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Explore the baking and culture of Europe: Spain

Updated Tuesday, 28th February 2012

A country with many regional variations - reflected in its baking

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Spain shown on a map

Introduction: English

Spain has many different breads, but the product that best reflects the geographic and cultural diversity is the empanada, because each region has adapted the fillings to the local produce. Religion has played a very important role in shaping Spanish baking traditions. During the Muslim invasion, Spaniards stated their Christianity by eating a lot of pork, hence the wide use of chorizo in empanada fillings and the inclusion of pork fat where other cultures would use butter. Many specialities such as tarta de Santiago are linked to a particular Christian saint, and Spanish nuns are famous for the range of cakes and biscuits sold in their convents.

Introduction: Spanish

España tiene gran variedad de panes, pero el producto que mejor refleja su diversidad geográfica y cultural es la empanada, ya que cada región la rellena con los productos locales. La religión también desempeñó un papel importante en las tradiciones gastronómicas. Durante la invasión musulmana, se afirmaba la propia cristiandad comiendo mucho cerdo, rellenando las empanadas de chorizo y usando manteca de cerdo en lugar de mantequilla. Muchas especialidades como la tarta de Santiago están relacionadas con algún santo, y las monjas españolas son famosas por los dulces y pastas que venden en sus conventos.

At the bakery

-Hola buenas tardes
-Buenas tardes. ¿Me pone un roscón de Reyes para seis personas por favor?
-Un roscón de Reyes, aquí tiene.
-Muchas gracias -De nada, adiós.
-Adiós, hasta luego.

-Hello, good afternoon
-Good afternoon. Could I have a roscón for six people please?
-One roscón, there you are.
-Thank you.
-You’re welcome. Bye!

Image: webps frotps under Creative Commons license



Cuando voy a una panadería en España, me gusta comprar madalenas. Existen madalenas en otros países de Europa, pero las madalenas españolas tienen un sabor especial, un poquito más rústico, más mediterráneo, tal vez porque llevan aceite de oliva. Para mí tienen el sabor de los desayunos de mi infancia, y para mi hija también. Yo las mojo en el café y ella en el chocolate. ¡Están riquísimas! 


When I go to the baker’s in Spain I like to buy madalenas. There are fairy cakes in other European countries, but Spanish madalenas have a special flavour, a bit more rustic, more Mediterranean, perhaps because they are made with olive oil. To me they have the taste of my childhood breakfasts, and it’s the same for my daughter. I dunk mine into my coffee and she dunks hers into her chocolate. They’re just delicious!

Image: etringita under Creative Commons license


La hogaza

Hogaza bread is especially popular in the northern areas of Castille but can also be found in other regions and indeed other Spanish-speaking countries. It is a soft, rustic crusty bread, round in shape and weighing about 500 g.

Image: Lumiago under Creative Commons license


La ensaimada

Ensaimada is a spiral-shaped soft cake from the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, typically eaten with coffee for breakfast or in the afternoon. The name ensaimada comes from saïm, the local name for a kind of reduced pork fat used in the original recipe.

Image: Andrea Sanglas under Creative Commons license


Los polvorones

Polvorones are small cakes made of almond, flour, sugar, and animal fat. They are typically eaten at Christmas and come from the village of Estepa in Seville. Each small cake is wrapped in thin paper and you crush it between both hands to prevent it from crumbling when you bite into it.

Image: chikache under Creative Commons license


La madalena

Shaped exactly like fairy cakes, madalenas have a distinctive Spanish flavour because they are made with olive oil instead of butter. They are rarely eaten by themselves as they do not have a filling or topping, but are delicious dunked in coffee, hot chocolate or milk.

Image: etringita under Creative Commons license


La pistola

Pistola bread is a crusty, medium sized loaf. It is the most common everyday bread in the Madrid region of Spain. In other regions, pistola bread is toasted and used for making an earthy type of bread soup called sopas.

Image: Andreas Kusumahadi under Creative Commons license


El roscón de Reyes

Roscón de Reyes is a large, doughnut-shaped sweet bread which is typically eaten with hot chocolate on 6th January to celebrate the Epiphany. The cake is usually shared as a ritual in the New Year, and contains a small object as a ‘surprise’ for one of the eaters.

Image: Ratamala under Creative Commons license


El pa de pages

Pa de pages is a crusty rustic bread from Catalonia, in north east Spain. It is the perfect bread for pa amb tomàquet, a slice of lightly toasted bread rubbed with a clove of garlic, covered with fresh tomato pulp and topped with a slice of Serrano ham and a dash of olive oil.

Image: JualaDeArdilla under Creative Commons license


El bizcocho

Bizcocho is literally translated as sponge. Bizcochos are finger-shaped sponge biscuits which are specially designed to be dunked into a hot drink.

Image: su-lin under Creative Commons license


La empanada

Empanada is a large rectangular pie with a savoury filling that is normally cut into portions. Every region of Spain has its own variety of empanada with fillings that range from chorizo to octopus, including a number of vegetarian versions. Individual empanadas are known as empanadillas and can be either baked or fried.

Image: jlastras under Creative Commons license


La tarta de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago is made of almond, egg, sugar and butter. It is from Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region, north west Spain. It is named after Santiago (St James) who is the patron saint of Galicia and Spain. The cross of Santiago is indeed always featured on the top of this tart. Just like Catalonia and the Basque Country, Galicia has its own official language, Galician, which has equal status to Spanish.

Image: webos fritos under Creative Commons license


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