A mantecada is a spongy, sweet cake traditionally made in Spain. Many consider mantecadas comparable to muffins due to their size and texture. Their flavor is said to be similar to pound cake, and some find them comparable to the French madeleine cakes. Mantecadas are part of a long tradition of baking in Spain, which includes a large variety of sweet breads. Authentic recipes for mantecadas contain lard, flour, sugar, and eggs, along with other optional ingredients. These spongy sweet breads are especially popular in the Astorga region of Spain, where the European Union has designated them an historically and geographically significant part of Spanish cuisine.
Sweet breads in general, and mantecadas in particular, are very popular in Spain. The spongy texture of most Spanish sweet breads makes them a natural accompaniment to hot drinks. In Spain, Latin America, and most of Europe, sweet bread pastries are often enjoyed over coffee for the morning meal. The Spanish name for sweet bread is pan dulce.
The name mantecadas is derived from the Spanish word for animal fat, manteca. A recipe for mantecada pastries will always call for animal fat — generally lard — and will usually call for flour, sugar, and egg as well. Some versions of the pastry also incorporate cinnamon or other spices. Mantecada pastries are sometimes baked in paper to make them easy to serve and eat. While some consider them to be similar to the French madeleine cake, mantecada pastries differ from madeleines because madeleines do not generally contain animal fat.
Mantecadas are also very popular in Latin America, where they can be found prepackaged and sold by major bakeries such as Bimbo®. The spongy pastry first entered the region with the movement of Spanish people and culture in the 1500s. As the Spanish conquistadores entered Latin America, recipes were brought to the South American continent. Mantecada pastries are now a staple in Columbia, Argentina, and Mexico, among other countries.
The most famous mantecadas are made in a region of Spain called Astorga, where the delicacy originated. Mantecadas baked in the area are said to be the best available, and are typically made with high quality cow fat. The Spanish people of Astorga take pride in the fact that the European Union granted an official designation to mantecadas made in Astorga, essentially acknowledging the high level of quality of mantecadas made in the region. The official title granted is Indicación Geográfica Protegida.