The 9th of October is the Valencian’s Community day, commemorating when King Jaume I conquered the city of Valencia in 1238 and yadda yadda… Of course, the most interesting aspect for us in this blog is the food, and there is a specific type of sweets that are eaten at that time of the year: dolços de Sant Dionís or (pardon my terrible translation) Saint Dionysius sweets.
These are made of almond, sugar and egg white (plus whatever colouring you feel like adding). I used orange and a green colourings, and mixed them in various amounts, depending on which vegetable or fruit I tried to mimic.
- Almond flour (or peeled almonds that you grind very finely), e.g. 200 g
- Same amount of iced sugar, e.g. 200 g
- One egg white per 200 g of almond flour
- Food colouring
This is more tedious than anything else, but it might just as well be because it was just me doing this and it was late at night and I was falling asleep ? — I figure it can be quite fun to do with more people, and kids will probably enjoy it as it is like making your own plasticine and then eating the result too!
1. Crack the egg and pour only the egg white into a mixing bowl:
2. Add the almond flour to the same bowl
3. Add the sugar
4. Mix thoroughly – you can start with a spoon but eventually you’ll have to use your hands, and it’ll be sticky! At the end you should get a quite compact mass of almond dough which looks a lot like… marzipan (because that’s what it sort of is!)
5. Cover the bowl with a towel or similar (I use a shower cap) so it doesn’t dry out, and place on the fridge for one or two hours, so it cools down and gets harder. This is optional; some recipes have it and some don’t. If you feel like the consistency is good enough to start shaping the sweets, then skip this step. It totally depends on the amount of oil the almond flour had, the temperature in the room, etc…
6. To colour the paste, separate as much paste as you want to use for that colour onto a smaller bowl, and add some drops of the colouring. I found that it worked better if I added some, worked the colouring into the paste and then decide if I wanted to add more to make the colour more intense, instead of adding the whole lot from the start. I found this the most tedious part as you have to knead the colour into the paste and your fingers get all coloured as well!
Then take pieces and shape them as fruits or vegetables (or legumes, if we want to be picky here ?). The tradition dictates they have to be representative of the produce from the Valencian region (l’horta valenciana) but we’re already transgressing the tradition by using ground almonds to start with, so feel free to make something more exotic—I’ve seen pictures of beautiful bananas and these do not grow in Valencia!
7. These are not baked. Once you’re done with the shaping, you can start eating them, or wait until your loved one comes home and then you surprise them with this delirious idea. They keep quite well in the fridge (covered, ideally, so they dry less).
Tedium, sleep, resistance and eventually, creativity
You will soon realise that this is going to take a LONG time. Mixing the colouring for the little oranges and carrots here had been really tedious and I had only used a small part of the paste. I figured it’d be a long process and despaired a bit at that moment! (Actually a lot, and cursed myself for tackling this task without really thinking of how much work it would be).
I felt quite inadequate as I had never used food colouring before and no one explained clearly how to use it, and I also felt like I was doing something wrong, and that perhaps I did not have the ‘experience’ that entitled me to be doing ‘advanced level’ sweets, as I tend to do simpler, less labourious stuff, closer to bread than to ‘patisserie’.
Eventually I stopped fighting my insecurities as I realised that the only way to find out was to do it, and if something didn’t turn out “good looking”, it could just be eaten anyway and no one really cared because this was not a competition, and so I abandoned myself to the task and started getting really funny ideas for things to make.
At the end I was quite proud of some of the shapes and colours I came up with, and even more so when I sent a picture of the dish to one of my friends and she thought they were real things, not sweets!
These sweets keep quite well in the fridge, covered. I don’t know what happens if you leave them outside, I didn’t do it because they have raw egg and the idea was giving me the creeps!
How I made these (shaping tips & tricks)
Mini oranges. These were the first ones I made, and they were pretty easy! I made balls using my hands and I used the end of a chopstick to create the skin indents. Later, I made the stem and leaves with the same paste I made the apples with (to avoid mixing more colours). I’m not too happy with the stem / leaves—I think they look clumsy!
I think that professionals actually use real orange tree leaves, but I didn’t have any handy! ?
The cauliflower. I made the little indents on the white core with the end of a chopstick, and then shaped each of the leaves by making a small ball with my hands, then squashed it with my palms (this gave them the rough ends), then wrapped it around the white and added the ‘trunk’ bit to each leaf.
Brussels sprout. I made it in a very similar way to the cauliflower, by wrapping each layer around the previous one. I think it came out looking really cute ?
And yes, I just made one.
Broad beans or la batxoqueta. This is such an essential ingredient in a paella and I feel is super representative of the Valencian produce! We also grow it as kids as a ‘science’ experiment, so it was a great plot twist to literally make one out of marzipan. For the unopened ones I just took marzipan pieces, rolled them into a ball, stretched them on the counter until they became a sort of long cylinder, and then flattened them down while also pinching them slightly to shape them as if there were beans inside them.
For the one which is open, I shaped the two parts first the same way as before, but without pinching them. I shaped the beans, placed them on the shell and placed the other half on top, and joined them at the side by pinching the two parts together. No one wants a marzipan that falls apart as you try to eat it!
Olives. I think these were REALLY believable! and also to actual size, which made them even funnier to look at. I made the little stem holes using a thinner chopstick. Notice how they are not perfectly symmetrical, they’re a bit pointier on the opposite edge. Yes, I have spent a lot of time looking at olives, thinking of olives and eating olives. I’m sure this is perfectly normal.
Green beans and croquettes. We eat way more green beans than croquettes, which might explain why the green beans look really believable to me, as if they had just been taken out of the pot right now! I made the beans by mixing mostly green but also a bit of orange colour to give it a deeper (read: brownish) hue. Then it’s just about rolling them into long shapes that pretend to mimic slightly soggy cooked beans.
The croquettes were actually potatoes in my mind, but everyone said they are croquettes, so who am I to fight them? I mixed the opposite colour here, more orange than green, and this was also at the end of the process and I was very tired so I was looking for some sort of vegetable that could consume big lumps of marzipan, because I wanted to finish now and then. So I thought: right, let’s make big baking potatoes.
And then everyone thought it was croquettes. Oh well!
The story behind these sweets is quite interesting, and each source you consult might tell you slightly different versions, so take everything with a pinch of salt—or a handful of sugar, in this case ?.
Current tradition has people gifting a tray of these sweets to their loved ones on the 9th of October, wrapped in a colourful handkerchief, which is called a mocador in Valencian and hence the name of the festivity, la mocaorà. Which sort of makes this our “Saint Valentine’s”, except it existed before that concept even existed. Take that, capitalism!
Note, because this is fascinating: mocador literally means a thing to get rid of your boogies; in contrast, the equivalent Spanish word, pañuelo, literally means a small piece of fabric.
But why are Valencians indulging in this festivity? The tradition says that when King Jaume I entered the city, peasants offered his wife, Violant of Hungary, trays with the best produce of the nearby fields.
Initially this didn’t become a tradition because they didn’t repeat this until 100 years later, and then after another 100 years. So it happened in 1338, 1438… But in 1738 King Phillip V, who is abhorred by all Valencians, not only oppressed the kingdom, removing Valencian self rule and abolishing their laws when annexing the kingdom to Castille, he also forbid them from celebrating the 9th of October, and worst of all, he forbid the FIRECRACKERS.
This is akin to Jamie Oliver putting chorizo in a paella: total anathema. Valencians NEED firecrackers!!! In previous years they would have fired thousands of rockets and crackers from the towers in Valencia to celebrate, and now this boring guy comes up and decides that they can’t have their noisy fun anymore?! ??♀️?
But what kings cannot extinguish is the wicked Valencian sense of humour. So the Guild of Bakers came up with sweets shaped as the most potent firecrackers: la piuleta i el tronaor. Take that, Phillip V! ???
They look like this (picture taken from this magnificent blog post with a way more advanced recipe):
What they also look like is… reproductive organs. I told you Valencians have a wicked sense of humour.
So it sort of turns this into a “fertility celebration” festivity. And obviously when they say “fertility”, they aren’t specifically thinking of producing offspring. They actually mean something else. It’s a very hedonist lifestyle.
I thought it’d be really hypocritical and unnecessary to make a tronaor, so I ended up making two piuletes and dressed them in a sort of interpretation of the Valencian flag with some coloured icing we had left over from making ginger biscuits:
I was quite amused by this. You have no idea how amused I was. I was also glad to see that Valencia’s town hall used a similar imagery to promote Sant Dionís as an inclusive event a couple years ago ??❤️??:
?I haven’t been able to find a video showing how a piuleta sounds, but here’s this demonstration of a tronaor being fired (it’s loud!):
Sources (just in case you want to dig more)
- “Per Sant Dionís no t’oblides de la mocaorà per al teu ser estimat… amb dolços de massapàen formes de fruites i hortalisses de l’horta de València, la piuleta i el tronador” (in Valencian) – beautifully looking sweets
- Dulces típicos del día de Sant Dionís (a recipe, in Spanish)
- Frutitas de mazapán para Sant Dionís (step by step recipe, in Spanish)
- La historia de la mocaorà (history and recipe)
- There’s also an easy recipe for piuleta i tronaor in the book Dolços valencians from Chelo Peiró