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We Spanish tend to eat rather than write. There is no doubt about that. And I am not only talking about people just like you and me but rather the professionals: chefs and writers. Very few chefs have left us their recipes, but fortunately many writers have described Spanish cuisine in their works. It’s even more of a problem with confectionery, which usually only gets a few pages at the back of recipe books. However, confectionery does play an important part in our literature. The further back we look, the greater its importance, and from the 18th century on baking becomes much more important as can be seen from the still lifes from earlier centuries. Some writers even had a very sweet tooth and reflected this in their work, some to the point of sacrificing their eyesight like my adored Don Juan Valera, and others with equally high insulin levels, like the scrawny fantasy writer Dr. Thebussem.
Don’t be surprised when we rush to defend Spanish sweets which have been overshadowed if not completely eclipsed by French patisserie, just as we did for other Delights since chocolate bar moulds were invented by a Spaniard. It’s like what happens with the English language’s influence in Spanish where we ended up borrowing the English word “stop” despite having a perfectly good equivalent, which is used all the time in Cuba. I still remember how proud I was to see crossings in Havana.
But without any further ado, let’s get to the heart of the matter. In France there is a sweet created by a patissier named Malavieille in the city of Saint-Péray in 1871. Known as copeaux, these crispy biscuit strips are shaped like ringlets. I must admit the copeaux made by Alain Mounier are a veritable delight, especially when paired with Saint Péray, a method champenoise white wine locally produced on the right bank of the Rhône.
Here’s the problem. This sweet is registered in the National Institute of Industrial Property, and were we to attempt to export our famous ringlets, an Andalusian fritter passed down for generations in handwritten recipes in many modest family recipe collections, a source of pride between neighbours once they leave the frying pan. These seem all the more important now that the Ministry of Health and part of the baking sector have jointly put an end to the tradition of customers bringing their own ingredients for making confectionery to the ovens where they bought their bread. I can still remember how while scraping the last of the madeleine mix off their earthenware bowls, grandmothers boasted of the baskets full of madeleines, pleated doughnuts and sweet buns.
Just wait and see, these ringlets have been around for a long long time, but as they are not “confirmed” they may eventually be re-christened copeaux. You don’t think so? Just give it time. After all, this is what happened with mostachones and macarons.
I have to be fair even despite my Spanish confectioner’s pride. Therefore, I will start by saying that the macarons found throughout France are very good, and the sublime constant innovations of Philippe Andrieu in “Ladurée” or those popularised by his predecessor Pierre Hermé are all highly praised by the customers visiting the Paris shop on Rue Bonaparte. Furthermore, I will elaborate on this with another little story as here we can find another difference: whereas many foreign sweets, French ones in particular, have known inventors most Spanish sweets are part of tradition so that unfortunately it is not possible to establish when or where they came to be.
It appears that macarons may have had their origins in Venetian monasteries during the Renaissance, and it is thought that Catherine de Médici had the honour of introducing them into France on her wedding to the Duke of Orleans. A granddaughter of Catherine’s founded a Benedictine convent in Nancy, the capital of the northern French region of Lorraine and for this reason this city was considered their birthplace.
There, the Soeurs Macarons were established and are still being made. When the convent closed after the French Revolution two sisters who had been offered lodgings by a doctor decided to start making these sweets to contribute towards their keep. This tradition has continued from 1793 until the present day.
However, when we travel to the south of France we find other macarons with a history of their own. On 8 May 1660 Saint-Jean-de-Luz was preparing for the marriage of King Louis XIV to Maria Teresa, princess of Spain. The king and his entourage stayed at the Castle in Lahobiague. Patissier Adam, whose bakery was not far from the castle, decided to gift the royal family a plate of macarons, a typical product. The royal family liked it so much that in return the Queen Mother gave him a rosary with glass beads. Maison Adam still operates today from 6 Rue de la Republique in Saint-Jean-de-Luz as well as in other regions: Brittany, Perigord, Saint-Émilion, Amiens, etc. However, the most famous ones are those made by Ladurée who came up with the idea of making a sandwich with them and adding different cream fillings.
So that you can take sweet profit from these lines I am giving you the recipe we use to make our macarons, with the knowledge acquired from Pierre Hermé and Paco Torreblanca:
450 grs. Icing sugar
220 grs. Ground almonds
240 grs. Egg whites
1 Vanilla pod.
While the oven is heating at 150 º C, whisk the whites to a soft peak. Then gradually add some sugar and scrapings from inside the vanilla pod, while continuing to whisk until they reach a stiff peak.
Add the almonds to the whisked whites, carefully folding in with the spatula. The mixture is ready when it falls from the spatula in a slow and steady stream.
Use a piping bag to drop small buttons on paper on a baking tray and prior to baking leave to settle until slight crusts have formed. At that point place them in oven for approximately 12 minutes.
Once cold they are filled with the cream of choice and left to sit for a few hours before serving, ensuring the best contrast in textures.
By way of conclusion, I will try to piece together a general history of our mostachones.
The fact that their name does not resemble macaron makes us think that unlike the French macarons they did not originally come from Italy to Spain.
They are not featured in the famous 15th and 16th century writings stored in the National Library, or in the well-known works of Ruperto de Nola (1520) or Diego Granado (1599). However, I was able to find a recipe from 1611 in the famous work of Francisco Martínez Montiño, “head Chef for his Majesty the King”, which I was fortunate enough to acquire for our Museum of Chocolate. This is the first recipe I have found for mostachones and according to the author “these are his Majesty’s favourites”.
Many editions of this work were produced, although it took over a century for a new recipe to appear: Arte de Repostería, written by Juan de la Mata in 1744. The book features recipes for “Neapolitan style mostachones” and “Spanish style mostachones”. The latter did not contain flour and royal icing was used to give them the colour desired. This recipe collection also included “macarons”, and the major difference with respect to Spanish mostachones was that peeled almonds were used instead of whole ones.
But we know for a fact that they were already sold all over Madrid thanks to the “Tariffs of prices as set by civil servants in Madrid for the sale of the products included here in the year 1686”, and it specifically states that “the pound of fine spiced mostachones is sold at two reales and a half”.
In addition, different flavours of macarons were available just as they are today. I found that in 1798, on the corner of Abada and Olivo Alto streets in Madrid there was “a spirits factory to give smell and taste to all sorts of mixes and sweets of confectionery, bakery, breadmakers and other mostachón manufacturers”. And the similarity to French products could even be seen in the presentation. In the first third of the 19th century it was already possible to purchase the famous cardboard boxes for sweets by Silvain Leroque in Madrid, although it is not clear whether they were made locally or imported.
Thus, we can state that mostachones were manufactured throughout Spain over four centuries ago and that they were consumed throughout the year, but also on special days such as All Saints (panellets were reportedly known as “Barcelona style mostachones”) and especially Christmas, where they were used for welcomes and farewells accompanied by liquor. In an article by Salvador Rueda, “El Bautizo” [“The Christening”] (1890), he explains how it was traditional to offer mostachones and liquor to relatives and friends at christenings. They were also offered to those sentenced to death when entering the chapel, as reflected in the account of the execution of Miguel Broch in Villarreal.
Unlike macarons, mostachones are no longer seen quite as often, except of course in the town of Utrera where a variation of the original mostachones have been manufactured since the 19th century. Salvador de Quinta, a famous Utrera writer, would have been delighted to admit his error when he said that “mostachones were not of noble descent”, and to honour him and the great patissier Martínez Montiño, author of the first Spanish mostachón, when we taste a good mostachón we should exclaim: By God! These double mostachones are so good!