{3} Paciencias

Each year that I’ve done my Twelve Bakes of Christmas, I’ve tried to go far and wide in search of inspiration. But each year I come back to the realisation that my selection has ended up being pretty Europe-centric. I’ve included a couple of recipes from America (snickerdoodles and bizcohitos) plus South African soetkoekies, but I’m still on the hunt for other ideas. Well, today – and in the spirit of the famous line from Ghostbusters – we’ve got one!

These are little meringue cookies from the Philippines. They are called paciencias, which derives from the word for patience.

I didn’t find an authoritative single reason as to why they have this name, but I can only surmise that since they are made from whisked egg whites, they would entail quite a lot of patience (as well as a demanding elbow workout) to get them whisked up to make the meringue base in the days before electric mixers. Or perhaps it comes from hungry little hands trying to reach for these cookies, only for parents to have to shoo them away as they try to instil some patience into their little darlings?

The recipe is pretty simple and quick to make – you make a meringue, add a little flour and baking powder for structure and lift, plus some flavouring. Most recipes suggest vanilla, but some also use almond extract. I happen to love all things almond, and I think the combination of vanilla and almond is really delicious, so I decided that I’d do the double.

Then I had a look on the ever-reliable Wikipedia which has a very brief article on paciencias which suggests they are flavoured with “calamansi”. I’ve never heard of this, but it is a citrus fruit grown in the Philippines that is thought to be a kumquat-mandarin cross. So if you wanted to add a little more oomph to the flavour profile, you could add some grated mandarin zest, which also has the added benefit of being a nice little festive touch. I lived on the edge and added a dash of orange zest, and I reckon they were all the better for it.

These took about 10 minutes to make, so they are a good activity with kids who don’t have a long attention span. The piping is pretty easy too – you could try to make them look identical and smooth, but I went for a quick approach and did the squeeze-and-lift, and got what I would politely call the shape of Hershey’s kisses, which I thought looked cute. Someone else in the kitchen said they looked like a tray of nipples, which I ignored! Hey, lockdown has been long and tedious, and we’ve all lost our social filters and have started saying what comes into our heads. Really, first day back in the office? It’s going to be interesting for sure.

Just after baking, the cookies are really nice – light, crisp on the outside and slightly chewy in the middle, and they’re pretty aromatic from the flavourings. Citrus zest was definitely the way to go. These are the kind of cookies which you can put in bowls and people can help themselves to without feeling like they’re eating too much. If you store them for a day or two, they stop being chewy and are completely crisp, which I found made a great companion to ice cream (I’m in lockdown, we need nice things!).

I feel that these are also cookies that will lend themselves to some experimentation. If you were so minded, then I am sure you could fill these cookies in the style of a French macaron. I feel they would suit something sweet and tangy, like lemon or passion fruit curd. They could also be coloured various festive shades, and I can imagine they would look quite jolly with all different shades mixed up in little bags as gifts.

To make Paciencias (makes around 50 cookies):

• 2 large egg whites
• 100g caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
• 30g plain flour
• 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
• zest of ¼ mandarin orange

1. Preheat the oven to 135°C (275°F). Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper and lightly rub with neutral oil.

2. In a large bowl, start to beat the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks. Now add the sugar, a little at a time, and beat well after reach addition. Keep going until you have a smooth, glossy meringue – it should seem quite stiff. Add in the vanilla and/or almond extract and mix well.

3. Combine the flour and baking powder. Pour into the main bowl and add the orange zest, then fold everything together.

4. Put the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle. Pipe 4cm (1.5 inch) circles on the baking sheets.

5. Bake the cookies for around 20 minutes until they are still pale but starting to turn lightly golden.


Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

8 responses to “{3} Paciencias

  1. jlp_nyc

    Russell, these look delicious and are quite elegant in their simplicity. I’m so glad you’re doing this series again, I look forward to it every year around this time. 🙂

    It’s nice that you’re looking beyond Christmas Cookie Central (i.e. Western Europe) for inspiration. Two off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions:

    ~I’m in NYC and no respectable Christmas cookie tray gets passed in Italian-American neighborhoods here esp in Brooklyn & Queens without rainbow cookies: tri-color layers of moist almond cake (usually red white and green) sandwiched with tart raspberry jam and coated in dark chocolate — delicious when well made with good ingredients (though truth be told, less so when it’s the sometimes-lurid industrial version).

    ~And from Russia (where I lived/work for 5 years), there are pryaniki — moist honey-spice cookies, traditionally from the city of Tula, glazed and elaborately embossed, and these days sold commercially with a plethora of “overlay” flavors and sometimes fillings, ranging from mint (!), apple or plum to cranberry or ginger-marzipan. In fact, I just got a set of “Starry Night” cookie stamps (cast aluminum with wooden handles) from Nordic Ware to try and make some homemade versions of my own…

    Thanks for doing / so informatively describing / beautifully photographing this annual series, and Merry Christmas!


    • Hi Jamie – good to know you’re enjoying this year’s baking. Truth be told, I’ve seen those rainbow cookies and been a bit put off by them looking like a lot of work. But not that I’m working at home, I’ve got no excuse! And from the recipes I’ve seen (the Smitten Kitchen one looks decent) it is mainly a case of performing a couple of steps, then letting things sit/rest for a whole. I’ll also check out the pryaniki – I happen to have those starry night stamps too! Ottolenghi has a great recipe for stamped glazed gingerbread tiles which are delicious and pretty easy to make too. Happy Baking!

      • jlp_nyc

        So, I was at a Feast of the Seven Fishes Xmas Eve dinner last year and the hostess — a superb cook who insists she’s “not a baker” — put out a platter of rainbow cookies she’d made that looked and tasted fantastic… MUCH better than the usual packaged suspects from the store. And what do you know, turns out she used… the Smitten Kitchen recipe! Consider it vouched-for. Also thanks for mentioning the Ottolenghi recipe, just found it in my copy of “Sweet”. I was going to just use the recipe on the stamps box, but now I’m definitely going to make the Helen/Yotam version instead!

        • Right, it’s fate – I’ll have to try it now. I’ve even got a log of proper marzipan in the baking drawer, so really no excuses!

          On the Ottolenghi recipe, make more glaze than they say – I would triple it, and make sure it is warm when you brush it on, and do it when the cookies are hot from the oven. If you do this, then it sets quickly, and then slowly crystallises, giving a sort of frosted effect. If the glaze goes on too cool or the cookies are cold, then it can be thick and dull.

          • jlp_nyc

            Thanks for that glazing tip! Although now I’m torn about how to form them: the Nordic Ware box recipe says to scoop and roll btw your palms into golf-ball sized balls, dredge in sugar and use the stamp to press them flat on an ungreased baking sheet, embossing with the design (a friend recommended freezing the stamps for a few hours beforehand to prevent sticking)… whereas as Ottolenghi rolls the dough out flat and then stamps / cuts. Seems like the ball-press technique is easier (N-W had a little instructional vid which made it look like a breeze) and would result in sharper definition… I assume you did the rolling technique?

          • I rolled the dough out roughly to get it fairly even, but I left it pretty thick. Then I dusted the surface of the dough with flour – I use a very fine mesh tea strainer (really a mini sieve) to lightly dust the surface. In my experience, it will always stick, so you need to dust. By rolling first, you can then focus on pressing down evenly with the stamp, and you’re not having to worry about getting the dough evenly spread under the stamps. You can also dust the stamps themselves – once they’re a bit oily from the dough, a light coating of flour will stick to them.

            I just spent two hours making speculaas cookies using a Dutch wooden mould, you have the push the dough in, then knock it out. I’ve now got ten 14 inch Father Christmas figures, and I never want to see them again!

          • jlp_nyc

            Thanks for this Russell – very helpful! Lightly flouring sounds like the way to go (Nordic Ware says to brush the stamps with oil using a pastry brush, and a friend recommended freezing them for a couple of hours before using to prevent sticking … one of these methods is bound to work).

            Those speculaas sound impressive (14” is a BIG cookie 😮 ) — hopefully they turned out well and taste really good!

            I just finished making a vat of bigos (Polish hunter’s stew) and know how you feel: 4 hours and a semi-wrecked kitchen later, I couldn’t get the storage containers into the fridge and out of sight fast enough!

  2. jlp_nyc

    Russell, just made the stamped cookies & they came out really well – thx for your tips! Pics & details on my IG @jlp_nyc (tagged you over there). Merry Xmas!!

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