The panaderías or bread shops of Mexico are real treasure troves, packed with all sorts of baked goods, from everyday bread rolls like teleras, regueletes and bolillos to flaky savoury empanadas, meringues, croissants – cuernos, sweet breads traditionally served at breakfast – pán dulce – and biscuits and cookies in all shapes and sizes. The window displays, with their huge trays of pastries, loaves and confectionery, are reminiscent of a French pâtisserie, although I have to admit that Mexican pastry work lacks the refinement and delicacy of its European counterparts, with a heartiness which makes it all the more satisfying and delicious.
As a child, a visit to the local panadería with our cook was a great treat, allowing me to roam the aisles of what for me at that age was no less than a living breathing Aladdin’s cave. One of my life-time favourite Mexican biscuits is orejones, which translates simply and very endearingly as big ears. They are similar to the traditional French palmier, although the shape is more elongated than round. They are beautifully light, crisp and crunchy, aromatic with cinnamon, and hopelessly moreish. The size varies from just a couple of inches across, perfect as a petit four, to the size of a hand and anything in between. The recipe below produces orejones about the width of one’s palm, which makes them an ideal accompaniment and garnish to an icecream, a fruit salad, a mousse, etc. They are easy to make and once cut, they can be frozen and then thawed and baked at a later date.
Be sure to use all butter pastry for these big ears, as the flavour is infinitely superior and comes through the sweetness.
Big Ears Cookies – Orejones
Makes about 20
150 g/5 oz caster/superfine sugar
15 ml/1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 block x 375 g/13 oz all butter puff pastry, defrosted if frozen
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a cup and sprinkle about three tablespoons of it evenly over the work surface. Place the block of pastry on top and roll it out into a rectangle approximately 30 cm x 20 cm/12 in x 8 in. Spoon half the remaining cinnamon sugar over the surface and spread it out with your fingers. Gently draw the back of a knife lengthways down the middle of the pastry sheet.
With the long sides of the pastry facing towards you, lightly roll the edges into the middle as tightly as possible to make two equal sized sausages. Tear a piece of cling film/plastic wrap slightly longer than the pastry, and carefully roll the whole log onto it. Sweep any sugar remaining on the work surface into the palm of your hand and sprinkle it along the middle joint of the pastry, then wrap it all up relatively firmly and twist the ends of the cling film. Now place the log on its side so that one sausage is on top of the other and press down very lightly to create a long-eared rather than a round palmier shape. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least half an hour to chill and relax the pastry – this will make it much easier to handle and cut.
Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/gas 6/fan oven 180oC. Remove the pastry log from the refrigerator and cut it into slices about 1.5 cm/2/3 in wide. Place the slices on a parchment-lined baking tray about 2.5 cm/1 in apart and spoon the remaining cinnamon sugar over each one. Bake for ten minutes, until the orejones are puffed up, golden and crisp.
Cool before serving.
These biscuits are best eaten the day they are made.
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