By Deborah Van Hoewyk
A “gentler, kinder” legacy of the conquistadores and their cochinos (see article elsewhere in this issue) is the fond memories any number of Mexican food bloggers have of Mexican “Piggy Cookies.” Usually called marranitos, full name marranitos de piloncillo, they’re also known as cochinitos, puerquitos, lechoncitos, chanchitos, or cerditos. They seem to show up in central and northern Mexico, as well as in Mexican bakeries in Texas, and were first mentioned in print in an 1875 English-language book about Mexico.
Marranitos are considered a pan dulce, sweet bread usually eaten for breakfast. They are at once “puffy” and firm, a “cross between a cookie and a sweet roll,” according to Pati Jinich, the chef on Pati’s Mexican Kitchen, a cooking show on PBS in the United States. If you want them to stay that way, you cover them as soon as they come out of the oven and keep them covered. Uncovered, they transform into crispy piggies, much preferred by some piggy aficionados.
They are not overly sweet but do contain spices that lead to the name “Mexican gingerbread,” although a traditional recipe does NOT use ginger. In a traditional recipe, the piloncillo – dark cones or blocks of unrefined brown sugar – is cooked with water to make molasses. You can substitute dark brown sugar for the piloncillo, or you can go straight to molasses. You can beat all the ingredients together, skipping the making-the-molasses step. The recipe below is easy, and has been adapted to northern ingredients. If you’re actually in Mexico when you’re making them, google “Pati Jinich, marranitos,” and you’ll get what is probably the most traditional recipe available online.
How to Make Marranitos (about 15 cookies)
Time: 30 minutes
First, of course, you need a pig-shaped cookie cutter (about 4 inches nose to tail, readily available on Amazon, of course) and a rolling pin (a tall, straight-sided wine bottle will do beautifully).
¾ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter (1 ¼-pound stick), softened
2 large eggs, one for dough, one for egg wash
¾ cup unsulphured molasses
¼ cup milk
5 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease (butter or spray) two cookie sheets or line with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Combine moist ingredients (by hand or electric mixer) in large bowl:
a. Cream together brown sugar and softened butter.
b. Add in one egg, molasses, and milk, and mix until smooth.
3. Stir together dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.
4. Add dry ingredients to moist ingredients, one cup at a time, making sure they are well combined between each addition. The dough should leave the sides of the bowl and form a ball as you stir.
5. Tuck plastic wrap tightly around the dough ball, and refrigerate for an hour.
6. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out until it’s ⅓-inch thick.
7. Cut out as many pigs as possible, placing them 1½ inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.
8. Gather up the remaining dough scraps and re-roll them out – you should get another couple of pigs.
9. Crack the second egg into a small to medium bowl and whisk together with a little water to make the egg wash. Paint the tops of the cookies with the wash.
10. Bake in the preheated oven until the edges have started to brown, about 10 – 12 minutes (shorter for a smaller cookie cutter, and longer if it’s bigger than 4 inches).