Someone once asked me if butter instead of lard could be used to make mantecados and I answered, ‘No. Of course not! Make shortbreads if you like butter!’ I must have been feeling quite unseasonably belligerent that day, as mantecados are a traditional Christmas treat. But lard is the traditional shortening to make mantecados. Lard is rendered pork fat and is still popular in Spanish cooking. Lard has only very recently disappeared from Anglo-Saxon cooking and it is interesting to note that suet (kidney fat) is still used in some Christmas pudding recipes. Lard gives a great depth of flavour and another dimension to pastries. It highlights the sugar and the spice and, despite any preconceptions people might have, it leaves the palate feeling cleaner than if butter were used. My family never makes this biscuit at any other time of the year, so when I taste that lard flavour with the almonds and the hint of anis it can be no other season. In my mind, without lard there could be no mantecados. Without mantecados there would be no Christmas. It would be like New York without snow or Bondi Beach without backpackers. Yes of course you could make this recipe with butter but you would not be making mantecados, you’d be making almond shortbread.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Coarsely grind the almonds in a blender or using a mortar and pestle. Put the almonds into a bowl with the eggs, olive oil, caster sugar, lard, flour, lemon rind and anis and mix well to combine. Roll into 36 balls, slightly smaller than a golf ball, then flatten to discs approximately
Place on the baking tray and brush the mantecados with the lightly beaten egg.
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by Murdoch Books.