Christmas Spice Cookies Recipe (Alfajores Andaluces de Navidad)

Not so long ago, a whole repertoire of traditional sweet things were prepared by home cooks all over Andalucía to celebrate Christmas. Following ancient recipes with promising nutty and spice aromas from the Middle East, many of these recipes have been kept alive today in the kitchens of monasteries and convents, 

as well as in local pastelerías (cake shops) where customers are prepared to queue for a long time before they all sell out. To illustrate the above, I have selected a recipe for alfajores, which I believe is very representative of the rich cultural legacy left behind in Al-Andalus by talented Islamic cooks. 

This recipe is taken from Cocina de Andalucía by María José Sevilla, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£22). Photography by Nassima Rothacker © Ryland Peters & Small.

Read Maria's exclusive interview with Sous Chef, or try her recipe for Chickpea Spinach Stew

Ingredients for Christmas Spice Cookies

How to make Christmas Spice Cookies

  1. Place 120 g of the caster sugar and 120 ml water in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Swirl the pan to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil to form a light syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Toast the nuts in a frying pan. Set aside and, in the same pan, toast the sesame seeds and the coriander seeds, very carefully, just for a few seconds, then set aside.
  3. Blend the nuts in a food processor. Remove and set aside, and then add the spices to the food processor and blend those.
  4. Place the honey in a medium saucepan, bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the spices, stir them in using a small spatula. Add the nuts, mix again, before adding the breadcrumbs. Mix once more and start very slowly pouring in the sugar syrup, working constantly to obtain a pliable dough.
  5. Place this dough on a flat surface and while the dough is still warm, divide into 40 g/1½ oz. portions. Shape into small, equal-sized cylinders, pressing the top and bottom with your index finger and thumb.
  6. Prepare another sugar syrup as above in a small saucepan, by heating 200 ml water with the remaining sugar and the orange peel to infuse it with flavour. Let the syrup cool down, then remove the peel.
  7. Coat each alfajore with the orange-infused sugar syrup and let them drip on a wire cooling rack with a sheet of baking paper underneath before coating them in cinnamon icing/confectioners’ sugar. Let them dry completely for about 24 hours, then wrap them in white tissue paper or baking paper and store in an airtight container. They will keep for a week or so.
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