Posted by on Sep 5, 2010 in Etc., Shortbread/Sugar Cookies | 11 comments

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.