These sweet, crumbly almond delicacies might be traditionally served at Christmas, but they are so good to eat at any time of the year.
These biscuits have a wonderful flavour of almonds and vanilla. But the texture is something else – as soon as you pop them in your mouth they dissolve to give what I can only describe as edible sand before vanishing: a stunning “mouth-feel”.
I first tried Mantecados de Almendra last year when they were given to me as a delightful gift from a student and I fell in love with these biscuits immediately.
I have made many batches these past few months as gifts for people and I think they look particularly lovely wrapped in tissue paper.
I initially tried several recipes but none really captured the magic of the ones I tasted. So a Google Translate on the ingredients listed on the box was called for!
A few adaptations of a shortbread recipe later – a higher proportion of dry ingredients for a very crumbly finish, added almond extract, ground almonds and vanilla bean paste – and I felt I was pretty much there.
They don’t need to be dusted with icing sugar but I think this finishes them off nicely. I have also made a few batches with some sesame seeds, patted on top of the rolled out dough before cutt8ng and baking which works well, too.
Flour: One of the ingredients listed on the wrapper is toasted flour, so I oven-toasted the flour very gently until it only just started to take on a little colour. I have also made a batch of these biscuits using with flour straight from the bag, without toasting it, but the ones with toasted flour have a much better flavour.
Almonds & sesame seeds: when I made my first trial batch I used just normal ground almonds and crushed sesame seeds. While these gave lovely biscuits, they did not quite have the “wow” factor I wanted. The toasting of the almonds and sesame seeds is also, I think, key.
Recipe: Mantecados de Almendra – makes about 40
- 250g plain flour
- 140g lard or white fat, at room temperature
- 125g icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 70g ground almonds
- 20g sesame seeds
- icing sugar for dusting over
(1) Preheat the oven to 150c(fan) and sprinkle the flour on a pan lined with greaseproof paper or a silicon baking sheet. Put the flour in the oven for about 45 minutes, giving it a stir about half-way through. Leave the flour to cool before using it.
NB: the flour will take on just a hint of colour: keep an eye on it so it doesn’t go at all dark.
(2) While the flour is gently toasting, put the almonds and sesame seeds in a large frying pan with no oil. Heat over a medium-low heat, stirring from time to time, until the sesame seeds just start to turn a very light golden colour. Remove from the heat and crush either in a food mixer or with a pestle and mortar.
NB: I find you get better results crushing to a fine powder but I have kept them a little coarse before which works well.
(3) Put the lard, icing sugar, almond extract and the vanilla bean paste into a large bowl and mix well to incorporate the sugar: use the wooden spoon to flatten the lard into the sugar first to help it on its way. Then beat well for a couple of minutes to give a very smooth paste.
(4) Add the flour, almonds and sesame seeds and mix well, starting with the spoon to incorporate and then going in with your hands, squeezing the mixture to help it come together to form a dough that just holds together.
NB: the mixture will be very crumbly initially but it will come together to a fairly smooth ball. The warmth of your hands helps the dough come together, but don’t over-work or the fat will soften too much and give a claggy dough.
(5) Put the dough on a large sheet of clingfilm and place another sheet of clingfilm on top. Flatten down a little with the palm of your hands and use a rolling pin to roll it out to about 1cm thick.
NB: there might be a few small cracks on the surface and around the edge but don’t worry as the dough will hold its shape
(6) Cut out small circles with a round cutter – or cut out small rectangles/squares with a knife. I tend to go for a 3½ cm round cutter, giving bite-sized biscuits, but you can go larger or smaller.
NB: you can re-roll the trimmings to give more.
(7) Place the dough shapes onto baking trays lined with silicon mats or baking paper and refrigerate for half an hour.
NB: the chilling firms the dough up, so they are unlikely to break apart in the oven, and the coldness helps keep the tops keep pale during the cooking time.
(8) Bake at 150C (fan) for 15 mins: they should still be pale: you don’t want them to take on colour.
(9) Leave to cool fully on the trays before dusting with icing sugar.