Feature

Holiday sweets: A tribute to Mexico’s nuns

Nuns found that making elaborate treats to thank donors or to sell was a good way to raise money for their orders.

Many of the sweets of Mexico share an interesting history, said Fany Gerson in My Sweet Mexico (Ten Speed). Various Christmas favorites, in fact, are attributable to 16th- and 17th-century nuns. When sugar arrived in the country, nuns found that creating elaborate treats to thank donors or to sell was a good way to raise money for their orders. Some religious orders developed specialties. The Franciscans, for instance, created lions and doves  made of sugar; “the Bernardinas specialized in fruit preparations.” Almonds, the featured ingredient in the first recipe below, were used by many convents.

Recipes of the week

Ciruelas Rellenas de Almendra 
(Almond-Stuffed Prunes)
1½ cups almonds, skins on
½ cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp honey
3 tbsp water
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 egg white (optional)
24 pitted prunes

Place almonds in small pot, cover with water, and bring to boil over medium heat. Turn off heat and let sit 2 minutes before draining. When nuts cool, remove skins and finely grind in food processor.

In a pot over medium heat, bring to boil ½ cup sugar, 2 tbsp of honey, and water. Add the ground almonds and stir continuously until starting to thicken. Stir in vanilla and let cool. (If you want a smoother mixture, run through a food processor again.) Add egg white and mix well. Add remaining sugar and stir; this should result in a slightly grainy, crunchy texture.

Split prunes on one side, stuff them with almond paste and smooth it. Heat remaining honey and brush over tops of prunes.

Rosquetes Impregnados de Espiritu de Anis
(Anise Cookies)

For dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp aniseed
1 tbsp anise liqueur
Zest of 1 lime

For syrup:
¼ cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tsp anise liqueur
Confectioner’s sugar
Ground canela (or cinnamon)

Sift flour in bowl. Melt shortening in a pan and add aniseed. Heat for a couple of minutes over low-medium heat, and pour onto flour. Mix with spoon, carefully but fast so no lumps form. Stir in liqueur and zest.

Transfer to lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and uniform. Using hands, roll out pieces of dough about 5 inches long and ½-inch thick. Connect one end of each piece to the other, making a ring. Place on parchment paper–lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Refrigerate until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until slightly firm to the touch, about 10 minutes. For syrup, cook water and sugar until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add liqueur. Dip tops of cookies into syrup and let dry on rack. Pour remaining syrup over cookies. Let cool and dust with a mix of confectioner’s sugar and a little cinnamon. Makes about 30 cookies.

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