For the uninitiated, piloncillo is a brownish sweetener made from sugar cane that's molded into a conical shape. The name translates to "little pylon" in Spanish, which references its tower-like structure. It's used in myriad Mexican recipes, chief among which is the Piloncillo Piglet, a sweet cookie that comes in the shape of an adorable hoofed animal. To kick off the holidays, we're ensuring a Feliz Navidad with a recipe for the kid-friendly confection, straight from Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte ($30; amazon.com).
The whopping 704-page book by the much-lauded chef features hundreds of recipes from her native country, ranging from street food to drinks and desserts, including Tacos al Pastor, Micheladas, and of course, the edible animals we're bookmarking for our dinner party guests. Each recipe includes notes on special ingredients and techniques for preparation, and the breadth of information is so vast that its even garnered praise from one of our favorite Mexican-American celebs, Eva Longoria. Suffice it to say, if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for us.
Read on to learn how to make the cookie yourself, with directions straight from Margarita's kitchen.
Yield: about 30 cookies
1 large cone piloncillo or ⅔ cup packed brown sugar (for sugar syrup)
6 tbsp butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing (optional)
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
Scant ½ cup honey
3¼ cups all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground anise
1. Put piloncillo or brown sugar into a small, deep saucepan, add 4 tbsp water, and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil, without stirring, until syrupy and reduced by about one-third. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.
2. Grease a baking sheet or line with nonstick parchment paper.
3. Beat the butter, brown sugar, and honey until smooth. Beat in the egg. Stir in the cooled sugar syrup, then lightly fold in the flour, baking powder, salt and anise. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap (clingfilm), and let it rest for 5 minutes in the refrigerator.
4. Roll out the dough to ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick on a lightly floured work surface. Stamp out little pig shapes with a novelty cookie cutter. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until cooked and lightly browned.
5. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the pigs to a wire rack to cool.