When I was a child I did not know what Halloween was about. In fact, I never heard that word until I began studying English at 10 and even then I did not understand clearly what exactly was. Things now have changed and Halloween is pretty common. However, what we celebrate in Catalonia on the 31st October and 1st November is La Castanyada and we eat panellets, which both fall under the celebration of "Tots Sants" or "All Saints Day".
La Castanyada, consists in cooking and eating chestnuts. In Catalan, castanya is a chestnut, and "castanyada", means "eating chestnuts" (yes, we weren't very original in the naming...) Traditionally, the official date of this tradition is on the night of the 31st October, but you can do "Castanyades" all autumn long, until chestnuts' season finishes. You can cook chestnut in several ways -in the oven, on a pan in the cooker, etc-, but in my opinion, the best way to cook them in a special pan with holes in it on a fireplace (or barbecue) using a herb called "palla de vesc" which you gather on paths' borders. To properly cook them this way, you have to make a deep cut on the chestnut's peel so they do not explode and place them in a bowl of water for a while. This while is usually the duration of a proper meal. Then, you put the chestnuts on the special pan on the fire with some of the herbs. As the herbs burn, you add more. All the time you have to keep an eye on the chestnut to make sure they "sweat" properly (ie, they look wet) and keep moving them. After about 30-45 min they will be all black outside and cooked. Finally, you place them on a piece of cloth for a while and eat them, opening them by the cut. Be careful, they burn! They are simply delicious. Chestnuts can be accompanied by a sweet wine called Moscatell, typical from Catalonia and Spain or Garnatxa, also a sweet wine, from my area, the Empordà.
On Tots Sants, 1st of November (today!), we eat a sweet thing called panellets (no translation available, in literal English "little breadies"). The word might come from "pa" (bread) but panellets are sweet and do not bear any relationship with bread: they are in fact marzipan balls coated with pine kernels or smashed almonds. At home, my father is the "panellet maker". He uses a traditional recipe, which does not use current or sweet potato, which is an ingredient most people use to do them. I love these panellets, and yesterday I had a panellets-cooking session with him.
I made pictures and videos so you might try to do them :). Here are the basic ingredients for the dough, according to the traditional recipe (my father adapted the quantities, so please if you want to make them, ignore the 3 eggs on the video and stick to the following quantities):
300 g of almond flour (or if you know how to do almond flour, 300 g of raw almonds)
250 g of sugar
(Text in Catalan: Per Tots Sants, Panellets. Per fer la massa dels panellets necessitem aquests ingredients: farina d'ametlla, sucre i ous // Text in English: All saints day, the day of panellets. To make panellets' dough we need the following ingredients: almond flour, sugar and eggs).
Elaborating the dough:
- Separate the eggs' yolk from the white.
- Whisk the eggs' white until they look like foam.
- With the sugar and a little bit of water, prepare some sugar syrup.
- Keep a little bit of syrup and mix it with the yolks.
- Mix the rest of syrup with the almond flour.
- Add the eggs' whisk to the mixture and mix again.
- Take the yolk-syrup and add it to the mixture, keeping a little bit for later on.
- Mix until the dough is homogenous and leave it rest 60-90 min.
(Text in Catalan: Ja tenim la massa feta. Hem reservat una mica de rovell amb almívar per "pintar" els panellets un cop estiguin fets // Text in English: We've already prepared the dough. We've kept a little bit of yolk with syrup to "paint" the panellets once they're ready to cook)
Coating the panellets:
- After the dough has rested, we can proceed with coating the dough.
- On different dishes, spread pine kernels, almonds and smashed almonds.
- Take small chunks of dough and make little balls with them.
- Coat the balls with the nuts.
- Creativity is allowed and panellets can be coated with coconut, or filled with quince jelly or mixed with hot chocolate to create chocolate panellets. You can do panellets of whatever you like (or think you will like)
Cooking the panellets:
- The oven must be heated some minutes before placing the panellets.
- Panellets must be placed on an oven plate, in which we need to spread some butter to avoid panellets from sticking on the plate.
- Once all panellets are placed on the plate(s), and just before cooking them, take the rest of syrup-yolk you left aside and, with a spoon, put some of the mixture on top of every panellet ("paint" them, as my father says).
- Place the plate full of panellets into the oven. Cook them for about 10 min at a temperature of 180ºC. IMPORTANT NOTE: as you may have realised, some measurements are vague (a little bit of this, a little bit of that)...sorry, this is how we Catalan/Spaniards work :P. And the cooking time of panellets is vague too: I wrote 10 min, but the best thing you can do is keep an eye to them and take them out of the oven when the yolk on top is a bit brown).
There is only one thing left to do now: ENJOY EATING THEM! Bon profit ;)
PS: If you try to make them, let me know or send me pictures :)
Special thanks to my father, the great panellet cook!