As a young girl my grandmother Ita would make Mantecaditos for me every time she came to visit from Ponce, the southern part of the island. I learned to make her recipe, a variation of Carmen Aboy Valdejully’s cookbook Cocina Criolla. Ita would alter the recipe and substitute vanilla for the almond extract and place guava paste pieces on top of the Mantecaditos instead of maraschino cherries.
This is a recipe that everyone in Puerto Rico should have. Mantecaditos are a constant at birthday parties and served as a snack or to accompany coffee or tea. They are the equivalent of the Italian Wedding Cookies, shortbread, thumbprints cookies and polvorones in other parts of the world. It took me a while to come up with this recipe, but now I have perfected it and people love my Mantecaditos. I make them for school activities, gifts, birthday parties and my family is crazy about them. It is easy to make and my children help me in the process. You may also divide the dough and add a little food coloring if you want to make them in different colors.
makes 40 units
1/3 cup almonds (grounded in food processor)
1/2 cup (8 tbsp) vegetable shortening (cold)
1/4 pound salted butter (one stick, cold)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
selection of toppings: multicolor nonpareils (grajeas de colores), cinnamon sugar, colored sugar crystals, guava paste or maraschino cherries (halved). Also, you may dredge in super fine sugar (10×10) while still hot to make a sugar coating.
1. Preheat oven 350ºF.
2. Place almonds in a food processor an pulse until finely grounded.
3. Add butter, vegetable shortening, sugar, pure almond extract and flour to finely chopped almonds in food processor and pulse until all ingredients are incorporated. Finish kneading mixture by hand in a bowl.
4. Measure a scant tablespoon and start making tiny balls with your hands (about the size of cherry tomatoes) and place in baking pan about 1 inch apart (I use a 12×17 inch jelly roll pan).
5. Once you have finished making the balls, make a “dent” in the middle of each ball gently (like thumbprint cookies, just that I don’t use my thumb I use my middle finger, but use whatever finger makes you happy.) Use your other hand to hold the dough so that you don’t make too many cracks in the sides while pressing down.
6. Fill “dent” with nonpareils or the toping you wish to use.
7. Bake for 20 minutes at 350º F. Remove from oven and leave in the pan for about 15 minutes to cool down. Store in air tight container.