Crumbly filipino style polvorones. They differ from the Spanish cookie from which they took their name, a sort of shortbread biscuit that is, in fact, baked, and traditionally used lard rather than butter. Versions of this cookie can be found in Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America. Our own polvorones are a bakeless, shortcut version, with powdered milk as a key ingredient. Oddly, that suggests this version of the confection is not that old, as mass-produced powdered milk was an innovation/ingredient that must have arrived in our archipelago in the early 1900’s, along with the Americans, and clearly after the Spaniards left. The process for drying or powdering milk is a little older, however. So I wonder if we USED to bake polvorones like the original cookie and only later evolved into the bakeless version, or some wise cook just took the name of a cookie that had similar crumbly characteristics… The “filipino” version of polvoron is REALLY easy to make. And it amazes me how many substandard ones there are being sold out there. One day I will have to try my hand at baking the “original” cookies, and with lard to boot… :) I suspect they won’t taste as good as cookies made with butter.
You will need these little contraptions to shape the polvoron, though in a pinch small round or oval cookie cutters might work as well. I got these in Quiapo, though some large groceries like SM or baking goods stores in malls carry them as well. For out 80-100 polvoron, I used 4 cups of all-purpose flour, measured and then sifted. You will also need 2 cups of the best powdered milk you can get, and yes, they vary in quality. As a guide, I just bought the most expensive powdered milk in the grocery, assuming it had more milk or milkfat content. Next 1 and 2/3 cups of caster sugar, or regular granulated sugar, but blitz it in a food processor to make it finer. I am finding local granulated sugar to be of inferior quality lately, often with huge granules and sometimes with a strange smell. How sad for a country that was once at the top of the heap of sugar exporters globally. Very sad indeed. I like the texture and flavor of nuts in my polvoron, so I added about 1.5 cups of freshly roasted cashew nuts, blitzing them until fine together with the sugar. Melt 1 and 1/2 cups of unsalted butter in the microwave until just melted and set that aside to cool down a bit.
Toast the shifted flour over medium high heat until just tan or a little darker than off-white. You are essentially cooking the raw taste out of the flour. I like to keep flipping the flour to ensure it all keeps moving around, but this can get tiring and a bit messy… :) Use a heat proof spatula instead if you prefer. Just watch this CAREFULLY, burnt flour you do not want.
Take the flour off the flames, add the powdered milk, blitzed sugar and nuts and mix thoroughly. Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly. Pack the mixture into the molds and press them out onto water-proof clear food grade wrapper. Wrap in papel de japon or wrapping tissue and store in a cool place.
Some recipes go to great lengths to tell you this mixture must be chilled before the cookies are formed, or that the formed cookies must be refrigerated before wrapping to firm them up nicely. Personally, I like them crumbly, and not a tight disk, so do what you like… After wrapping, you may wish to store these in the fridge if it is really warm in your neck of the woods, as it is in Manila these days.
I made several batches of polvoron until I settled on this recipe. Commercial versions often scrimp on the milk, add a lot more sugar and may use something mixed in with the butter for additional moisture. The nuts give the delicacy texture and flavor, otherwise it can be like eating a mouth-drying spoon full of flour, sugar and powdered milk, which ultimately, it is. :)
The better your base ingredients, the more delicious the result. Simple, right?
P.S. Calorie counting? I figured roughly 6,200 calories in this batch of polvorones, and we made roughly 100 pieces, so they are roughly 62 calories each. You could eat roughly 3-4 of these, or a Mars bar equivalent. :)