Andalusia is Al-Andaluz, the kingdom of the Moors (Muslim Arabs and Berbers), who ruled southern Spain from the eighth to the 15th century. Way back then, Andalusian cuisine was the most opulent of all of Europe, in the use of spices, herbs, almonds, rose water, orange blossoms and other exotic flavourings of the Oriental heritage.
While many Andalusian dishes reveal a Moorish legacy, nowhere is it so up-front as in the repertoire of sweets. Flavoured with aniseed, cinnamon, sesame, ground almonds and often bathed in honey, these delicacies are straight out of Arabian Nights.
Each area has its specialties, some of which are made by nuns in convents, where the recipes have been kept secret for centuries. In wine-making regions such as Jerez and Montilla, where quantities of egg whites were used to clarify new wines, the remaining yolks were donated to convents, where nuns devised ways of turning them into sweets.
Some sweets to sample are yemas, candied egg yolks; tocino del cielo, a rich caramel-topped custard; almendrados, almond biscuits; dulce de membrillo, quince jelly; tortas de aceite, round, flat cakes; pan de higo, fig roll; piñonate, pine-nut sweet; pestiños, fried dough, and at Christmas time, the famous mantecados, polvorones and roscos of Estepa (Sevilla).
Visit our recipe section to find some dessert and sweet recipes that you can try at home.
Janet Mendel is an American journalist who has lived in Andalucia for many years. An expert in Spanish cooking, she has written four books about Spain's food. Traditional Spanish Cooking (Garnet Publishing) won the prestigious André Simon cookbook award. Her books can be purchased on-line from the andalucia.com bookstore. Her recipes can be followed in Take a Taste of Andalucía