Houses of worship are not typically renowned for their food, but in Spain, cloistered cookies made by nuns are a divine delicacy. So what are they exactly? Just like their name suggests, they are sweet cookies and cakes made by nuns who are cloistered, meaning they stay within their convent and have little or no interaction with the outside world.
These nuns make a selection of sweets, including almond and orange-flavoured biscuits, tejas (crunchy biscuits), suspiro de monja (‘nun’s sigh’ – choux pastry fritters) and huesos de santo (‘saint’s bones’ – marzipan cylinders, that taste way better than they sound).
Using recipes passed down through generations and based on sugar, flour and egg.
How long have nuns been making them?
Spanish food has historically strong influences from Christianity and nuns have been baking blessed desserts for centuries. Nuns from Convent San Clemente, in Toledo, supposedly created marzipan in the 11th century after finding there was no wheat for bread and instead combined sugar with almonds (Sicily also holds claim to its nuns inventing marzipan). Today’s cloistered cookies follow a similarly simple process, using recipes passed down through generations and based on sugar, flour and egg. Nuns continue to make cloistered cookies today to earn money that keeps their convent running.
Where can you find them?
Of more than 900 nunneries in Spain, about one-third of them make and sell sweets. Cloistered cookies can be found in convents in Toledo, Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, in particular. Some convents specialise in certain delicacies, for example, the Monasterio de Santa Teresa de Jesús, in Ávila, is renowned for its yemas (delicate egg yolks covered with icing sugar). Salamanca hosts the annual Feria de los Dulces de las Monjas (Fair of the nuns’ sweets), showcasing cookies baked in the region’s convents.
You place your payment in, the wheel spins again and in your hot little hands is a batch of freshly baked treats.
How can I get hold of some?
The popularity of cloistered cookies means some are available to order online (huzzah!). La repostería de las monjas (The nuns’ pastry) has been baking for the paying public with “divine service and prayer” since 1986, while hecho en el convento (made in the convent) sells cookies made in Sevilla’s oldest convent. Finding other cloistered cookies can be more complicated. In Barcelona and Madrid, the search is more cloak (or cookie?) and dagger, promoted by word of mouth and with only a small sign to let you know you’re in the right place. Once inside, you are then taken down an alleyway within the monastery to a window with a wheel. The nuns put the cookies on the rotating wheel - even if you can’t see who gives them to you - it is then spun around and all you hear is a voice telling you how many Euros. You place your payment in, the wheel spins again and in your hot little hands is a batch of freshly baked treats.
The best part is, no matter how sugary they taste, cloistered cookies aren’t ever a sin.
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This is my take on Dominique Ansel’s shot glass forged from a choc chip cookie, filled with warm milk. Mine is made with an oatmeal cookie.