The Real Difference Between Polvorones And Mantecados

While almost everyone will have a favorite go-to cookie for every day of the year, that equation changes when the holiday season comes around. The floodgates open for baked treats that make the holidays even more special, because they only pop up once a year, and that window has opened for two traditional Spanish shortbreads: mantecados and polvorones. While both shortbread cookies may be considered holiday treats here, only polvorones are considered Christmas treats in their home country. 

These cookies may be linked to Christmas, but they played a questionable role in the Spanish Inquisition. Because they were made with pork fat, officials used the delicacy to ferret out the Muslims and Jews in Southern Spain (via The Spruce Eats). Although there is agreement that both shortbreads date back to the 16th century, the site Spanish Food also says there is some dispute over where the cookies originally came from, with the regions of Andalusia and Estepa both claiming to be the birthplace of the sugary treats.

Cooking sites also agree that the treats were born out of a surplus of two ingredients — cereals and pork lard. Flour was later added in by an enterprising home baker named La Colchona (via Andaspain), to make sure the cookies could survive for longer and with a bit of rough handling. 

There is a subtle difference between mantecados and polvorones

Both shortbreads are nearly identical; like other shortbreads, these cookies are egg-free. But while all polvorones can be considered mantecados, not all mantecados are polvorones. Mantecados are made with a mixture of fat (such as lard or butter), granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, as well as ground and toasted almonds. 

The Spanish-language site Blog ESAH says polvorones aren't polvorones without toasted almonds, and this particular cookie also relies on icing sugar, instead of granulated sugar, for sweetness. Polvorones also feature lemon zest and the optional lemon or poppy seed to give it a slightly different flavor (via Spanish Food)

Today, mantecados and polvorones are made across Spain, with production stretching out over the key cities of Madrid and Barcelona. But both Andalusia and Estepa, where food lore says the cookies were first born, continue to be the heartland of these Spanish shortbreads.