Mantecados de Ánis
Polvorones, the Spanish shortbread cookies have been my favorite for the holidays. Just flour, sugar and sometimes almonds, they’re perfect as gifts – simple but flavorful they go with everything. I was working on this spiced almond version for the Cooking Channel’s All Star Holiday Cookie Recipes post when I started thinking of mantecados. Though they’re some times used interchangeably with polvorones, mantecados should be made with lard – something I’d been avoiding despite the assurances of Michael Pollan, the Lee Bros., and legions of Cuban grandmothers. For frying it made sense, but for baked goods I associated it with heavier and denser cookies and pastries.
When I read in Fany Gerson’s My Sweet Mexico that well-rendered lard actually has less saturated fat than butter, I decided to finally try it. Making a special trip to the farmer’s market, I picked up a tub of Flying Pigs farm leaf lard – the best grade for baking. A little bit of lard goes a long way to making pie crusts flaky, so I thought it would work well for mantecados. I didn’t want to lose the barely there flavor of butter so I didn’t go whole hog, using equal parts lard and butter. Instead of cinnamon and cloves, I opted for crushed anise seeds and lemon. As promised, they were all crumble and sand – a new favorite that couldn’t be older. Feliz Nochebuena!
Mantecados de Ánis/Anise Shortbread Cookies
4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces leaf lard, at room temperature
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from one large lemon
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon anise seeds, crushed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and lard at medium speed for about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and increase the speed to medium-high. Occasionally stopping to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, continue to beat until it is pale and fluffy, an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
Blend together the flour, spices and salt. Add this to the creamed butter all at once then stir with a wooden spoon or spatula for a couple of turns. Return the bowl to the stand and mix on the lowest speed until the flour is just incorporated, do not over mix. Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, push together to form a large flat disc, and wrap well. Refrigerate until very firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick liner.
Scoop out the dough in tablespoons, roll into a ball and place on the cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Using a small spoon dipped in flour, press down on each ball so it form a round disc about 1/2-inch thick. The dough will be fragile but if it cracks or the dough falls apart it can be gently pressed together or reshaped. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake the cookies until the edges are lightly golden, though the tops will still be pale, 12-14 minutes. Remove from the oven and while still warm, sprinkle generously with confectioners’ sugar. Using a spatula, carefully remove the cookies and lay out on a cooling rack.
Yield: 2 1/2 dozen.