Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Cake Without the Bake

Nostalgia In a Glass

NOTE: I have received several comments about the Spanish origin of polvoron or namely polvorones. I do realise that this Filipino sweet was most definitely inherited from the Spaniards during their colonisation of the Philippines during the late 1500's, and I do apologise for not pointing this out earlier. However, this version of polvoron, I believe, is the Filipino permutation of the dessert after thousands of years of acquiring the recipe. Traditionally, Spanish polvorones is made with almonds and cinnamon, and does not contain any powdered milk like the Filipino version does. So although polvoron did originate from Spain, the Filipino version does differ markedly from it's Spanish original.


Everyone loves a shortcut, taking the longer course or going through arduous and difficult procedures is usually left to sadists. Why do you think those "lose-10-pounds-in-two-weeks" exercise machines are so popular, and not to mention liposuction. Hey, when all this food-blogging weight finally catches up with me, I wouldn't say that lipo was out of the question. Inherently we all like the shorter path, easier to tread and faster to get through. Who wants to row a boat across a river when there is a perfectly reliable bridge?

Sometimes a shortcut takes you to a place you never wanted to be at in the first place, sometimes it gets you in an argument you never wanted to have as you are tossing the street directory out the window, but enough about my life. Sometimes a shortcut can take you to a delicious destination in half the time, like a cake without the bake. Say what?

All wrapped up

Yes, a cake without the bake. It's polvoron- a Filipino sweet that is somewhat like a toasted wheat cake that consists of flour, powdered milk, sugar and melted butter, and is compressed into a cake using a polvoron press. I used to eat these by the dozen as a child and I never imagined that I could make it myself. It always stood in my memories of childhood on some imaginary pedestal of foods that I could never possibly recreate. It seemed almost irreverent to reach into that corner of my childhood remembrance and rehash something that I have such a wistful affection for.

Since I had never made this childhood dessert before, and always ever purchased it from the Filipino store, I doubted whether my creation could attain the same pleasure and gratification I got whenever I popped one of the store-bought ones in my mouth. Sweet and milky, the powdery cake slowly melts into a thick pool of sweet creamy goodness in your mouth. But I never realised how simple it was to make. And did I mention there is no baking involved?

Polvoron- Chocolate and Plain

Traditionally polvoron is milk flavoured but sometimes nuts like cashews or peanuts are added. Also a popular addition is pinipig, which is immature glutinous rice that is pounded and added to the flour mixture and sometimes pandan (screwpine) or ube (purple yam) is also used to flavour polvoron. But as a child with such a juvenile palate, I could only savour the plain version of polvoron, I was much too fussy to eat anything green, or even more so purple.

But this time I decided to make the original milk flavoured polvoron and a chocolate version as well. I know as a child I would have relished a chocolate flavoured polvoron, as most children probably would. I assume that this flavour would have caught on by now as I know that some places in the Philippines do sell a very post-modern cookies and cream version of polvoron. And if your imagination stretches far enough you could pretty much cnceive any flavour of polvoron- say green tea, lavender, coffee, hazelnut, which ever way you are inclined the polvoron can go that way.

Chocolate Polvoron

But today we are talking about sentimental food, so there can't be any meanderings into the bizarre and fanciful. It's all about the simple things that hark back to your youth. There's always something distinctly romantic about the food we've have in our youth and years later they somehow manage to mount the massive plinth for things we idealise and hold dear with starry-eyed affection. And this sweet, along with fairy bread and nutella sandwiches is definitely high on the list.

As for the cake without the bake, well it might seem off-putting and unsavoury to be eating flour unbaked, but what is done first is that the flour is toasted in a skillet until it is slightly browned. Turn your eyes away for a moment and you might have yourself suffering from smoke inhalation, burnt flour does not smell good, so make sure you keep your eyes on the colour of the flour at all times. Just like caramelising sugar, it can go brown in the blink of an eye.
It all comes together with a little melted butter and the powdery mixture is compressed in a polvoron mould that contains a small press that pushes out the shaped polvoron. And to finish it off the polvoron is individually wrapped in paper like little powdered lollies.

Polvoron- Chocolate and Plain

The verdict, well I couldn't help but be hard on myself. Could my own rendition of this hallowed childhood sweet be as good as it is in my memory? I don't know. To be honest when I tasted it I was pleasantly surprised at how similar it tasted to the store-bought variety, although for me it just wasn't the same. It was probably because my palate had been clouded by years and years of eating this stuff as a child, and frankly I don't think any version of mine could ever taste as good as it does in my imagination. But do try it for yourself and come to your own conclusion.

But if you would like to see what other meals and recipes people are reminiscing about, head on over to the Skinny Gourmet. She is holding a food event focussing on food nostalgia. The round-up will be posted at the end of January.

makes about 24 polvoron

Polvoron Mould

1 cup plain all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup powdered milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 tbsp hot chocolate milk powder

In a large skillet over low to medium heat, toast the flour until light brown.
Remove from heat and add the sugar and powdered milk, (add the hot chocolate milk powder if making chocolate polvoron)
Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly in skillet.
Transfer flour mixture to a plate and compact mixture in a polvoron press.
Place moulded polvoron onto a flat baking tray/cookie sheet and refrigerate for 1 hour.
To wrap, cut tissue or soft wax paper into 12cm x 12cm squares.
Place polvoron piece onto the middle of the paper and fold over top and bottom sides, tuck in edges into the middle and twist


eatme_delicious said...

Beautiful little cakes! I can't remember if I've tried these before or not but now I want to go and find them. How wonderful that you were able to recreate a treat from your childhood.

Peabody said...

Wow, this was really interesting. I have never heard of these. Thanks for introducing me to something new!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved the press! first time I see it...and congrats for the great GREAT photos.

Sil BsAs

Anonymous said...

Interesting cake and lovely pictures! I think I would find it very tasty. I'm bookmarking the recipe just in case I have the urge to make them.

anadelicias said...

Hello Jenjem!!!!
My name is ana and I usually read your blog. I think it is very complete and I learn a lot of cooking. But, you have a mistake in your las post. Polvoron is a spanish tradicional sweet for Xmas, not from filipinas.
Yours aro so pretty and looks fantastic.


Barbara said...

Oh, I remember these... I haven't had them since leaving the Philippines in 1984 or so though... I've been able to make lumpia and pansit, but have had difficulty finding recipes or sources for a lot of the foods I remember. I haven't had a guava since leaving, and would love to find some of the small hard bright green skin types with the bright pink flesh. We had a tree in our backyard and always used to eat them with a sprinkling of salt. Mmmmm....

Anonymous said...

Wow. My good friend Mark of 'No Special Effects' sent me a Polvoron press last year and I've been meaning to use it.

Thanks for showing me how, they ook great.

mysterymoor said...

That's interesting, I always thought polvorones were from Spain!

Anonymous said...

I know these cakes as 'polvorones' meaning dust cakes from Spain. They are traditionally Spanish. You take one of these wrapped cakes and squeeze it in your hand so that its contents stick together, then you open up the wrapped mixture which you can pick up in your hand and eat. It's likely that they exist in the Philippines because it was once governed by Spain as it was part of its global empire.

Ginnie said...

i would love to make polvoron myself...i'm sure it costs less than buying it! where did you get your press?

Anonymous said...

Hello Jen,

Love the cute polvorons you made! A friend dropped several of those last Christmas, and I must have eated a dozen or so. Yeah, I think i know what you excitement as a child is not the same anymore decades later. My 'taste' in food differ now. But why did I indulge on those last Dec?

hungryandfrozen said...

Hi there, have just found your blog - your photos are absolutely gorgeous! Put mine to shame :) Those wee cakes look seriously good.

Katie said...

I ahve never heard of these before but I'm longing to try one now. You have piped my interest

Manggy said...

Japanese paper, Jenjen. Japanese paper!!!! Hehehe :) Polvoron is just one of those treats that you don't think you want, until you pop one into your mouth and 5 minutes later, you've had 20 already :)

Gretchen Noelle said...

Any idea how these may be done without a press? They look awfully fun to try but I doubt I could get my hands on that here!

Lyra said...

Hmmm... how can I make these without the press I wonder? Not many hanging around in Washington DC Im sure.

Rachael said...

wow, this sounds so interesting. I've never heard of anything with toasted flour. I wonder if I could jerry-rig a press using two cups that fit into each other...

Thanks for the informative recipe!! (And I really love that photo of them in the martini glass!)

Kat said...

When my mom makes polvoron, we don't really wait for her to mold them into shape. We just scoop them up and eat them. Though it's really fun to use those molds. :D


I love polvoron! I never knew they came from Spain! Great website!!

Jen said...

Eatme_delicious- Yeah I was a little hesitant at first but it was good to give them go, finally.

Peabody- No worries, glad that you like them.

Sil BsAs- Yeah it's a nifty little gadget isn't it.

Linda- Great, hope you enjoy them as much as I do!!

Mobula- As you can probably see I added a little note at the beginning of the post. I am aware of polvoron's Spanish origins, however, you can see that this is the Filipino version as it is quite different to the Spanish ones.

Zaya- Oh yeah guavas, I miss them too. I have seen guava jam here but never the actual fruit. They are a childhood favourite of mine too.

Gkbloodsugar- Oh you must give it a try! It has taken me years to actually give it a go but it's so easy to make.

Andrea- Thanks. See the note I added at the start of the post.

Cecilia- Yes it does originate from Spain, you can check out the added note I wrote at the start of the post.

Ginnie- I bought the press online although I cannot remember what the website was called so unfortunately I cannot refer it to you.

Jenny- Yeah they are so addictive right? I could eat a whole pack if I really wanted to.

Laura- Thanks you are too nice.

Katie- If there is a Filipino food store near your area you could probably buy there. But if not I guess you just go ahead and make them.

Manggy- We don't actually call it Japanese paper here in Oz, as most people associate that with gift-wrapping. We call it wax-paper or tissue paper. So that might be why it;s a little confusing. They are such addictive little morsels aren't they?

Gretchen and Lyra- I am sure that if you really wanted to, you can make the powdered flour mixture and just eat it straight without the press. The press just makes it look pretty and wrap-able.

Rachael- Thanks! As I mentioned before you don;t need the press to eat them. But if you are creative enough I'm sure you can make your own press. Good luck!

Kat- That's funny, sometimes it's too long to wait for them to be presses. They are such a treat whichever shape they come in.

Project Dualtech- Yes, they came to the Philippines as a result from colonisation. And luckily they did!

Simone Izumi said...

I love your blog!
Beautiful !!!!!


Anonymous said...

OMG! I always wanted to make these since I was a little kid. Nowadays, I had to buy them imported. Thank you!

Hilda said...

Congratulations for your blog, and the polvoron recipe.
I´m ingnorant about this filipin way of sweet.

Kisses from Spain