The Levante (South East corner of Spain) is famous for its astonishing variety of sweet and savoury pastries made daily (recien hecho) in the local bakeries (panadería or pastelería). Pastries are a staple of the Levante daily diet since the Moorish times when flour mills sprung up all over the region due to the Moors’ ingenious water management systems.
The spectrum of what’s on offer ranges from the more exotic fare (frequently tied to a religious festival) like a boiled egg on a doughnut to the everyday Pastel de Carne Murciano with their filling of calf meat, garlic sausage and egg and beautiful concentric circles of pastry.
If you’ve been a little nervous in the past about what you might get, here’s a short menu of some of the more popular ones:
Empanadilla (small version of Empanada) – two versions exist, baked or fried. In pastelerías you’ll usually find the baked ones, which most frequently have fillings of tuna, tomato, olive and egg and use a shortcrust pastry. In bars you’ll likely find the deep-fried ones. They usually come in semi-circle, though they also make larger ones for the family to share. Empanadillas also come with a wide variety of alternative fillings; meat, fish, seafood and even some sweet varieties with apple jam for example.
Murciano (Pastel de Carne) – vary in size from individual 5cm round portions, to family size pies which you can buy in many supermarkets. The filling is almost always meat – calf meat is the best. They have a very firm inner texture and taste very, well, meaty! You can spot the Murcianos as they have a distinctive concentric circle design with the flaky pastry.
Bizcocho – kind of like Madeira cake, usually found in bars for first breakfast and in the bakeries.
Costillas – often found in bars for first breakfast and usually in the bakeries. Made as a large ‘pie’, with a flaky pastry and sugar on top. The filling is made from Cabello de Angel. One of our breakfast favourites, it goes great with a coffee!
Cabello de Ángel – translated as “angel hair”, is caramelised fibres of the pulp of the Cucurbita fruit (the giant pumpkin). The resulting jam, which consists of thin filaments of golden colour, is used to fill pies and cakes; sometimes cinnamon or lemon zest is used to perfume it.
Churros – These pastry sticks dunked in hot chocolate from the churrería vans, are heaven after a heavy night.
Most of these pastries can be bought in the supermarkets – but please buy local if you can – we’re sure that you’ll notice the difference in quality! And, don’t be afraid to try something new; the pastries are usually very reasonably priced (although the very best cost a touch more since they use the best ingredients and will be hand made). If you’re still nervous, point and say ¡uno de estos, por favor! What have you got to lose?
Thanks to the Panadería La Murta who makes the most delicious pastries we have tried (and we’ve tried a few, all in the name of research, of course).
If you love Spanish cooking then get yourself a copy of our Spanish Cooking Uncovered: Farmhouse Favourites cookery book.