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Mex In Manhattan 

You haven’t lived until you are up to your elbows in lard and a pinch of baking soda.

Pan de Polvo, a Mexican cookie dusted with sugar and cinnamon that falls apart the minute you put it in your mouth, is a treat that many enjoy but few attempt to make. My experience with this old family recipe started with another attempt to get organizado. Sifting through receipts, unopened bills, and ancient to-do-lists, I found it. Written on a section of paper towel was my Tía Luisa’s famous recipe for Pan de Polvo.

Lard. Pinch of baking soda. Sugar. Cinnamon. Not much else.

No sweat. I became the Mexican Pillsbury Doughboy and announced to no one in particular, “Let’s bake.”

This translates to: “Let’s not clean up the

I brewed the required cup of anise and cinnamon tea, and 12 cups of flour later, I was up to my elbows in an Aztec pirámide of masa.

Instead of estrella-shaped wonders, the cookie press extruded lumps of gummy, shapeless dough and made embarrassing, personal sounds that could have come from a very constipated elefante.

I looked down at the little balls of masa; victims on their way up the pyramid for an Aztec sacrificio. The galletitas looked at me with sad, cinnamon-colored eyes and seemed to sigh, “Call someone in the family. Get help before it’s too late.” Their cries were drowned out by the metallic squeal of the oven door closing.

Forty-five minutes later, I rolled their over-cooked corpses around in sugar and powdered cinnamon.

With a triumphant flourish I transported the Pan de Polvo to the next family fiesta. “Here is a taste from the past,” I crowed as my sisters picked up the Civil War musket balls and popped them into their mouths. I could almost hear their fillings, crowns, and root canals imploding beneath their tight but polite smiles.

Fast forward to Sunday breakfast at Elizabeth’s Tacos with my cousin Norma and her familia.

“I found your Mom’s pan de polvo recipe and made it,” I announced.

Norma calmly put down her tortilla and, like a neurosurgeon debriefing a cub scout who had performed brain surgery with a rusty knife, conducted a gentle yet thorough post mortem over plates of huevos rancheros.

“You mixed the masa by hand?”


“A cup of tea made of canela y anís?”


“Did you bake them first, then run them under the broiler? Did you grind the sugar and the cinnamon?”


“Ay, Mario. Why didn’t you call me?”

My macho pride took a cowardly dive and hid in the bowl of pico de gallo.

Then, Norma’s daughter Cynthia spoke up. “We have some Pan de Polvo Mami made.”

One cup of café con leche later, she was back, cradling a Tupperware container. She lifted the lid and turned back the pages of time. All of a sudden I was a niño dressed in my Sunday best at someone’s wedding, breathing in puffs of freshly ground cinnamon and earthy anise.

I selected a star-shaped galleta coated with flecks of pulverized canela y azucar. The cookie entered my mouth and immediately fainted into a soft cloud of anis, canela, y azucar. A tiny remolino swept across my taste buds in a delicate Polka Norteña, leaving behind a whirlwind of memories: bodas, quinceañeras, y Navidades.

Then, I detected a new flavor; a lot like salt and not part of the receta.

They were lagrimas. I was crying.

“Mami would be proud you attempted to make her recipe,” Norma said as we exchanged un abrazo de primos hermanos.

I hugged the Tupperware container as if it contained an entire family reunion within and went home to try again.

Sin más,

Mario •

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