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Heavenly Treats: Coventry Sweets

caff For a”young” cuisine, the Mexican has done really well, in less than 500 years it has produced countless dishes, drinks, desserts and cooking methods. In addition in 2010 UNESCO listed “Mexican Cuisine” (at least some regional cuisines) as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The term “Mexican Cuisine” refers to the mestizo gastronomy derived from the syncretism between Spanish and native indigenous heritages.

By the time  the Colony started there were over 60 different ethnic groups with their own culinary traditions, in addition to that, Spanish colonizers came from different parts of Spain, the result is a really interesting variety of mestizo-regional cuisines in Mexico.

11 of the 56 female convents established in the Colony were located in Puebla.  Coventry kitchens soon became an amazing gastronomic laboratory where indigenous cooking methods and native ingredients met their European counterparts.

Coming up with new recipes for sweets and savoury dishes became a competition amongst convents, flattering their benefactors with baroque feasts was a common practice to ensure their sypmathy and support.

Puebla’s traditional sweets have a well deserved fame for their delicacy and variety. A good example of the gastronomic syncretism are the Tortitas de Santa Clara (St. Claire’s Biscuits) Nuns from the Santa Clara Convent produced a light biscuit (made with wheat flour) topped with a generous mirror of a blanched, sweet pumpkin seed paste.

Because they are very sweet, one can hardly have more than one, however they can vary in size. They are usually served as an afternoon treat or after a meal, preferably with a strong coffee.

To make about 25 medium sized Tortitas, you will need:

For the biscuits:

  • 750g. white flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 380g. shortening
  • 125g. powdered sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup of  water
  • 1 pinch of bicarbonate of soda

baking parchment

pep2For the paste:

  • 500ml of water (to blanche the seeds)
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 500g raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 500g caster sugar

These biscuits have a really short texture, meaning they’re dry and they crumble nicely when eaten. The bicarbonate will help achieve that short texture.

Method:

Dissolve the bicarbonate and sugar in the water, add the shortening and egg yolks, next whisk vigorously until you obtain a smooth frothy mix.

Add the flour and mix by hand until the ingredients are perfectly combined.

Press down the dough on a baking parchment, cover with another sheet of parchment and roll it out with a rolling until you get an even layer of about 4mm thick.

Remove the top parchment and cut out the dough with a circular cookie cutter.

Save a long strip of dough and with it cut thin strips that you will then place forming a rim on every cookie so you create a slightly high crust where the paste will go.

Press the edges with a fork to form the classic indentations. Transfer to a baking tray and pop it in the fridge over night.

Next day, preheat the oven at 200C.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

To make the paste:

You can start the preparation the same day to bake the biscuits. Soak the pumpkin seeds overnight in 500ml of water with the bicarbonate. Next day, rinse the seeds using a muslin and rub them to remove the green skin. Rinse perfectly.

In a pot (do not use non stick) dissolve the 1/2 cup of water, add the sugar and in a low heat simmer until obtaining a thick syrup. Typical Coventry recipes specify this type of syrup as “hard ball”, when the syrup is thickening spoon some of it and let a drop fall in a glass of room temperature water and then grab the drop with your fingers, if the drop forms a hard ball then you’ve reached the desired point. If it’s too soft, continue simmering for a bit longer.

pepIn a food processor, grind the seeds until they form a soft paste. 

When the syrup is ready, remove from the heat and add the paste whisking constantly to incorporate it. Be careful because the syrup will still be hot enough to cause a nasty burn.

Let the mix cool then add the milk whisking vigorously. 

You can now spoon the paste into the biscuits and let set for 4-7 hours to let the paste form a thin crust.

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