Mexican Sugar Cookies

Mexican Sugar Cookies
Location: Possibly every Mexican bakery in the world
$: Not very expensive

I like to write mainly about the cookies I come across that excite me and give me brief moments of joy.  Occasionally, however, I will meet one (or in this case, several) so dreadful that I feel compelled to warn my fellow cookie monsters to take heed.  Consider this both a precautionary tale as well as the seed for discussion.  If there are Mexican cookie lovers out there, I want to hear your voice.  Tell me what I’m missing.  I am nothing if not open-minded in my quest for maximum cookie enlightenment.

Ay, the Mexican cookies. Where do I begin?   At the risk of being culturally insensitive, I will come right out and say that the Mexicans make shitty cookies.  Wait, let me amend that statement; the cookies I’ve had from Mexican bakeries (both in The U.S. and in Mexico) have been, without exception, shitty.  I have no doubt that there has been many a tasty,sweet morsel crafted at the hands of a fine Mexican baker; these , however, are not what we’re talking about today.
Today we are talking about the pink, the beige, the brown and the green.  See above.

I must interrupt this rant with both an apology and a grande nod of gracias to my old friend Beth W.  Beth is visiting Portland this week from Austin and she very sweetly and thoughtfully went out of her way to schlep (a shockingly large amount of) cookies – specifically so that I could enjoy and then report on something new and different from afar.  By the suggestion of our mutual friend Jason (also living in Austin), the two of them, possibly unaware that there is, in fact, no shortage of Mexicans (and hence Mexican Bakeries) in Portland, collected the biscuit booty the night before she got on the plane.  According to Beth, the clerk at this unnamed bakery very enthusiastically guided her through her selection process, pointing out that this cookie was slightly chewy, while that watermelon slice cookie had a crispy coating and a buttery interior – and this other cookie over here was chocolaty and dense. And so on.

At this point I should be providing detailed tasting notes on each of these clownish morsels, but in the name of conciseness, I will simply tell you this: every one of these cookies tastes exactly like the one before it – and the one after it. Which is to say, like Crisco, sugar and flour – a veritable pile of greasy, mouth-coating nothingness.  Ouch. I know. I’m sorry, but I cannot lie.  Even the ubiquitous but always welcome Mexican wedding cookie (aka: Russian Teacake/ Southern Pecan Butterball/Snowdrop/Viennese Sugar Ball), which teased me with the promise of something buttery and familiar, bore the very same texture and (lack of) flavor as the watermelon slice.

I can see that these might be a big hit with those of us who “eat with our eyes”, i.e., anyone under ten years old.  What kid wouldn’t be attracted to this eye candy?  And what third grader doesn’t enjoy the taste of unadulterated pure cane sugar un-muddied by the complicated flavors of butter, molasses, real chocolate, salt, etc? Or are they simply comforting and delicious if they are the cookies you’ve been munching since you were knee-high to a grasshopper?  Come to think of it, the Mexican treats are not so unlike the Mothers’ pink and white frosted Circus Animals of yore – a sugary, bland and waxy nugget that was (is?) somehow very oddly pleasing.  Is this what is going on with the Mexican bakery cookies?

I would be remiss were I not to point out that Mexico is responsible for than more than its share of sweet delights (hot, cinnamon sugary churros dipped in hot liquid chocolate, anyone? Creamy, dense, impossibly moist tres leches cake?  Si, por favor!) In fact, while hiking through the woods one day in Jalapa a few years back (the Jalapa near Puerto Vallarta, that is), I came across a cardboard sign which had been nailed to a tree next to a tiny cabin. Upon the sign was scrawled, almost illegibly, (in pencil, as I remember): “pastel de banana”  (banana cake) – one of my very favorite kinds of cake in the world, in case you were wondering.  Still hot, served almost straight from the oven on a thick ceramic plate, this was possibly the best banana cake of all the banana cakes I’ve ever eaten.

What I’m getting at is that clearly Mexicans enjoy – and are very capable of producing – delicious cakes and donut-like treats. So what gives with the cookies?  Dime, amigos. I kind of want to get to the bottom of this head-scratcher.

12 Comments so far

  1. Debbie on September 14th, 2010

    Lived in Mexico for two years and I can’t think of a single cookie there I liked. If someone had ‘galletas’ to share with the office they were almost always Chips Ahoy. A cookie bakery in Mexico may be a serious business opportunity for an entrepreneurial baker.

  2. admin on September 14th, 2010

    Debbie: Thanks for the confirmation of The Mexican Cookie Problem. But do you think what you and I think is a delicious cookie would be una cookie muy rico a los Mexicanos? You know, the whole acquired taste thing? Es un misterio para mí.

  3. Jacki on June 2nd, 2011

    ha ha! I love those cookies, AND the Mother’s Frosted Animal cookies. :)

  4. admin on August 9th, 2011

    Hi Jacki,
    Sorry for the slow response – for some reason I did not see your comment until just now.
    Well, I assumed that SOMEONE liked those cookies. Lots of someones, more accurately – because they just keep baking them and baking them.

    For some reason Mother’s Frosted Animal Cookies get a pass – for kindergarten nostalgia value. Plus, they’re store bought and not from a bakery, so I hold them to different (lower) standards. But you’re right, there’s something to be said for a pink cookie with sprinkles.

  5. NerdyBaker on September 23rd, 2011

    You are not eating them right. You need to dip it in Mexican hot chocolate like Ibarra or Abuelita. Aren’t chips better with dip?

  6. admin on September 23rd, 2011

    Nerdy Baker: There are too many delicious cookies in the world to be messing around with ones that must be dipped in hot chocolate in order to make them palatable. That’s just how I see it. What’s the point? Waste of time, waste of stomach space, waste of calories, waste of money, waste of cookie time. Sad.

    P.S. The only chips we talk about here are the ones made from chocolate.

  7. [...] Cookie options are pretty grim in Puerto Valarta. As I’ve mentioned before, while Mexico is certainly capable of great dessert feats (tres leches cake, flan, amazing handmade popsicles [paletas] using a staggering variety of flavors and ingredients), cookies are, while indeed in abundance, not awesome. Much less than awesome, in fact. But I am not writing today to dwell on the negative; for more on the dire state of Mexican cookies, read THIS. [...]

  8. Jessica on April 28th, 2013

    I guess you have Been to all the wrong places, bad luck (I’m curious to find out where in Mexico you been apart from touristic Vallarta) or Mexican panaderias in USA.

  9. admin on May 1st, 2013

    Hi Jessica.

    Yes, I’ve been to touristy parts of PV -as well as not so touristy parts. And also several small towns in Nayarit and Jalisco. Also a few places (both touristy and non) in Baja and Yucatan. I’ve also visited Mexican panaderias all over Portland (and surrounding areas like Hillsboro, Gresham, Woodburn – all with pretty large Mexican communities) and in Brooklyn and Queens. And LA. And San Diego.

    Please let us know where to go to get Mexican cookies that taste like more than Crisco and sugar. I would LOVE to be shown the light and proven wrong. Don’t hold out on us!

  10. Lauren on May 15th, 2013

    You’ve obviously can’t find a good bakery in your local area.
    And despite what NerdyBaker said, you don’t need mexican hot chocolate (easy as it is to make) to eat polvorones; the cookies at the panaderia close to where I live makes excellent ones that I never need hot chocolate for.

    Maybe someday you can give these cookies another chance? After all if the first, second, and even third fudge brownie I ever try come out as colored rocks, that doesn’t necessarily mean all fudge brownies are rocks; just that I can’t find good ones where I live (for me, it’s actually decent frozen yogurt I can’t find anywhere).

    The Panaderia in question, by the way, is Chuy’s in the Austin, Tx area, so if you ever find yourself in the city, there’s one south near I-35 and another one north near another major highway, and you can give their cookies a try. They also have great conchas, empanadas, all sorts of other mexican pan dulces, fresh bread, and even their own homemade ice creams (the unique flavors not recommended).

    One cookie in particular is horseshoe or “U” shaped, has a dot of strawberry filling in the center, and the two ends dipped in chocolate. There’s also something called canastas, which I can never seem to find or duplicate, but come close to being what is called an egg custard tart, but not exactly.

    That’s just one suggestion, at least, and only if you ever visit the Austin region, ’cause I’m not sure if you find them anywhere else.

  11. admin on May 16th, 2013

    Hi Lauren,
    Well, as I mentioned in my response to Jessica’s comment, I’ve tried these cookies from bakeries not only in my own area, but Southern CA, Mexico, NYC, etc. The ones I wrote about in that post were actually from Austin – brought to me the day they were purchased by a visiting friend.

    I would love to give them another chance – like I said, I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong on my Mexican sugar cookie hypothesis! The one unifying feature of every one of them (from a bakery) I’ve tasted is that they have all been made with Crisco/vegetable oil instead of butter – and never with enough (or any) salt. I guess it’s just a matter of taste and if you like that – fine. No judgment. But I really don’t; the flavor is one dimensional (i.e. sugar y nada mas) and I’m left with nothing other than a wax- coated mouth.

    As I also mentioned in that post, I’ve had many delicious OTHER desserts either in Mexico or at Mexican restaurants and bakeries in the U.S. Like banana cake, banana bread, tres leches cake, flan, macaroons, meringues, candied pumpkin, churros….

    I agree that a good cookie shouldn’t have to be dipped in chocolate in order to be enjoyed.

    I’ve had Austin on my short list of travel destinations for awhile and I promise that Chuy’s is definitely on my list!

  12. na on November 20th, 2013

    “At the risk of being culturally insensitive”? No kidding, what an understatement. I am not even going to bother with this as you have thrown up so many derailments. UGH.

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