Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Spain is a peninsula with marked regional, geoclimatic, and cultural differences that yield an impressive array of sweet dishes. Along the lush northern Cantabrian coast and extending to the Atlantic Ocean in the northwest, regional specialties such as arroz con leche (rice pudding), natillas (custard), tocino de cielo (milkless flan), casadielles (fried pastries made with butter and anise liqueur, stuffed with a paste of ground walnuts, butter, lemon peel, sherry, and cinnamon), and filloas (very thin crepes served with cinnamon and honey) make good use of the local dairy products, eggs, wheat, and fresh and dried fruits. Roman and Arabic traditions—the original Mediterranean diet—marry along the eastern Mediterranean coast, where mel y mató (whey similar to cottage cheese), menjar blanc (milk pudding with ground almonds), and flaó (cheese tart with mint) are inspired by the local dairy products. There are also baked doughs such as cocas (thin, crisp bread with dried fruit), pan quemado (round cake made without eggs), and a wide range of turrones (nougats). In the central Meseta extending to the west, as well as in Extremadura, lard, wheat, and eggs are used to bake simple, exquisite cakes like bizcochos and magdalenas, or the fried doughnut-like rosquillas. In Andalusia, which borders the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts in the south, the art of frying in olive oil was inherited from the Semitic populations and led to a panoply of sweets of different shapes and textures, collectively described as frutas de sarten (frying pan fruits). See fried dough. Examples include pestiños and the complex alajú, flat, round baked dough made with aniseed, cinnamon, coriander, sesame seeds, and cloves. In the Canary Islands, roasted corn flour, called gofio, is used to make the local version of nougat.