Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cookies for Saints and Dead People

I'm missing Halloween this year: the one day a year that you can give free rein to your fantasy life in public. However, I was heartened to see, on visiting a Barcelona costume shop, that the Spanish fantasy life appears to incorporate rubber-clad nurses, French maids and sexy devils to the same degree as does the Canadian fantasy life--that is to say, mucho. Unfortunately, except in certain English speaking enclaves of Barcelona and some nursery schools (where presumably the fantasy life tends more in the direction of pirates and My Little Ponies), Halloween isn't really celebrated here. October 31, or All Hallows' Eve, hasn't taken on the proportions of the North American Halloween. It's November 1, All Saints' Day, that's celebrated as a holiday. And, since celebrating All Saints' Day really means spending the day at a graveside, it doesn't have the same kind of resonance in the imagination.

On the upside, there are treats. These are known as panellets: tiny cookies of varying shapes and flavours, traditionally accompanied by sweet wine and eaten on November 1, and really, throughout the fall. The basic recipe for panellets requires the preparation of a paste of ground almonds, sugar and mashed potato. The paste is subsequently flavoured with more almond, coconut, chocolate, coffee, pinenuts, orange or whatever else leaps to mind or hand and baked into tiny (usually circular) shapes.

The provenance of panellets is somewhat obscure--that is to say, the internet doesn't have anything definitive to say on the subject. Some say that the cookies have origins in Spain's Moorish past because of the use of almonds. Others relate them to ancient funereal or religious rites celebrated during this time of year. Luckily, no one's going to test you on the subject before allowing you to eat them.

If you are buying panellets, be prepared to drop a lot of cash on some very tiny cookies. Bakeries in Barcelona (the panellets pictured are from La Boulangerie at Bailen and Corsega) typically charge by weight and a kilo of panellets can cost between 30 and 40 euros. Don't worry. It's money well spent, particularly since you won't have to spring for a costume.

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