable urge over the whole of Christmas. This year was particularly difficult because the secret and personalised supply didnt arrive until this week!! How I have suffered.
This year the packet came form Murcia as it does every year.A big box of “Aguilando”. Yes! Homemade “Aguilando”(also known in some regions as “Aguinaldo”), which is a selection of all sorts of cakes,biscuits and sweets made in the traditional style. The amazing cooks and artesans who make these culinary wonders are my wife’s Auntie and my Mother-in-law.
A veritable treasure trove when you open the box. There are “mantecados”(shortbread type biscuits) subtlely flavoured with spices such as cinnamon and many other sweet pastries. There are also “rosquillas” round biscuit like rings flavoured with aniseed. Many of them have anis liquor or brandy added but always only slightly detectable.
The recipes are passed down through generations.In many cases they are Arabic or Jewish Sephardic recipes, which is evident in the exotic,spicy character and taste they have. All are without doubt made with finesse and only the best ingredients are used and alot of hard work and love and care. It takes many hours of dedicated cooking and baking to make the literally hundreds of kilos they produce every year for family and friends These pastries are very typical in the south of Spain and are now made on an industrial scale by alot of companies and sold all over the country.
However, nothing comes even close to the quality and taste of these family heirlooms which for centuries have been homemade by the ladies of the households for the Christmas period. One of my favourites is “oblea” (also called “Alfajor”) a sort of crushed almond and walnut mix with honey which makes a thin hostlike material covered in ricepaper or made into a cylindrical shape with added cocoa powder. The word “Alfajor” is said to come from al-husa which means filling,the material used to fill between the rice paper.
Another classic are the “toñas” small hard but delicious rough sponge cakes. The list is endless as they are more than twenty types and each region of Spain makes them in a slightly different way and each town has their favourite. This is one of the things I love about Spain…twenty miles down the road an “Alfajor” is not the same as it is here. This regional cuisine and culture has endless delights to discover.
So now you know my big weakness but I feel better now that I have shared it with you all. I am already looking forward to next year.
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