Welcome to probably the most exclusive food you’ve never heard of: Sospiros. All of my students know what they are, and they recommend them to me at every turn, but I get the impression that none of them have eaten them within the last two years. They are only popular with older people, and only because they are a traditional food. Only one bakery still makes them (“properly”) in Manacor and they’ve had to start making 25% less in the past 5 years. Probably because the only people who frequently eat them are dying off.
The five or six articles about them online continuously blame “youthful ignorance” (aka those damn millennials who are too lazy to get a job or eat a damn sospiro) for their decline. Tourists, on the whole, don’t know about them. The “Welcome to Manacor” booklet you can get from the visitors center has a section on local foods which encourages people to try them. But, they say only one bakery in the whole of the island sells them. Which isn’t true. Other bakeries in the area do make and sell them but they are shunned because they don’t make them “correctly.” Some people go so far as to say it’s destroying the culture when the other bakeries use (gasp!) cinnamon or other flavors.
So why write a post on something ridiculously exclusive that’s going extinct? I don’t know. Maybe to be the only English speaking resource about them on the whole internet. Maybe to talk about how there are famous local foods that still manage to go extinct even in one of the most touristy places in Europe. Maybe to give Manacor (the second largest city in Mallorca) a little love.
Or maybe to fuel a little discussion and thoughts about culture. When people hold on to culture too tightly do they risk losing it completely? Shouldn’t culture be fluid – add a little vanilla to make it more appealing to the youth? Is vanilla really going to destroy your culture. How fragile is your culture if a little bit of cinnamon could ruin it? Also who owns culture? The bakery that makes them traditionally is the only one the media will acknowledge, while there are plenty of other bakeries do still make them – but these ones are ignored “because they don’t do it right.”
Food for thought. For now – the food.
Sospiros are cookies that could be best described as hard core vanilla wafers or biscotti. They’re hard as rocks – one website said they “test the best dentures” while another one warns”absolutely don’t eat them if you have dentures.” And you can actually save them for about 2-3 months with no repercussions. They are just a sweet hardtack. Everyone says serve them “next to” coffee or milk but they are something you are going to have to dunk if you want to actually eat them.
They don’t really have any flavor besides generic cookie flavor (which is a flavor). They’re a little sweet but not overwhelmingly so. They only have flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, and a “secret ingredient.” Which also begs the question – if they’re going extinct, why not share the secret ingredient instead of getting all pissed off when other bakeries use vanilla or cinnamon? Traditionally they have lemon zest in them. Probably. That’s probably the secret ingredient. Also people get all pissy about if they should have white or brown sugar, or if you should dust them with sugar before baking (unless you want to destroy their culture [sarcasm], only white sugar and no dusting).
What’s weird is these super cultural cookies been around for who knows how long. People have always made them as a breakfast or coffee snack. The traditional bakery alone has made them for almost 150 years. I think they go back further because they just seem so island-y. Why not make a hard as a rock cookie that can only get better from the humidity over time. It also just feels like an ancient recipe – no vanilla or cinnamon (things that came after the age of discovery?!). People say their history is lost but given their simplicity and lack of global ingredients I think they go back to pre-“discovery of America.”
It’s also worth nothing they’re not just “sospiros” (which by the way translate to “sighs”) aren’t the only version. There are other versions across the island that just go by different names. So while one bakery in Manacor claims to have invented them 150 years ago, they were likely just the first people to sell it in Manacor or the first to call them sospiros.
A lot more bakeries in Manacor used to make and sell them but stopped over the years. Probably because they didn’t make them right and were shunned into not making them. Now only the “original” bakery continues to make them. But bakeries and restaurants in the area do still buy bags from the “last bakery.” There is still a market for them.
This last bakery only makes about 150 bags of them a day (each bag has about 17 sospiros in them). They increase their production around pig slaughtering season (winter) because they used to be traditionally eaten during pig slaughtering parties. One of the most important foods on the island (which we will make a post about as soon as we get more information) is sobrasada. A really squishy sausage. Sausage can’t actually cure on this island so it has to be a squishy, special type of sausage. And how do you make special sausage? You have to do it on a cold day – hence pig slaughtering season being in the winter.
So as we enter the holiday seasons, er, pig slaughtering season, it’s time for traditional cookies. Just don’t ruin them with the wrong ingredients or you could plunge the whole of Manacorian culture into a black hole.
- Flour: White flour.
- Sugar. But what kind?! White sugar? No brown sugar? Ahh! Let’s split the difference and say both.
- Eggs – Just… eggs…
- Lemon zest – Maybe the secret ingredient?!
- Flavor – Go ahead and add vanilla powder, cinnamon or anything you want into it. Chocolate chips? Why not. Nuts? Go for it. I once read the original bakery says the mock ups have “too much almond flavor” so almond extract or almond powder?
- Salt? The original recipe probably doesn’t call for this. Baking, though, generally uses salt because it enhances all the other flavors.
- Fat. None. Amazingly it has no butter, shortening or lard (hint: this is why they’re hard as rocks).
Seriously, though: The Recipe
- 2 cups flour
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 3/4 cups brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- Lemon zest (or orange zest, vanilla powder, cinnamon, almond extract, cyanide, or chocolate chips. Any flavor that you enjoy.)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
- Add the sugars and eggs to a bowl. Beat the devil out of it. Seriously cream it.
- Zest your lemon into it or add your preferred flavorings.
- Mix flour, salt and baking powder together.
- Add the dry mixture slowly and mix with your hands. You want to knead it like bread and keep adding the flour mixture until it has the consistency of a bread dough. Aka it’s pulling from the sides/the bowl is clean.
- Divide into 4ths. Take 1 fourth and roll it out like a long snake – a bit wider than your thumb.
- Chop finger length pieces off and put onto a baking sheet. Crowd that sheet, they aren’t exactly going anywhere (no fat).
- Bake for 20 minutes or until they’re cracking at the top but not browning too much.
Rejoice in either your totally cultural adherence (you are now an honorary Manacorian) or rejoice in your creativity as a baker who can add whatever you desire into your own food.
We read the recipe wrong, and used 3 eggs instead of 2, so we ended up adding a bit more of everything in an attempt to even the recipe out. We found that the dough required A LOT more flour to get the right consistency. And since we rolled them out to be a slightly larger size, the consistency was more like a dense cookie than a stone.
If you’ve done it correctly, they will be wicked hard, and in this case we recommend leaving them in milk until they approach a chewable consistency.
Let us know what you added or what you make of cookies going extinct because no one wants to work together.