Sweet Potatoes for Halloween: All Saints in Barcelona


For me, Fall in Barcelona commences with the pungent smell of chestnuts over an open fire. Here, in the Mediterranean,  far away from my mid-western roots, the climate stays relatively warm as compared to the Autumn climate of mid-Missouri, where I grew up, and few trees sport the many colored leaves that I once took for granted.  But starting in October, street corners are crowded with tiny chestnut roasting stands consisting of a large, usually rusty, metal barrel used to contain the fire over which the chestnuts are roasted, flanked on either side by gargantuan bags
of chestnuts, and occasionally sweet potatoes, which are also roasted over the fire upon request.

A Chestnut Stand in Barcelona
For a euro or three, depending on the stand and its location, a newspaper cone full of piping hot chestnuts, or a sweet potato can be bought and it’s not unusual to see parents buying these items as an after school treat for children. 
It’s an unusual smokey, pungent smell in such a large, cosmopolitan city and brings to my very American mind, farms, hayrides and Halloween. Halloween, a fairly recent addition to the holiday calendar in Spain, is not widely celebrated, although it is very popular with elementary schoolers and teenagers, and some theme parks and American Restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe, offer Halloween celebrations. Here the religious and family oriented holiday, All Saints Day, still reigns, although it is swiftly losing its younger public to slicker and more commercial Halloween.
Throughout Spain, All Saints Day is a public holiday during which schools, public institutions, and banks are closed, which is reason enough for many Spaniards to celebrate. For elder generations and the religious, the day is a time to visit cementaries and pay homage to loved ones lost. But in Catalonia, the holiday has a special twist. On All Saints Eve, the 31st of October, Catalonians, religious and otherwise, gather together to celebrate the Castanyada, “the Chestnut Party.”  On this happy occasion, friends and family unite to scarf down roasted chestnuts (castanyas) and sweet potatoes (boniatos) with a traditional dessert of panellets, washed down with moscatel, a sweet musk wine.  
Panellets are a traditional cookie made from potatoes and almond paste rolled into little balls. 
Traditionally they are then rolled in pine nuts, although these days newer varieties rolled in coconut, chocolate sprinkles, and chopped almond are also common. These elegant cookies are delicious, but very filling, and very expensive when bought in the bakery. As a result, making these treats at home is an appealing option, and for individuals living outside Catalonia, a necessity.

Homemade Panellets

Luckily, making panellets is very easy. To make panellets, you will need the following: 
  • 1 pound crushed almonds or almond paste
  • 1 pound sugar; 1 pound potatoes
  • 1 egg; 2 egg whites
  • pine nuts
  • chopped almonds
  • shredded coconut
  • chocolate sprinkles
  • mixing bowl
  • fork
  • cookie sheet
  • oven
  • aluminum foil or baking paper. 

  1. Begin by gathering all necessary ingredients and preparing your workspace. Preheat oven to 425 F. 
  2. Poke holes in your potatoes with a fork. Bake them at 440 F until tender. Remove potatoes from oven. 
  3. Don’t turn off the oven, you will want it preheated for your panellets. Separate 2 egg whites, and put them in a bowl in the refrigerator to chill. 
  4. Peel potatoes and place them in mixing bowl. Mash them with a fork until they are about the same texture as “dry” mashed potatoes. Place potatoes in refrigerator to cool. 
  5. Once the potatoes have cooled, mix in sugar, egg and crushed almonds or almond paste until the dough has a consistent texture. Form dough into little balls. 
  6. Next, spread out the pine nuts, chopped almonds, coconut or chocolate sprinkles evenly on foil or baking paper on a flat surface. Coat your little balls of dough with chilled egg whites. Roll balls in topping of your choice. If you choose to roll your panellets in pine nuts or chopped almonds, give them another dip in the egg white, this will cause the nuts to turn a golden color while baking. 
  7. Bake at 440 F 8-10 minutes or until topping is toasted. Enjoy them at your traditional Catalonian All Saints Eve party with chestnuts, sweet potatoes and cava or moscatel, or with coffee and tea as a mid-day treat. 
Originally printed in “The Tipton Times“. Copyright Chris Ciolli 2009-2012. Please request permission BEFORE you use any photos, articles or recipes. 

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