Polvoron: A Filipino Milk Candy

IMG_0280Traditional Polvoron, Ube Polvoron

Nowhere is Spain’s influence more evident than in Filipino desserts. From the sweet, tasty ensaymada bread to the Pastillas de leche,  Spanish flare can be seen incorporated plentifully in the Philippines’ culinary design.

Polvoron, or Filipino milk candy, was — in its most primal form — a Spanish cookie eaten during Christmas. Polvo means “dust” in Spanish, as polvoron has a gritty, crumbly texture that caves with each bite.  Traditionally, they were only made in the winter months: September through January, but today they are available year-round.

In its beginnings, its main ingredient was pig fat, flour, milk, sugar, and nuts. Today, that pig fat is widely substituted with butter or margarine. There are also several varieties of polvoron. Some of the more popular renditions:

  • Classic/Traditional Polvoron — a creamy, milky, Vanilla flavor
  • Peanut Polvoron
  • Pinipig Polvoron (beaten young green rice, a.k.a. crispy rice)
  • Ube Polvoron

My favorite, of course is the ube polvoron. Its radiant purple makes it exciting to eat; it is a full-bodied, rich concoction with a slight coconut note, and a colorful way to add some flare to one’s coffee.The other varieties are worth trying also. They are often compared to their relatives — the Mexican Wedding Cake cookie. Both are crumbly cookies with a sugary lingering that dissolve delightfully on the tongue.

IMG_0288Siena eating ube polvoron at dusk.

Ube — of course, is a widely-heralded Filipino dessert. It is made of grated purple yam, which has brilliant purple flesh.Yams are actually unrelated to potatoes and are actually tubers which have rough, thick skin. Sweet potatoes are a part of the morning glory family which are cultivated in Peru and Ecuador. Chances are, if you’ve purchased an orange-fleshed “yam” in the grocery store it was most likely a sweet potato. In fact, the USDA has required all of those labeled “yam” in the grocery store to also have the words “sweet potato” on the tag so that people know they are truly getting a sweet potato.

Yams are more rare in the grocery-store world. They are more popular in Asia and the Pacific and are found in stores that are more specifically tailored to these regions.

IMG_0314A purple yam bought at 99 Ranch in Mountain View

I grabbed one of these purple yams on my way home from work, and as I began to peel them in the afternoon I was in raw excitement. Each time the peeler shaved some skin off, the vibrant purple hue would appear like magic…then fade into a deep maroon in seconds. The timing of this photograph had to be just right, as the colors dissolved as they were exposed to oxygen.

After I boiled them, this was the result:

IMG_0328

Tinges of turquoise appeared and there was a luminescence to the slices that reminded me of an oyster! It was such a bewitching, first-time experience.

I know this post meandered from ube polvoron to the purple yam, but I was so enlivened from the experiences that I had to show both. 🙂

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