Back in the day, these piggy cookies were called “chichimbres“. In fact, some small towns in Mexico still know them as chichimbres rather than puerquitos or marranitos. It is said that these adorable treats were extremely popular in ancient Greece about 5,000 years ago and it’s believed the main ingredient in these was ginger. There is not evidence of this cookie being piggy-shaped back then, though.
Eventually, the British adopted the Greek delicacy as their own and called it “gingerbread“. Ultimately, gingerbread made it to Mexico during the conquest. However, the word gingerbread was extremely difficult to pronounce for nahuatl speakers – one of the indigenous languages widely spoken at the time and still present in many regions of Mexico. This language barrier, per se, allowed us to go from gingerbread to chichimbre which made more phonetic sense to people. We also replaced the ginger component with piloncillo, canela (Mexican cinnamon) and star anise. We truly made this treat our own and I’m so glad we did! There’s nothing better than a chichimbre or puerquito with a nice cup of black coffee.
These piggy cookies are extremely easy to make and you can easily adjust it to your liking. I like my puerquitos soft so I roll the dough out a bit thicker than you would a regular sugar cookie. If you like them crunchy, roll them out thinner. The final texture will depend on the thickness of the cookie and the baking time. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Here’s what you’ll need for this recipe:
- 300g piloncillo
- 1 canela (Mexican cinnamon) stick
- 1 tablespoon anise seeds
- 375g water
- 500g all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 60g shortening or lard, cold
- 1 egg (for final egg wash)
- Preheat oven to 325 F
- Make piloncillo syrup: In a medium pot, bring the first 4 ingredients to a boil over high heat. Once the piloncillo has completely dissolved, lower the heat and let it simmer until the mixture reaches a maple syrup-like consistency. It will take about 20 to 25 minutes after you bring it down to a slow simmer. Allow your piloncillo syrup to cool completely before moving on to the next step.
- Cut the shortening or lard into the dry ingredients: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the shortening or lard and cut it into the dry ingredients until it looks like wet sand or parmesan cheese. Your pick!
- Add syrup: Since your syrup may not be the exact same consistency every single time, sometimes you’ll need to add all of the syrup and sometimes you won’t. So, add only half of you syrup to the dry ingredients to begin with and mix until a dough forms. Your dough should not be sticky nor dry. It has to nicely come together into a beautifully smooth and soft dough. If it’s too sticky, add a bit of flour. If it too dry, add more syrup.
- Let it rest: Wrap your dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for 15-20 mins.
- Make your puerquitos: Dust a flat, clean surface with flour. Roll out your dough to your desired thickness. I roll mine out to a thickness of approximately 1cm. Cut the cookies using a piggy-shaped cutter. Before you cut the cookies, make sure the dough is not sticking to the surface. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time picking up the cut out puerquito cookie and the shape might suffer in the process.
- Bake: Place puerquitos on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Egg wash the top with a pastry brush. Bake at 325F for 12-15 minutes. Rotate halfway through. Remember that baking time will depend on your oven. Always check on your puerquitos at the halfway mark, during the rotation, to see if they need more or less time than advised. You’ll know your puerquitos are done when they no longer stick to the parchment paper, the bottom side of your puerquito is lightly brown and the top feels soft yet slightly firm to the touch.
- Cool and enjoy: Allow your puerquitos to cool (if you eat them hot, they’ll feel dough-y) and enjoy with a cafecito!
All ingredients should be readily available at your local Latin store. You can also find piloncillo (also known as panela) at Superstore and Walmart. If you can’t find piloncillo or panela anywhere, you can replace it with brown sugar. The taste will not be exactly the same but it will be very similar.
Canela or Mexican cinnamon is a key ingredient in this recipe. Canela has a more subtle taste and is slightly more fragrant than regular cinnamon. If you can get your hands on some canela, you will not regret it.
This is completely optional, but I add a teaspoon of black peppercorns to my piloncillo syrup. It gives the puerquitos an almost spicy aftertaste – the same way ginger would but in a more subtle way.
If you want to keep your puerquitos vegan, use shortening in the recipe itself and olive oil instead of egg for the “egg” wash before baking.
Finally, you can most definitely use bacon fat instead of lard or shortening for this recipe. You’ll end up with puerquitos with a brown sugar & bacon flavour profile. Doesn’t that sound amazing? You might even feel tempted to throw some chopped up pieces of (already cooked) bacon in there. Who knows! Really, don’t be afraid to experiment.
Cutters. Ah, puerquito cutters. Ok, I got my first piggy cutter from Bulk Barn. Unfortunately, it somehow ended up in the dishwasher and didn’t survive the journey. I then got a second one from Amazon, which got discontinued soon after. It was a great cutter but it was sadly a plastic one and it somehow ended up on a hot baking tray that completely ruined it. Accidents happen in the kitchen, ok? If you’ve been following Metate Bake Shop from the very beginning, now you know why our puerquitos kept changing. Anyway, I got my current puerquito cutter on my last trip to Mexico. I know that’s not a viable option given the current situation, however, there’s always the Internet. If I wanted to get a puerquito cutter right now, I would probably get it from Etsy. If you search for “marranito cutters”, a pink one by Kitchen Crafts comes up. I would go with that one and be more careful with it this time as it is a plastic one. Amazon also has a very cute puerquito cutter available but it seems ridiculously expensive (in my opinion) for a cookie cutter – about $50 CAD. You can also use whatever cookie cutters you already have at home. San Francisco-based Postrique makes these amazing “nopalitos” which are cactus-shaped puerquitos. If they can get away with it, so can you. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it!
If you make puerquitos, I want to know how it went. Posts pics of your puerquitos on Instagram or Facebook and tag @metatebakeshop. I.want.to.see.your.creations!