Polvorones de Pechita y Nuez – Mesquite and Pecan Shortbread

I was fortunate enough to be invited to present at this year’s Tucson Meet Yourself a Folk Life festival, the 46th annual festival representing many of the diverse cultures residing in this Sonoran desert city.

This was both hugely flattering and terrifying. This is an event attended by thousands, and though my own audience would be much smaller, I couldn’t just do something like show up, make flour tortillas and pretend to be a Sonoran food expert, as I was to be.

I had to come up with something good, something which was true to the Sonoran desert. Something which wasn’t flour tortillas, because really, I’m ok at making tortillas, but I am not great.

The following is the first of the three recipes I presented at Tucson Meet Yourself, using an ingredient found on every suburban corner of Tucson, Phoenix and every other Sonoran desert city: mesquite pods.

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Considered a nuisance by those who step on the sticky, sharply pointed and plentiful pods, they are raked up and dismissed as nothing more than garbage. Too bad for those people dismissing a protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc loaded little pod into the garbage. Oh and let’s not forget the low glycemic index safe for diabetics to eat source of sugar.

The taste of mesquite is of a dark caramel sweetness, and just a bit nutty with a tannic finish. The flavor develops slowly when eaten.

Mesquite pods should be gathered before summer rains and allowed to dry completely before milling into flour. Wash and lay the pods to dry on a sheet or towel in full sun until able to crack into pieces. It is possible to mill small batches of finely ground flour with a blender at home, simmering the remaining chaff into a sweet syrup afterwards. Mesquite flour should be sifted twice through a fine mesh before measuring.

If you would like to know more about mesquite, consult desertharvesters.org, including more in depth nutritional information as well as where to source mesquite flour.

While I am not dedicating a lengthy paragraph to it, the flavor of this shortbread cookie is due largely to the pecan in it, a native nut to the American continent and grown extensively throughout the Sonoran desert.

Polvorones de Pechita y Nuez - Mesquite and Pecan Shortbread

  • 170 g (6 oz) butter, preferably salted, room temperature
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) piloncillo, finely grated
  • 150 g (5.3 oz) pecans, chopped finely
  • 150 g (5.3 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 75 g (2.65 oz) mesquite flour, sifted before measuring
  • 5 g sea salt

Working in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and grated piloncillo until fluffy. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients and mix until evenly incorporated. Form into a smooth disk, and working on a lightly floured surface roll out to ¼” thick. Using a clean ruler and a rotary cutter, cut into 1 1/2″ squares.

Lift using an offset spatula and place on a parchment or silicone lined baking tray. Bake at  325°F for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies begin to feel dry to the touch. Cool completely.

Notes:

Piloncillo: Piloncillo is a form of raw lump sugar, most commonly seen in cone form. It is easily found in Mexican grocery stores. Look for ones with a rich dark tone and strong caramel fragrance. If not available, a piloncillo cone can be substituted with 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1 tbsp unsulphured molasses. If small pieces of piloncillo are needed for additional sweetness, it may be grated or broken up with a hammer.

 

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