Cinnamon flavored Mexican cookies were a childhood favorite

Every year, as Thanksgiving approaches, I take stock of where I am in life, pondering what makes me most grateful.

Without pause, the answer at the top of my list is always my family. Far from perfect, we are a firmly committed, intensely loyal and lovingly supportive group.

I grew up under the influence of a strong and hardworking father who always went above and beyond to make sure our needs were met. But the truth of my life is that I can’t imagine the kind of woman I would be without the fierce tribe of women around me: my mother, my four younger sisters, my two maternal aunts and the woman who influenced us. all, my maternal grandmother.

Grams was born in San Bartolo, a small town on the outskirts of Tepatilán de Morales in Jalisco, Mexico. The first child to survive infancy, she had one sister and seven brothers. Life was not easy for the family and especially difficult for my grandmother. Grams had to stop school at the age of 7 to start working to help the family finances. But she was a curious girl and a passionate learner. She learned to read and write. She also had an excellent aptitude for numbers. Later, once my grandfather moved his young family to San Diego, they learned English by listening to the radio, watching television, and reading “Psychology Today.” Even in the week leading up to the stroke that took us away at 88, you could find Grams sitting on her bed working on a puzzle in one of her word-search magazines, “working her spirit”, as she would say.

When I was young, my sisters and I took turns sleeping at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s on the weekends. We would wake up to Grams in the kitchen making his famous dinner plate sized pancakes. On vacation, we were treated to his tamales. And on each visit we have been greeted by “¿Tienes room?” (Are you hungry?). If the answer was yes, there was always la olla frijoles (Mexican style beans cooked in a pot) sat on the stove waiting to be fried and served with fresh corn tortillas for bean tacos which we sniffed with gusto.

My most beautiful culinary childhood memory with my grandmother? His spice cookies. These crispy cinnamon and clove flavored cookies hold a special place in our hearts. With a pound and a half of butter, it’s not a recipe she made often, so it was a welcome treat when she made it.

One summer, before I moved in with my grandmother, one of my sisters asked grandmother to teach her the recipe. My grandmother invited me to join them, but I had to work. I told my grandmother that I wanted to learn it one day. Later, around September of the same year, Grams mentioned her cookies again, but we were in the middle of a heat wave, so I asked if she could teach me her recipe when the weather was a bit warmer. costs.

About a month later, I was texting one of my aunts when she replied, “Your grandma says the weather has changed.” So I made an appointment to spend the morning with Grams, who agreed to let me share the recipe on my blog.

While waiting to start, I asked him who had taught him the recipe. She told me that when my mother and my uncle were little, she put on the radio to entertain them. It was the Spanish equivalent of “Sesame Street”. One day, she left the radio on after the children’s show ended. The topic of the talk show was holiday baking. She listened while she cleaned the house, so she didn’t write anything down. This weekend, she recreated the recipe from memory. It was such a hit that she continued to do it periodically for her young family and for us girls too, once we arrived.

As the last sheet of cookies entered the oven that morning, I asked Grams about it. atole (ah-toh-leh) and champurrado. I told him that I vaguely remember drinking it when I was young with my grandfather. Yes, said my grandmother, she always made it for him, and even more for us girls when we were there. She taught herself to make many versions so she could always make the warm, soothing drink no matter what was in her pantry.

Traditionally, this pre-Columbian drink is made with hot water thickened with freshly ground nixtamalized corn, the same ground corn (masa) used to make tortillas. In reality, atole comes from the Nahuatl word atolli, which means “watered down”. (Nahuatl is the language spoken by the Aztecs.) It’s similar to oatmeal but much smoother and a bit thinner.

Grams rarely had fresh masa in the house. Instead, she used masa harina, rice flour, cornstarch, or even all-purpose flour. She flavored the drink with cinnamon and sometimes added canned crushed pineapple or mashed strawberries to make it even sweeter and thicker. Champurradoa form of atole, is a Mexican hot chocolate thickened with freshly ground nixtamalized corn or its flour equivalent, masa harina. While she was talking, she was simultaneously pulling out ingredients and a pot to make me atole.

The cookies – and the drink – were as good as I remembered.

Thanks for sharing, grandma. ¡Te quiero mucho! (I love you so much!)

Grandma’s cookies

Mexican cinnamon, called canela, is Ceylon cinnamon, which is more floral and sweeter than the spicier cassia cinnamon. (Bottles labeled as ground cinnamon sold in the United States come from the cassia tree, unless specifically labeled as Ceylon cinnamon.) Most major supermarkets sell canela in their Mexican food aisle; El Guapo and Tampico are popular brands. You can also buy the sticks to grind at home, as they are very papery and break easily. My grandmother used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, but I love the taste of Kerrygold unsalted butter for it. If the dough is too soft and sticky to handle, refrigerate for 30 minutes. I like to bake them for 20 minutes, while the rest of my family prefers the crispier texture of baking for 30 minutes. Bake the first tray at 20, let cool for 10 minutes and decide if you want a longer bake for the remaining cookies.

Makes about 4½ dozen 4-inch cookies

3 cups of sugar
6 eggs
2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon of vanilla
½ teaspoon of salt
1½ pounds (3 cups) butter, room temperature
2½ teaspoons baking powder
6½ cups all-purpose flour, plus ½ cup for forming
3 tablespoons milk in a small, shallow bowl

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray or line them with silicone mats. Put aside.

In a very large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs with an electric hand mixer over medium-high heat until smooth. Stir in cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Add vanilla and salt and beat for 1 minute. Add the butter and beat over medium-high heat for 4-6 minutes until the batter is smooth.

Add baking powder, beating on medium speed until smooth. Add the flour in batches, beating over low heat until incorporated and a dough begins to form (dough will be slightly sticky). Flour hands well, pinch 2 tablespoons of dough (or use a 2 ¾ ounce food scoop) and roll between hands, forming a log about 3 ½ to 4 inches (if dough is still too wet to handled, slowly add additional flour a little at a time). Place the logs on a prepared cookie sheet and repeat the process until you have filled the cookie sheet with the logs about an inch apart (you should be able to fit 8 cookies on a standard 1-inch baking sheet). half sheet).

Dip a fork in the milk and make slight indentations at a 45 degree angle towards the bottom of the cookie. Dip the fork in the milk again and repeat, reversing the angle and creating a criss-cross pattern on the cookie, much like decorating a peanut butter cookie.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time (unless two pans fit on the same rack) for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cookies are set and the edges begin to brown. The tops of the cookies will be slightly shiny from the milk.

Serve with espresso, Mexican hot chocolate, atole or champurrado.

Grandmother’s Atole

My grandmother made the drink with all-purpose flour, so I listed it first, but she used masa harina just as often. If you are trying atole for the first time, I suggest using masa harina to get a more authentic experience. After that, feel free to experiment with all-purpose flour or rice flour.

Makes 4 servings

2 cups of water
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, masa harina or rice flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup evaporated or whole milk

Bring the water to a simmer in a saucepan. Whisk the flour. Cook, whisking continuously, for 5 minutes. Add cinnamon and sugar, whisking for 5 minutes. Add the milk. Whisk for 10 minutes or until the atole is slightly foamy and reaches the consistency of thick whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Champurrado

Makes 4 servings

¾ cup masa harina
4 cups of milk
2 Ibarra Mexican Drinking Chocolate Discs, coarsely chopped
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela

Add the masa harina to a 2-quart saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low and slowly whisk in milk, breaking up lumps as you go. Heat while whisking until boiling. Add chocolate, whisking until melted and incorporated. Add sugar and cinnamon and whisk until fluffy. Serve immediately.

Recipes are copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula and are reproduced with permission from “Confessions of a Foodie.”

Arambula is the artistic director and designer of the food section. She blogs at confessionsofafoodie.me, where the original version of this article was published. Follow her on Instagram: @afotogirl. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Freeda S. Scott