Sugar and spice and everything nice Traditional Mexican treat encourages cookie lovers to pig out
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/12/2021 (357 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Free Press is once again celebrating the sweetest time of the year with its annual 12 Days of Christmas Cookies feature. Beginning today and running every day (expect Sundays) until Dec. 23, we will be sharing cookie recipes from local bakers, bloggers and home cooks.
If you would like to take part in this series, please send an email to email@example.com with your favourite cookie recipe and a short description of the story behind it.
As a kid, Gina Navarro had images of raw sugar piggies dancing in her head — and not just during the holidays. The pig-shaped, spiced cookies were a year-round staple.
“Probably most Mexicans grew up with these,” she says. “My mom is not a baker, but she loves bread, so we always had bread at home and she would pick up some piggies as well.”
Navarro is the owner of Provecho Market, a Mexican food shop operating out of the recently opened La Taqueria at 1863 Ness Ave. In addition to making desserts for the taco truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant, she sells imported coffee, chocolate, chorizo and a weekly box of handmade pan de leche (or sweet bread) treats. Piggies are often on the menu.
“I started making them because I figured maybe people were missing them here,” Navarro says. “You find a lot of these cookies in carnival setups and very traditional bakeries, but they’re actually getting really hard to find, so, when I started making them, the Mexicans that are here (in Winnipeg) were like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you,’ and that made me feel really good.”
At the same time, non-Mexican customers often tell her how much the cookies remind them of gingerbread, even though ginger isn’t one of the ingredients. Instead, the warm flavours come from the addition of anise seed and cinnamon.
Piggies are, in fact, tangentially related to gingerbread, according to Navarro.
“I’m not sure about the shape,” she says. “But what I know about the story is that when the Europeans started to come (to Mexico) they wanted to find something similar to gingerbread and they couldn’t, so — it was usually the religious people in the convents — they were trying to experiment with the new ingredients they found.”
The cookies were eventually adopted by locals and are known as chichimbre in some regions.
“Because the Europeans were asking for gingerbread and in some towns they couldn’t pronounce gingerbread. So, in some places it’s called chichimbre because that’s what it sounded like to us.” – Gina Navarro
“Because the Europeans were asking for gingerbread and in some towns they couldn’t pronounce gingerbread,” Navarro says. “So, in some places it’s called chichimbre because that’s what it sounded like to us.”
Using the right kind of sugar is integral to the recipe. Raw cane sugar is not the same as its granulated counterpart; this version comes in a solid cone and can be purchased at most Latin grocery stores. The sugar is used to make a spiced caramel sauce that is added to the dry ingredients. It’s important to keep the caramel thin to avoid spreading during baking or cookies that come out too crispy.
“Adding the caramel to a cookie recipe is different, but it’s very simple,” Navarro says. “You have to make sure that it’s not too hot before you add the egg, because you don’t want to do scrambled eggs… and making the caramel, you don’t want to let it boil for more than one minute.”
The result is a cookie that is moist in the middle with a bit of crunch. Some browning around the edges is ideal. And pig-shaped cookie cutters are traditional, but not required.
Raw Sugar Piggies by Gina Navarro
60 ml (1/4 cup) water
150 g or 180 ml (3/4 cup) raw cane sugar
2 1/2 g or 6 ml (1 1/4 tsp) anise seed
2 g or 5 ml (1 tsp) cinnamon (powder)
350 g or 680 ml (2 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
90 g or 180 ml (3/4 cup) icing sugar
2 1/2 g or 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) baking powder
125 g or 125 ml (1/2 cup) butter
Preheat oven to 350 F.
On the stovetop, combine water, cane sugar, anise seed and cinnamon to make caramel. Let boil for one minute and remove from heat. Let cool slightly.
Into the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together flour, icing sugar and baking powder. Stir with the paddle attachment while adding the caramel. Can also mix together by hand if not using a mixer.
Once the caramel is incorporated, add the butter and lastly, the egg. Mix until combined; dough should be soft.
Let the dough chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out to 5-mm thickness and cut into shapes; brush with egg wash.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, December 15, 2021 4:00 PM CST: Corrects typo in recipe (from 5 cm thickness to 5 mm.)