Polvoron is a type of Spanish shortbread that is very popular in the Philippines. It is a crumbly, powdery cookie or biscuit made with flour, sugar, milk, and nuts. The name “polvoron” comes from the Spanish word “polvo” meaning powder, referring to its soft, crumbly texture.
Polvoron likely originated in Spain but became a specialty in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period. Today it remains one of the most beloved traditional Filipino desserts. Filipinos have put their own twist on the recipe by using native ingredients like cassava and coconut.
What are the ingredients in polvoron?
The basic ingredients in polvoron are:
- Flour – All-purpose flour or a combination of wheat and cassava flours
- Butter or shortening – Provides the rich flavor and crumbly texture
- Sugar – White sugar gives sweetness to the cookies
- Milk powder – Adds flavor and enhances browning
- Nuts – Pinenuts, walnuts, or cashews are commonly used
Other optional ingredients can include powdered milk, vanilla, sesame seeds, coconut, and salt. The type of flour and nuts can be varied to create different variations.
What is the texture and taste like?
Polvoron has a very light, soft, and crumbly texture that dissolves easily in your mouth. The powdery crumbliness resembles the “polvo” or powder that it is named after.
The taste is sweet and buttery from the sugar and fat used. The nuts add a toasty, nutty flavor that complements the butter and vanilla. High quality polvoron should melt in your mouth and not taste overly dry or greasy.
Origins and History
Spanish colonial roots
Polvoron originated from Spain, where it is called polvorones. These crumbly almond cookies were likely brought over to the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period from the 16th to 19th century.
Food historians trace the roots of European almond shortbreads to the Moors who occupied Spain in the Middle Ages. The Moors introduced almonds, sugar, and refined flour to Spanish desserts. Spanish polvorones spread to Latin America and then to the Philippines, which was a Spanish colony for over 300 years.
Filipinization of the recipe
Although polvoron came from Spain, Filipinos adapted the recipe over centuries to create their own unique version. Bakers substituted local flours like cassava to make it more affordable. Coconut was added or used in place of almonds for the tropical nutty flavor. Evaporated milk and butter provide a richer taste.
Today polvoron is considered one of the most popular “pasalubong” or homemade food gifts in the Philippines. It is a classic Filipino dessert found everywhere from upscale cafes to small neighborhood bakeries.
Variations and Ingredients
The classic polvoron recipe uses:
- All-purpose flour or wheat flour
- Powdered milk
- Butter or shortening
- Vanilla extract
- Chopped walnuts or cashews
This traditional version has a soft and crumbly texture that quickly dissolves in your mouth. The flour helps give it the “powdery” melt-in-your-mouth feel.
Cassava flour is often used instead of or in combination with wheat flour:
- Cassava flour
- Butter or shortening
- Condensed milk
- Chopped nuts
Cassava makes the polvoron more tender and crumbly. It has a melt-in-your-mouth consistency similar to shortbread. Cassava polvoron often uses condensed milk rather than dry milk powder.
This tropical variation substitutes coconut for the nuts:
- Butter or shortening
- Milk powder
- Dried shredded coconut
The coconut gives a sweet nutty flavor and chewy texture to the soft crumbly cookie.
Pinipig are toasted young rice grains that add crunchy texture:
- Butter or shortening
- Milk powder
- Toasted pinipig rice grains
The rice grains provide a delightful crunch contrasting the soft powdery dough.
Other ingredient variations
Other ingredients can also be added to create unique polvoron flavors:
- Candied fruits and peels
- Sesame seeds
- Shredded cheese like cheddar or edam
- Crushed Oreo cookies
- Dried fruit like mango, pineapple, or raisins
There are endless ways to customize polvoron to suit your tastes!
How Polvoron Is Made
Overview of the process
Making polvoron requires just a few steps:
- Cream together butter and sugar
- Add dry ingredients like flour, milk powder, salt
- Mix in nuts, coconut, or other mix-ins
- Roll dough into balls or press into a pan
- Bake until lightly browned
- Allow to cool and crumble cookies
- Sift powdered sugar over the crumbled pieces
It is a relatively simple dough recipe but achieving the ideal crumbly powdery texture takes some technique.
Achieving the signature crumbly texture
There are a few tips to get the signature melt-in-your-mouth crumbly texture:
- Don’t overmix the dough – Just until it comes together
- Bake until lightly golden brown, not dark brown
- Allow to cool thoroughly before crumbling
- Break into irregular crumbly pieces vs perfect squares
- Coat with powdered sugar while still slightly warm
The powdered sugar helps absorb any greasiness and gives that soft powdery feel. Cooling completely before crumbling prevents it from becoming dense.
Packaging and storing
Polvoron is extremely delicate so it is best consumed fresh. For gifting, it can be packaged in food grade plastic or cellophane bags. Tie with a ribbon or raffia.
Stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place, it can keep for 1-2 weeks at most. The crispness starts fading as it absorbs moisture from the air. It is not well suited for freezing or long term storage.
Polvoron in Filipino Culture
A favorite pasalubong
In Philippine culture, pasalubong refers to a small gift or souvenir brought back after traveling to share with family and friends. Food items like polvoron are common pasalubong.
When visiting the provinces, city dwellers bring boxes of polvoron back to Manila as pasalubong. Similarly, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) come home with polvoron for their families. It is a thoughtful edible gift from your travels.
While polvoron is readily available year-round, demand spikes during the Christmas season. Display towers and boxes of the crumbly cookies are a fixture at shopping malls and supermarkets in December.
Elaborate packaged polvoron are popular holiday gifts. Kids also love receiving polvoron as a treat in their Christmas stockings. Classic flavors like nutty polvoron are favored for the holidays.
Proudly Philippine made
Polvoron is considered a distinctly Filipino food product. Locals prefer homemade styles from small Filipino bakeries rather than mass produced versions.
Brands take pride in using local Philippine ingredients like cassava flour and coconut. Package designs often feature Filipino cultural symbols or scenes.
Giving polvoron demonstrates your support of homegrown businesses and talent. It has become a symbol of the country and people.
Popular Polvoron Brands
|Leading Filipino bakery chain known for classic polvoron recipes
|Another popular bakery chain with great polvoron varieties
|Specialty food gift store making homemade style polvoron
|Local brand in the Philippines using high quality ingredients
|Home bakery selling classic Filipino polvoron
These are just a few of the many beloved local brands. New artisanal brands are also popping up and putting creative twists on traditional recipes.
Where to Buy Polvoron
If you can’t easily find polvoron in stores near you, there are many online retailers shipping worldwide:
- Goldilocks and Red Ribbon ship certain products overseas
- Filipino grocery stores like Philam Food have polvoron varieties
- Amazon and other marketplaces carry some brands
- Small batch makers on Etsy sell artisanal polvoron
Searching “Filipino polvoron” online will reveal lots of gift box options you can order.
In specialty stores
In areas with large Filipino populations like California, Hawaiian boutiques and Asian grocery stores often carry various brands of polvoron.
You may find selections in the cookie aisle or with the Filipino food products. These are great places to find polvoron if you want to taste test different kinds.
In the Philippines
When visiting the Philippines, polvoron can be found nearly everywhere from souvenir stores to gas station snack shops. For the widest selection, check out:
- Supermarkets – Often have whole sections for local delicacies
- Mall food courts – Many stalls sell packaged sweets and pastries
- Pasalubong shops – Specialize inFilipino souvenir foods
- Bakeries – Goldilocks, Red Ribbon, local bakeries
Pasalubong shops and markets in major cities like Manila offer tastings so you can try different polvorons.
How to Make Polvoron
Want to make this crumbly Filipino cookie at home? Here is an easy recipe to try:
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup powdered milk
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- In a bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.
- Beat in the powdered milk and vanilla.
- Add the flour gradually and mix just until combined. Do not overmix.
- Stir in the chopped walnuts.
- Roll dough into small balls and arrange on a baking sheet.
- Bake at 300F for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned.
- Let cookies cool completely before crumbling by hand into small pieces.
- Toss crumbled cookies with powdered sugar until well coated.
- Enjoy fresh or store in an airtight container.
Be gentle when crumbling to achieve an airy, powdery texture. The classic melt-in-your-mouth polvoron!
Polvoron is the quintessential crumbly shortbread representing Filipino culinary heritage. Behind its simple, delicate exterior lies a rich history of cultural exchange, resourcefulness, and tradition. With just a few basic ingredients, generations of home bakers and small businesses have elevated polvoron into a beloved food gift and icon of Philippine identity. Its melt-in-your-mouth texture makes for a memorable eating experience. Try this classic for yourself to taste the sweetness of Filipino culture!