Mazapan is a traditional Mexican candy made from peanut paste, sugar, and sometimes cinnamon. It has a rich, nutty flavor and a firm yet crumbly texture. Mazapan is popular around Christmas time but enjoyed year-round. Let’s take a closer look at what mazapan is made of!
The Main Ingredients of Mazapan
The primary ingredients in mazapan are:
- Peanut paste – Also called peanut butter. This provides the nutty flavor and bulk of the candy.
- Sugar – Granulated white sugar sweetens the peanut paste.
- Cornstarch – A small amount of cornstarch helps bind the ingredients.
- Cinnamon – Optional, but provides a warming spice flavor.
That’s it! Just three or four simple ingredients come together to create this delicious and iconic candy. Now let’s look at the ingredients in a bit more detail.
Peanut paste, or peanut butter, is the most important ingredient in mazapan. Traditional mazapan uses freshly made peanut paste, which gives it a rich, intense peanut flavor. Commercially made peanut butter can be used instead for convenience.
Peanuts originated in South America and were brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the 16th century. Mexico quickly became a top producer of peanuts, especially in the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Sonora. Mexican peanut production continues today, providing plenty of peanuts for mazapan and other uses.
Sugar adds sweetness to balance out the nutty peanut flavor. Granulated white sugar is most commonly used. The sugar melts during cooking, helping to bind the ingredients and give mazapan its firm texture.
Sugar has a long history of cultivation in Mexico. It was already being produced from sugar cane by indigenous Mesoamerican peoples before Spanish colonization. Today, Mexico produces over 5 million tons of sugar annually from sugar cane grown in 15 of its states.
A small amount of cornstarch is often added to mazapan. About 1-2 tablespoons per pound of peanut paste. The cornstarch helps absorb some of the peanut oil, allowing the ingredients to come together into a firm, sliceable candy.
Corn has been cultivated in Mexico for thousands of years going back to Pre-Columbian civilizations. Cornstarch and other corn products remain widely used in Mexican cooking today.
Cinnamon is optional in mazapan, but adds a warm, spicy flavor that complements the nuttiness of the peanuts beautifully. True Ceylon cinnamon is traditional, but common cassia cinnamon powder can be used instead.
The Spanish introduced cinnamon and other Asian spices into Mexico. Mexican cuisines quickly incorporated them into both savory and sweet dishes. Today, cinnamon is a popular ingredient in Mexican desserts like churros, rice pudding, and mazapan.
The Origins and History of Mazapan
Mazapan has a long and storied history in Mexico.
- It originated sometime around the 16th or 17th century in the colonial era, after peanuts and sugar became more widely available.
- The candy comes from the city of Toledo in the state of Michoacán. This region remains famous for mazapan production.
- The name comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word mazapan – derived from masa (dough) and pan (bread).
- In the early days, mazapan was made by nuns in convents before becoming produced commercially.
- It rose to popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mazapan artisans formed gremios (guilds) in places like Mexico City, Celaya, and Guadalajara.
- Mazapan remains a specialty of Toledo, Michoacán. Families there continue traditional production and have held Mazapan Fairs since 1987.
From its ancient indigenous roots and Spanish colonial influence, mazapan has become a beloved Mexican Christmas tradition enjoyed around the world today.
How Mazapan Is Made
Making authentic homemade mazapan takes some time and effort, but results in incredibly fresh, flavorful candy. Here is an overview of the traditional mazapan production process:
Step 1 – Roasting the Peanuts
Raw Spanish peanuts are placed into a cast iron skillet and roasted over medium heat. The peanuts are roasted for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until they turn a deep golden brown and become very fragrant.
Step 2 – Removing the Skins
The roasted peanuts are poured onto a towel and rubbed together vigorously. This helps remove the peanut skins which can give a bitter taste.
Step 3 – Milling the Peanuts
The peeled, roasted peanuts are placed into a stone mill called a metate. The person grinding is called a metatero. The peanuts are ground and mashed into a smooth, thick peanut butter paste.
Step 4 – Kneading with Sugar
Sugar and a small amount of cornstarch are gradually kneaded into the ground peanut paste. This takes 30-60 minutes of continual kneading to reach the right consistency.
Step 5 – Rolling Out
The peanut-sugar dough is rolled out between sheets of wax paper to a thickness of about 1⁄4 inch.
Step 6 – Cutting into Shapes
The rolled mazapan dough is cut into traditional shapes using cookie cutters, knives, or special generalized molds.
Step 7 – Decorating
The shaped mazapan pieces are intricately decorated with foods like sesame seeds, candied fruit, colored sugar, and cinnamon.
Step 8 – Packing & Storing
The finished mazapan is packed into boxes, bags, or decorative clay pots for sale or gifting. It keeps for months stored in a cool, dry place.
Common Shapes and Designs
Mazapan comes in a delightful variety of shapes and designs. Some of the most common include:
- Hearts – Symbolizing love and affection
- Stars – Representing the guiding star of Bethlehem
- Angels – Messengers from heaven
- Nativity figures – The holy family, wise men, animals, etc.
- Pine trees – For Christmas
- Flowers – Roses, poinsettias, etc.
- Fruit – Lime, guava, pumpkin, etc.
- People – Monks, farmers, indigenious women
- Animals – Bulls, burros, pigs, rabbits
- Musical instruments – Guitars, harps, violins
- Letters and words – Spelling out names or Christmas greetings
The shapes often have religious significance or represent aspects of Mexican culture and tradition. Mazapan artisans take great pride in their creative shaping and decoration of the candy.
Mazapan’s Significance in Mexican Christmas Celebrations
Mazapan plays a very important role in traditional Mexican Christmas festivities. Here are some of the key ways it is used to celebrate the holidays:
- Christmas decorations – Mazapan is formed into Nativity scene figures like Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the Wise Men. Tabletop Nativity displays are called nacimientos and are a central Christmas tradition.
- Christmas gifts – Beautifully decorated boxes of mazapan are given as holiday gifts. The candies represent the joy and sweetness of the season.
- Stocking stuffers – Mini mazapan pieces are tucked into children’s stockings along with other sweets and small toys.
- Tree ornaments – Small shapes of mazapan like stars, angels, and bells are hung from the Christmas tree.
- Pinatas – Mazapan candies are included with fruits, nuts and chocolates in the Christmas piñata.
- Rosca de Reyes – This ring-shaped Epiphany bread contains candied fruit…and often tiny mazapan surprises baked inside!
No Mexican Christmas is complete without a good supply of mazapan on hand for decor, gifts, and snacking. It evokes cherished memories of Christmases past and time spent with loved ones.
How Mazapan Is Enjoyed
Mazapan has a light, crumbly texture similar to shortbread. There are a few ways to enjoy eating this nostalgic treat:
- On its own – The candy can be eaten as-is just like a cookie.
- With coffee or tea – The nutty sweetness pairs perfectly with hot drinks.
- Broken into pieces – Mixed into trail mixes, granola, or yogurt.
- In desserts – Crumbled on top of cakes, flan, and churros.
- As a filling – Used as a sweet peanut filling in empanadas and crepes.
Mazapan is delicious any time of day. Many people eat it as a nostalgic snack to accompany conversation and time spent with loved ones.
Where to Buy Mazapan
There are a few places to find authentic, high-quality mazapan:
- Specialty food stores – Mexican markets and tiendas often carry it, especially around Christmas.
- Online – Several vendors sell mazapan online and ship nationally.
- In Mexico – Mazapan abounds in candy stores, markets, and street stalls in Mexico.
- Toledo, Michoacán – Buy it straight from the source in this legendary mazapan town.
When buying mazapan, look for a creamy color and ingredients like peanuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Avoid any with hydrogenated oils. Authentic mazapan has a crumbly, dry, almost powdery texture.
How to Make Mazapan at Home
Making homemade mazapan is very rewarding but takes some effort. Here is a basic recipe to try:
- 2 cups raw Spanish peanuts
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1-2 Tbsp cornstarh
- 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
- Roast the peanuts in a 300°F oven for 15 minutes until fragrant and golden brown.
- Rub the skins off the peanuts and discard skins.
- Process the peeled peanuts in a food processor into a smooth paste, about 2 minutes.
- Add the sugar and cinnamon and process 1 minute more until combined.
- Turn out into a bowl and knead for 5 minutes, working in the cornstarch.
- Roll dough between 2 sheets of parchment to 1⁄4 inch thick.
- Cut into shapes with cookie cutters and decorate with extra sugar, seeds, etc.
- Allow shapes to dry for 4-6 hours before enjoying.
Store homemade mazapan in an airtight container for 1-2 months. Enjoy this authentic Mexican Christmas candy!
Mazapan is a cherished Christmas tradition with origins going back centuries in Mexico. The simple ingredient list of peanuts, sugar, and spices yields a remarkably complex confection full of nostalgia and meaning. With its rich ties to history, culture, and holiday festivities, mazapan remains a beloved treat for Mexicans and candy lovers everywhere.