A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the tenth part in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway.
I am writing this while eating a helado/gelat. It only seems fitting for the occasion.
Southern Europeans love a great many things, but it is possibly their love of sugar which we in the UK are least aware of. Each time I have met a Southern European person this year my mind as boggled at the sheer amount of sugar that they eat. There is a very definite pastry culture. And I am surprised that there is less of a diabetic epidemic. Eating the same breakfast as a Sicilian left me shaking for the rest of the day. Sugar is their fuel. The guidebooks tell me that I simply must try the many pastries, desserts and other sweet delights of the southern European countries that I have visited: Portugal, Italy and Spain. While Spain is my focus of this blog, I must give a special shout out to two of my favourite desserts: pastel de nata (Portugal), and cannoli (Italy. Also tiramisu and semifreddo).
Sugar in my bloodstream, on with the whirlwind tour of pastries and desserts.
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: “a life without ice cream is not a life well lived”. Or, putting it through Google translate: “Una vida sin helado no es una vida bien vivida“.
Gelato, ice cream, helado, gelat, whatever you want to call it – or whatever it is in your language – is one of my great passions in life. I like ice cream more than the children, though they have increased their love of ice cream since I visited. Chocolate (dark if available) is my base flavour of choice, then I tend to add either coffee, stracciatella, or pistaccio. I had a very good canela ice cream from Gel&Gurts in Vilassar de Mar, so this will also be added to my repertoire.
The children also like chocolate (milk) and nata, which is too sweet for me. Always ask for a taster in the gelato shop. If they don’t give it to you, it’s a bad shop. Also make sure you know the price before paying; I have been with people on two different occasions where they scarcely got change for €10 for a gelato. The youngest daughter also likes coffee ice cream a lot, the first time I’ve come across a coffee-loving child. She enjoys smelling coffee too. The mother says that they can drink coffee at age 16, and alcohol at 18. The mother had a mojito gelato. A real mojito is preferable.
If it is around midday, a time that I have not eaten gelat in Spain so far, I opt for a fruit flavour: strawberry, raspberry and blueberry are my preferred choices. Were you looking for a way to my heart, take me for a gelato.
The best gelatos are in Italy. Thankfully, Italians have spread their wings across Europe and good gelato is quite widely available – and better than Cornish/Devonshire ice cream, apologies to my friend in Plymouth. After Italy, Germany has the best ice cream. The popularity of gelatos and eiscafe culture in Germany is something which I had not anticipated, but there it is.
Helado culture in Spain is still prevalent. It is hot, after all. The mother has takes the kids for ice cream at least once a week, and there is always ice cream in the freezer.
There is often horchata available from heladerias as well, which is the Catalan stamp on the Italian parlour. Children prefer parlours where they can get toppings. They are yet to be ice cream purists like myself.
I look forward to the ice cream truck at my friend’s wedding, though hope that I can still fit in the bridesmaids dress. Walk, swim, yoga.
We all scream for ice cream.
I am still not old enough to not find this name funny.
A typical pastry of Catalunya and Valencia, typically eaten with Horchata year round, or heated and served with hot chocolate or café con leche in the cooler months.
They are a simple pastry and really were nothing special to me. Saying this, I had just eaten a gelat and was possibly disappointed that this wasn’t a second gelat. That afternoon wandering around Mataró with sugary fingers and children with sticky fingers, faces and ruined t-shirts was possibly not the most apt moment for the mother to decide to buy school supplies for the children. A dampener on the fun; or fun to the dull.
What it most reminded me of was a beignet. The only time I have eaten a beignet was in Chicago, where it was given free “because it’s your first brunch in the states”. I enjoyed that beignet a lot, but was it because it was free?
Having eaten a fartón with horchata, I can say that there are some things that are maybe best appreciated as part of a tradition.
Tortas de Aceite
So ingrained in the Spanish culture that they are even mentioned in Don Quixote, arguably one of the greatest novels to come out of Spain and the world at large.
They are mostly made in southern Spain, with several towns around Sevilla claiming to be the home of these light, crispy, delectable tortas. They are made of olive oil (a far crisper finish than mantequilla), wheat flour, almonds, sugar, sesame seeds and anise; the taste of the anise is pleasant, not overpowering, and combined with the olive oil gives the torta its specific taste which has resulted in its ever-long popularity, and the proud, conflicting declarations of the different places claiming to be its creator. Crisp, sweet and tempered with umami, then wrapped with greaseproof papel for transport across the country and colonies.
Torta de Manzana
Just-a like-a Tia makes it. The mother of the host father made a Torta de Manzana. I didn’t take a picture and nothing on Google gives a good enough representation of it. Somewhere between a pie, cake and tart, this soft apple sponge pudding (throwing all the words out there) is one of the most understated, pleasantly tangy and only mildly sweet apple dessert that I have tried, and I have tried a lot. I prefer a tartin, tart or crumble, but there’s always a draw to grandma’s cooking, even if she isn’t my grandma. She lives in San Carlos de la Rápita, so based only on this fact I will claim that this is how they make it on the Catalonia/Valencia border.
Apparently for her 40th birthday, the father of the family bought the mother a desserts book. His mother cooks excellent desserts I hear and have tasted one example of. “Maybe you will be happier if you cook a good cake for once in your life.” Ah, love.
Ensaimada de Menorca
The first sweet treat of this leg of my Spanish trip. It was served at breakfast then again at la merienda and equally popular for adults and children.
The parents had spent the previous day in Menorca, catching a flight at 7am and arriving back at midnight, coinciding with my flight time. During their day in Menorca they bought a boat, worked on their tans, drank some wine, and picked up this treat.
We ate a cabello de angel (a type of pumpkin jam) filled ensaimada, which I will declare as being the most popular and traditional of the fillings. Other flavour options are chocolate, custard, cream, or sobrassa (ground pork, paprika, salt, spices) for a savoury option.
Our sweet version reminded me of a flatter, more spiraled pandoro. Not just for Christmas. And showing me that there is more to the Balearics than sunburnt Brits.
More on pasteles y postres in part two.