Mantecados and polvorones are Spanish shortbreads which are extremely popular in Spain. While mantecados can be found at any time of year in Spain, polvorones are usually consumed at Christmas.
The history of Spanish shortbreads dates back to the 16th century and it was first elaborated in Andalusia, some say in Estepa, others in Antequera and up till today they dispute over the invention. Unlike many Spanish food, it wasn't the Moors that created them, as one of the main ingredients is lard.
What it does have in common with other culinary creations is that it was invented due to surplus of the ingredients; in the case of mantecados and polvorones, the excess ingredients that were used were cereal and lard.
In those times Estepa had a large amounts of pigs that were free to graze in long extensions of oak woods. The trees would disappear during the 18th century, cut down by the Napoleonic armies to stop guerrilleros hiding in there. Those lands became plains were cereals were cultivated.
By then "tortas de manteca" (fat cakes) already existed and were being made in homes and in the Santa Clara convent by the nuns. We know this because there are historical documents from this time that speak of the containers used in their elaboration.
But mantecado did not become so popular until 1870, when Filomena Ruiz Téllez, known as "La Colchona", gave them to her husband to sell in markets, who was a carrier between Estepa and Cordoba. Micaela's success had to do with a creative improvement: she dried them. Thanks to this simple change, polvorones and mantecados resist better transportation and storage, as well as the period in which they keep their qualities, as if they just came out of the oven.
The recipe was so successful that the ovens began to cook them until that point when they're tender on the inside and brown on the outside. In 1934 there were more than 15 houses in Estepa that had been converted into small mantecados and polvorones factories and little by little markets further away opened to them.
Currently mantecados and polvorones are manufactured in many regions of Spain, such as Madrid and Barcelona not only Andalusia, but Estepa remains the main production center. Below you can find the recipes for both of these shortbreads.
Spain has a rich shortbread tradition. If you happen to be visiting Spain be sure to try mantecados and polvorones if you're around Christmas. However if you would like to try to make them at home, the recipes below.
Ingredients (900 grams):