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August 14, 2010

Bolashas De Espece ~ Portuguese

My aunt used to make the BEST Portuguese cookies.  She has since past away and I think it's really important for my family heritage to learn how to bake these labor intensive cookies.  I searched online and through a couple of my Portuguese cookbooks to see if I could find the recipe but had no luck.  At a Portuguese Festa, a plate of these said cookies are normally auctioned off at at least $65 a plate!   This is another reason to learn how to make these because I am not paying $65 for a plate of cookies.....sorry Portuguese Holy Ghost Society, I know it's a fund raiser but I just can't do that.

Just recently, my cousin, Victor came up for a visit from southern CA and he brought with him, his mom's recipe for these cookies.  They have been called Portuguese Horseshoe Cookies or the proper name, Bolashas De Espece {espeshie cookies}.

After our long day in Healdsburg, we had dinner then we got busy baking these cookies.  When or if you have house guests, try cooking or baking with them......we had the best time!

Here's what you need.  {full recipe below}

For the filling, bring water, sugar and butter to a boil, then turn off the heat.

Grind up anis seeds.

Lisa, grinding the anis.

Blend in a bowl, lemon rinds, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, pepper anis extract and 1/2 of the plain bread crumbs.

Add to the pot of water, butter & sugar.

You will probably need to add the remaining 8 oz. of bread crumbs, but add them slowly so the mixture becomes firm enough to mold into little sausage-like shapes without falling apart. If you find the mixture is too thick and think it may crumble when rolling into little sausages, add more water.  If it's too thin, add more bread crumbs.  This is really difficult to describe, you just have to go by feel .....hopefully my photos will help.

We added the remaining bread crumbs to the mixture.

Set this mixture aside, covered with a towel.  When cool, add 1/3 cube of butter to the mixture and knead it again well.

Now for the dough.  Mix flour and Crisco {yes Crisco! you read correctly} together with pastry blender.  Add in eggs, sugar and 1/2 the amount of water and mix well with your hands.  Add in more water as you go until it's all blended.

Work that dough like you've never worked dough before.  We did this for a good 20 minutes!  Now I understand why these cookies go for $65 a plate!  Phew!  I was sweating  and it was coming up on 9 p.m. at night.

Give your over-tired, 3 year old who's up way past her bedtime some dough to play with.

Wrap the precious dough and refrigerate for an hour.

Butter your fingers and begin working on rolling the filling for the cookies.

My niece Ami.

After the filling is ready to go, roll out some dough.  Really thin.  This is where, if you have a pasta attachment for your Kitchen Aid mixer, you'd want to whip it out and use it.....instead of rolling by hand.  I don't have said attachment {ravioli attachment} but it is now on my list of things to purchase because I'm not making these cookies again without one. 

Place the filling in center of dough and fold over.

Use pastry cutter to cut the dough following the filling.

Shape into a horseshoe.

Snip seven cuts into the top of the cookie to allow for the filling to pop out during the baking time.

It's 10:30 p.m. and we're tired and slap happy at this point.

Finished product.  Now our filling did not pop out as it was supposed to.  We think we added too much bread crumbs to the filling but the taste was spot on.  This cookie has the flavor of sweet {the dough} and spice with a pepper after taste.  If you ever get the chance to try one, do it and if you've been searching for this recipe, as I had been, here it is!  Enjoy!

Bolashas De Espece

For the Filling:
1 15 oz container of plain bread crumbs
2 T cinnamon
1 T nutmeg
1 T anis seed, ground
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 stick unsalted butter
zest of one lemon
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of water
Bring water, butter and sugar to boil, then turn off heat.  Mix the remaining ingredients and only half of the bread crumbs in a separate bowl and mix, then add to the pot on the stove and mix.  Add the remaining bread crumbs.  Let mixture cool, covering with a towel.  After it's cooled, add 1/3 cube of butter and knead it again well.

After cooled, roll out little wienie like rolls, about 1/3 inch in diameter, 5 inches long.  Set aside.

For the Dough:
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
7 cups of bread flour
8 oz. of Crisco {vegetable shortening}.....
1 1/3 cup cold refrigerated water - put about 1/2 in and then a little more at a time while mixing.
pinch of salt
Blend Crisco into about 5 cups of the flour with a pastry blender.  Add remaining ingredients.  Keep adding remaining flour {and water}as you go.
Knead dough with your hands until blended well.  Cover and refrigerate.  This is when you can prepare the filling.
Take dough out of fridge and roll out thin.  Place the filling roll on the dough and fold over.  Use pastry cutter to cut around the filling.  Bend into horseshoe shape and cut 7 snips in the top of cookie.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Happy Saturday!
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Deb said...

Thanks for the recipe...sounds great. You're right...that's a recipe that calls for help. I make Hungarian Kifles and they're also labor intensive with a dough and a fill and shaping them into is more fun with family and friends. Fun pictures!

Pat Tillett said...

this is gonna blow your mind a bit. I used to have a Portuguese girlfriend. Back-in-the-day we used to go up to Cayucas (down the coast to you) and visit some of her relatives. Anyway, I had some of those cookies there! More than once even. Cayucas is an old Portuguese fishing town (you probably know that already).
If I remember correctly, nobody knew exactly what the words "Bolashas De Espece" meant, but the cookies were great...

Nancy Grossi ~ Churned In Cali ~ The Wife of a Dairyman said...

That is too much! Yes, Cayucas is near Morro Bay or Pebble Beach right? Love it down there! I'll have to ask my parents what Bolashas De Espece means because I don't know either! I guess I should find that out.

glee said...

wow, that looks very interesting and challenging. Cooking is not my line but i'm at the point of wanting to learn it. :)

Join our giveaway to win a fabulous dress. :)

Pam said...

Way to go with cousin Victor and you! The cookies look and sound delicious. Sounds like you had a great time and I must try the cookies!

Genesis said...

very interesting recipe...thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...


I made the cookies that sold for $65.00 in Sausalito. Actually, when you consider the price of the ingredients, including the spices, and the time and work involved, they are not so expensive.

As for the history of the especie, they originate from the island of Sao Jorge, many of whose sons and daughters settled in Marin County as early as the late 1850s.

Today, especie. produced commercially, can be found in bakeries or cafes in other islands,in the Azores, but they are still made in Sao Jorge.

As for the history of especie, they were time honored cookies always served during the holidays, weddings, parties, etc. Few people knew how to make them because those who had the recipes kept them close to the vest.

A researcher friend of mine living in Sao Jorge is trying to discover the early history of these cookies. It is thought that maybe the cookies go back to the Flemish settlers who settled in Sao Jorge, in the late 1400s, especially near the village of Topo.

The reason for the bread crumbs may be to use up old, stale bread. As for the spices, it is thought that maybe it was the influence of the galleons laden with spices from India that made their required stops in the Azores islands back in the 1500/1600s
Maria da Cunha Carty

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for posting this recipe! I'm Portugese and grew up in central California. Growing up these were my favorite. It was always a treat if someone ever brought these to a family function (always from a bakery). I live out of state now so I can't buy them but have been searching for a recipe. They sound like a lot of work, but well worth it. I can't wait to make them!

Anonymous said...

I asked my mom once what espece meant and she said it means Spiced or spices

Nancy Grossi ~ Churned In Cali ~ The Wife of a Dairyman said...

@Elizabeth, I'm so glad you found the recipe here! Before asking my cousin for it, I searched and searched online and could not find it, so I'm glad my post is helping people carry on with the Portuguese tradition! Thank you:)

@Anonymous, makes sense! there's a ton of spice in these cookies! Thanks:)

Debby G said...

Oh thank you so much I have been searching for this recipe for years, nobody gives it up!!! You are a god sent. I am one of those who pays 65 and up for those cookies. Ourfamily loves them. Thank you again.... :)

Nancy Grossi ~ Churned In Cali ~ The Wife of a Dairyman said...

@Debby G, I'm so glad you found the recipe I posted! I think it's important to share this recipe to keep it going for the generations to come! Thank you for visiting the blog and I hope you'll come back for another visit:)

Anonymous said...

If you want to see how espece is made at the bakery in Sao Jorge, go to this site.
Maria da Cunha Carty

Anonymous said...

In the site posted below, you will see and hear what your ancestors in Sao Jorge would have witnessed during the secular portion of the Holy Ghost Festa.

This activity always takes place in front of the emperio (chapel), and before distribution of the food, always sopas, meat and sweet rice. The young men dressed in colorful vestments, and carrying rosquilhas (the large, round, sweet breads) are called cavaleiros (knights). They distribute the sweets, including always espece. The guys playing the tambores (drums) represent the court jesters/entertainers. The practice of cavaleiros and folioes has mostly disappeared except in Rosais, and Beira, the latter my place of birth,and where this particular festa took place.

If interested in experiencing a Holy Ghost festa with its cavaleiros and folioes, and before American festa queens and ladies-in-waiting etc., may I suggest you attend the Alianca Jorgence Holy Ghost festa in San Jose, California.
Maria da Cunha Carty

Nancy Grossi ~ Churned In Cali ~ The Wife of a Dairyman said...

@Maria, thanks so much for the great information and link. I'm always looking for stories and information regarding the Azores and family history:)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the recipe with the pictures. I've made these for my boyfriend and his family. The first time I made them were for my boyfriends birthday a couple years ago. I thought he was going to cry. He asked were did I get them shipped from. The only time he gets them is when family visits Sao Jorge. This is the first time I saw the recipe in English. Before I had to convert the recipe from Portuguese and from metric cooking instructions.

Silvia said...

I grew up in San Jose, CA through middle school when we moved out to the East coast. My parents are portuguese from the mainland but we had many azorean portuguese friends. To this day I remember our one neighbor giving us these cookies for Christmas and I still can taste the unique flavor over 22 years ago. My mother did get a copy of the recipe in a very broken english that I never was able to produce these cookies.

Mom and I were sitting down discussing what we will be baking tomorrow. I mentioned we should try making the especies cookies. I pulled out the broken english recipe and realized there was no way I could understand it. Thanks to the age of the internet, I googled the recipe and you came up.

I am SOOOOO grateful you took the time to take pictures and explain step by stop how to do this recipe. Tomorrow we will be venturing into this recipe as it's been over 22 years since I had this amazing cookie that brings great childhood memories of growing up in San Jose, CA.

Merry Christmas to you all and thank YOU again for allowing such traditions to continue one!


Anonymous said...

I just attempted these last night. I was wondering if anyone had any tweaks to the filling recipe to make the filling 'pop' out as it baked. Also my outside crust puffed up a little, do you have to roll these really really thin?

Nancy Grossi ~ Churned In Cali ~ The Wife of a Dairyman said...

The dough for the crust needs to be rolled out VERY thin. I would have used a pasta roller, but didn't have one. Mine also came out a bit thick, the thinner, the better. And once you get it thin enough, the inside filling will pop through easier :)

Anonymous said...

I. Will try making them sounds yummy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this recipe. I make them every year (the holidays) with my two (now teenage) daughters. I have found that it is way easier to use a cake decorating bag for the filling. Make sure to use a medium sized tip.

Anonymous said...

I made these and had same problem with the filling being a little too dry but it was already hard staying together while rolling it up. Going to keep tweaking this one til it's right because I got people standing in line at my shop for these goodies.

Anonymous said...

my mom is an immigrant from Sao Jorge and she taught my sister and I to make Espece and Quesadas at a very young age. If using a pasta roller, roll to #4 as dough handling will thin it some more. You can buy most of the Portuguese sweets in San Jose off of Alum Rock for those of you in n. CA.