Recipe: Panecillos de San Nicolas
The Story of Panecillos de San Nicolas
Panecillos de San Nicolas are a heritage cookie from Pampanga. They are named after Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, an Italian friar from the Augustinian order who lived in the 13th century. Panecillos de San Nicolas have a story that goes with them. Once, when San Nicolas was sick and weak (possibly from a long fast) he received a vision in which the Virgin Mary told him to seat some bread marked with a cross and dipped in water. When he did this, he immediately felt better. He began to distribute this type of bread to those were sick, saying a special prayer that goes with it, and many people were healed from this bread.
This bread, or what we now call “Panecillos de San Nicolas”, was introduced to the Philippines in the 17th century by the Spaniards. Panecillos de San Nicolas were fed to sick people with a special prayer. It is said that these cookies were only made once a year on the feast of Saint Nicholas de Tolentino on September 10th, and stored the rest of the year in jars. This might explain the healing powers of San Nicolas because the mold penicillin (a natural antibiotic) might have formed on the cookies while in storage.
Panecillos de San Nicolas are now a traditional cookies that you can find in Pampanga all year. They are made from cassava flour, butter, sugar and eggs. They are made with a wood mold that engraves a pretty design and a depiction of San Nicholas in a robe with a star above him, holding a lily, a money bag, or bread bun, and sometimes with a tarat bird – all symbols of San Nicolas’ piety and charity.
I learned how to make Panecillos de San Nicolas from Atching Lillian Borromeo, a heritage cook in Mexico, Pampanga. It is also where I purchase my wooden molds.
In-person cooking lesson with Atching LIllian Borromeo
My Filipino version of the story:
Ang Kuwento Ng Mga Panecillos de San Nicolas Galing Pampanga
Ang “Panecillos de San Nicolas” ay isang pamanang biskwit galing sa Pampanga. Sila ay ipinangalan kay San Nicolas de Tolentino, isang italyanong pari ng Augustinian order na buhay noong siglo ikalabintatlo. May paniniwala ang mga Katoliko sa likod ng Panecillos de San Nicolas. Minsan, nang nagkasakit at nanghina si San Nicolas pagkatapos ng mahabang pag-aayuno nakatanggap siya ng vision kung saan sinabi sa kanya ng Birheng Maria na kumain siya ng tinapay na may markang krus at sinawsaw sa tubig. Nang gawin niya ito, siya ay agad na gumaling. Sinimulan niyang ibigay ang ganitong tinapay sa mga maysakit na may kasamang dasal. At gumaling ang mga maysakit sa tulong ng tinapay na ito.
Itong tinapay o ang tinatawag nating Panecillos de San Nicolas ay ipinakilala ng mga Kastila sa Pilipinas noong siglo ikalabimpito. Ang Panecillos de San Nicolas ay ipinapakain sa mga maysakit na may kasamang dasal. Sinasabing ang mga biskwit na ito ay ginagawa lang isang beses sa isang taon sa piesta ng San Nicolas de Tolentino sa ikasampu ng setyembre at itinatago ang iba para sa iba pang buwan sa mga banga. Siguro ito ang dahilan ng kapangyarihang makapagpagaling ng panecillos de san Nicolas dahil sa mold penicillin (isang natural antibiotic) na nabuo sa mga biskwit habang nakatago.
Sa ngayon Ang panecillos de San Nicolas ay mga tradisyonal na biskwit na makikita mo sa Pampanga buong taon. Sila ay gawa sa harinang kamoteng kahoy, mantekilya, asukal at itlog. Sila ay ginagawa sa kahoy na may magandang disenyo ni San Nicolas kung saan naka-robe siya at may bituin sa taas. May hawak na lily, isang maliit na saco ng pera o tinapay. At minsan may ibong tarat. Lahat nito ay simbolo ng pagiging relihiyoso at maawain ni San Nicolas.
Ako ay natutong gumawa ng panecillos de san Nicolas kay Atching Lillian Borromeo, isang tradisyonal na tagalutong galing Mexico, Pamapanga. Ako ay bumili din doon ng mga kahoy na pang-bake.
How to make Panecillos de San Nicolas
2 cups uraro flour/arrowroot flour or cassava flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup coconut milk (from a can or fresh)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. With your hands, knead the dough together until ingredients is mixed and the dough forms one large ball. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours. This will harden the dough, making it easier to work with in the wooden mold. Brush vegetable oil on the wooden mold. Take about a 2 tablespoon ball of dough and place it on the wooden mold. Use a rolling pin to flatten the ball of dough so that the dough is flat and about 4mm thick. You can place a square of wax paper over the dough for this. Pick up the wooden mold and gently peel off the flattened dough and put it on a floured surface. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the shape of the cookie and place on cookie sheet. Repeat for remaining dough and bake cookies at 200C for 15 minutes or until tops and edges are slightly toasted.
Recipe learned from Atching Lillian Borromeo, heritage cook in Mexico, Pampanga. Thank you to my friend Kelley Larsen for writing down the recipe. For further recipe notes and how this can be adapted outside the Philippines, see Betty-Ann Bes Quirino’s blogpost here.