The Spanish definitely have a sweet tooth. Come the holidays, the country celebrates with a fiesta full of colorful culinary traditions, many of them confections. Some treats are national, others are regional, all are delicioso! A recent trip to Northern Spain unearthed a treasure trove of edible delights, made all the more special when friends and family gather round to celebrate. From regional sweets to national favorites, here's a tidy little list to help you play Santa.
This has to be one of the most beloved sweets in all of Spain during the holiday season. The hard variety - often from Alicante - is usually made of honey, sugar, and egg whites and then flavored with toasted almonds or other nuts. The hard, compact blocks often have a rice paper wafer coating on each side. The soft variety, usually from Jijona, is made from an almond paste and egg yolks, rendering the treat decadent and delicious. The treat's roots are Moorish and are said to be a take on the Arabic halva candy. In Barcelona, however, Albert Adria is shaking things up a bit by teaming up with Torrons Vicens to create wild and wonderful flavours like cinnamon rice pudding or mojito soft turrones.
The Casajus family-owned fine spirit producers create a dandy little specialty from Burgos called Orujo. This is basically what's called a pomace brandy, made from the solid remains left after pressing the grapes. It's a northern Spanish, transparent spirit with 50% alcohol content. At Casajus, you can find varieties blended with the essence of lemon, coffee, herbs or, the most holiday merrymaking variety, honey. A tipple of this in a hot toddy-like concoction and you've got a fiesta in a cup. Or have it the way the Spanish prefer, as a digestif, served ice cold in a chilled glass.
Cuevas Candy, $8
In Santiago de Compostela, a city made famous as it marks the end of the legendary Way of St. James journey (aka The Camino), we discovered Northern Spanish marron glacé. The Cuevas company has been producing fine chestnut based sweets since 1867. The traditional marron glacé they produce takes 240 hours to painstakingly make, each chestnut steeped in its own individual water, sugar, and vanilla bath. The crowning touch is a final layer of "vanilla perfumed glass" called a molleux, a slightly crackling sugar coating that enrobes the tender chestnut. A sumptuous way to end any meal.
Tarta de Santiago, $19
This is the almond meal, egg, and sugar-based cake made famous in Santiago de Compostela. If made well, it has a tender crumb (usually produced from Spanish Marcona almonds which tend to be more buttery), a delicate almond flavor, and an icing sugar stencil of the Cross of St. James adorning the top. It's an all-year cake that's brought out during the holidays too, when unexpected guests arrive for an afternoon cup of coffee to keep the chill at bay.
Apple Cider, $35
In the Asturian north of the country, it's all about sidra or hard apple cider. Thanks largely to the area's Celtic roots, where roughly eighty cider mills create a very unique version of the beverage, this is the libation of choice. For the holidays, Asturians celebrate with sidra espumosa or bubbly cider. We're told the bottle of choice is Emilio Martinez Brut Nature, a DOP, award-winning sparkling cider made from Asturian-only apple varieties. Made in the traditional "Champenoise" fashion (it's given a second fermentation), it delivers for any festive occasion.