Seven Galician sweets for Christmas

In the Christmas feasts, so close together, sweets are of enormous importance, the protagonists of the longest after-dinner meals of the year. However jaded we may be, there’s always room for a sweet treat of the season. Beyond marzipan and nougat, Galicia has a rich confectionery tradition that has always been present on Christmas tables. Here are seven delicacies for the festive season:

Bica. This cake is a typical dessert of these dates, especially in the south of Ourense. We may associate it more with carnival, but doesn’t carnival here practically starts at Christmas? The most famous bicas come from the Ribeira Sacra area, and the truth is that they combine very well with wine (and with liquor, with coffee, with coffee liqueur…). What makes them different from a normal sponge cake is their fine, spongy crumb and the toasted sugar coating on top. The key ingredient in the preparation is cow’s lard. The best-known bicas are those of Trives; the bica blanca de Laza, which is made with egg whites and cream; and the bica de Castro Caldelas.

Larpeira. This fine aniseed-flavoured cake, with a grid of custard on top, is a classic at all celebrations, especially in the area of Culleredo, Cambre and Ferrolterra, in the province of A Coruña, and in Monforte de Lemos, in the province of Lugo. It may have something to do with the solstices, as it is typical at Midsummer and Christmas. On these dates it is perfect as a dessert and for breakfast on New Year’s Day.

Manteigadas. The manteigada, that middle ground between a muffin and a small, light and tasty sponge cake, which comes with a paper mould, appears at every Christmas desserts. The most famous are those of As Pontes, in the Eume region. There they are still made with the same recipe as centuries ago, and with the same ingredients as always: eggs, lard, flour and sugar. Even the wrappers are prepared by hand. They go well with polvorón from As Pontes, another local delicacy.

Melindres. The etymology has nothing to do with it, but Melide seems destined to make melindres. Could it be because they are similar in name? It is not clear where the town ends and the sweet begins. These morsels wrapped in sugar, like mini yolk doughnuts with icing, have the magic of pastry flavours with different textures inside and out. Located at the crossroads between the French and Primitive Ways, on the final stretch towards Santiago, it seems that the essence of western confectionery had been condensed in Melide.

Marron glacé. This preparation of chestnuts, of French origin, is relatively recent. Bearing in mind that the raw material is the chestnut, it would be strange if the recipe had not ended up in Orense. In the 1980s, marron glacé began to be produced industrially in Galicia. Although industrially is an understatement, as the process is so artisanal that it seems as if each chestnut is given a name. The recipe takes no less than ten days to prepare, and only the choicest chestnuts, which have not suffered a scratch in the successive steps of the confit, are used for the final process, the glazing. These delicate, delicatessen products are carefully wrapped in paper one by one for their final packaging. And all this journey is noticeable on the palate. Over time, the recipe incorporates innovations, such as flavouring with brandy, or sherry, or even chocolate coating.

Amendoados (Almond paste cookies). Although Galicia is not a land of many almond trees, almonds have always been used in confectionery. For example, one of the traditional toppings of the Christmas meal in Verín was almond soup, and what can we say about the “torta de Santiago”? But the undisputed fame of this fruit comes from amendoados. These rustic pastries, so crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, are a real luxury. Although they are made in many places, Allariz amendoados are the best known. Marcona almonds, egg white, sugar and the mysteries of pastry making. They are thought to be of Hebrew origin, from the time when Allariz had an important Jewish quarter. Other famous amendoados are those of the convent of Belvís in Compostela, those of Ribadavia and those of Melide.

Roscón de Reis (Three Kings Cake).  There are areas, especially on the southern coast of Galicia, where the rosca, roscón or egg bread is eaten every weekend, but the common thing everywhere is to have it for Easter, the spring roscón, and for Kings Day. And the one for Kings Day can also bring a surprise. It is one of the most traditional sweets, one of those that used to be made at home in company, as it was necessary to spend time between kneading and leaving the dough to ferment and then take it the next day to a neighbour’s oven or to the bakery to finish the process. There used to be queues to bake and today there are queues to pick up the order, usually made entirely in the bakery. There are austere roscones, without excessive decoration, and there are very colourful ones, with shiny crystallised fruits that look like gems. Of course, the best way to round off the festivities is to have chocolate and roscón for breakfast on the morning of the Three Kings, and if we get a present, so much the better.

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