Pastries, sweetmeats and cakes reflect, along with other aspects of Andalucian culture, the influence of the Muslim and Christian past. The inheritance of the Muslim conquest of Spain, which lasted from 711AD to 1492AD, can be clearly seen throughout Spain, and is most striking in Andalucia. For centuries a Muslim majority lived peacefully alongside Christians and Jews. The architecture, the language and, in particular the gastronomy, reflect the rich history and culture of the region. The use of ingredients such as dates, cinnamon and almonds underline the Muslim influence on the gastronomy of Cádiz.
Christianity has also played a significant role in the life and culture of Cádiz. Hugely important has been the production of cakes and sweetmeats in convents for Christian feasts such as Christmas and Easter. Many of the sweetmeats carry names reflecting this – ‘Angel’s Hair’, ‘Saint’s Bones’ and ‘Nun’s Sighs’.
There are also Latin American influences and, appearing more recently, countries such as Italy and France have begun to play a part in the cuisine of the province. However, this is far less evident in the traditional cakes and sweetmeats. Local ingredients such as honey, wine and olive oil contribute to a unique range of products.
The majority of the local specialities are based on fried mixtures of flour, sugar, eggs, pork lard and olive oil. Other ingredients include dried fruits, such as almonds, raisins, pine nuts, peanuts, chestnuts and acorns, together with spices such as cinnamon, sesame, cloves and coriander. Citrus fruit and apples, or even vegetables such as pumpkin, also put in an appearance, as do honey, sweet potato, quince and wines such as Muscatel, white wine and anise.
The ‘pan’ or ‘turrón’ (soft or hard nougat) from Cádiz and the impossible to translate ‘alfajor’ from Medina Sidonia are the most famous sweetmeats at both national and international level. Both are traditional Christmas favourites, but are also available at other times. ‘Turron’ is best produced by skilled artisans and is based on marzipan filled with sugared fruit and ‘angel’s hair’ (very finely shredded pumpkin). Medina Sidonia’s ‘alfajor’ is completely handmade with almonds, honey, flour, sugar, nuts and spices such as coriander, sesame, anise, cloves and cinnamon.
There are many other traditional cakes and sweetmeats in the province. Many have names that are simply impossible to translate accurately – ‘tocino de cielo, las yemas, los huesos de santos, los pestiños, las torrijas, los roscos, los buñuelos, los churros, los piñonates de Jimena, los gañotes de Ubrique, los amarguillos o las tortas pardas de Medina Sidonia, las cajillas de Tarifa, las tortas de aceite, los polvorones y mantecados, los roscos de vino, las encomiendas, los cubiletes rellenos de cabello de ángel, los roscos blancos de Villamartín, el corrusco de canela de San Fernando, las sultanas de coco, los bollos o las tejas de Arcos de la Frontera’. Suffice to say that they are all delicious!
High quality chocolates and sweets have recently made their mark and are becoming very popular.