Another dose of cultural inspiration

I’ve previously talked about how cultural influences have played a huge part in fashion (where the Houses and of Chanel and Dior incorporated aspects of Scottish culture into their collections this year, or where Louis Vuitton used the Japanese ikat flower as a pattern for their new Noefull MM bags) and in music (like the band Mànran). But the touch of cultural influence reaches far beyond that of just music and fashion.

Having been born and raised for the majority of my life in Hong Kong, it is easy to see how life was when it was still a British colony and how things changed when it was handed over back to the Chinese government in 1997. Aspects of British influence still can be found hidden amongst tall high rise buildings and Chinese stone lions if you looked close enough: names of districts like Central and Causeway Bay, the European influence on architecture like the Legislative Council building and the central of alcohol heaven, Lan Kwai Fong (as a general rule of thumb, imbibing in too much alcohol, meaning more than one glass for social reasons at dinner time, has traditionally been frowned upon in Asian countries). Where Hong Kong was once a British colony and Macau was a Portugese one, the Philippines was once a Spanish colony.

The main language of the Philippines is Tagalog which was heavily influenced by the Spanish language. One aspect of their food that I have come to realise recently, is that one of my favourite sweets of theirs, the polvorón, is also influenced by the Spanish version of the polvorones. Both names are derived from the Spanish word ‘polvo’ which means ‘powder’ or ‘dust’. Spanish polvorones are referred to as Spanish shortbread, crumbly biscuits made from ground almonds, flour, butter, cinnamon and sugar, and keeps its shape from being baked, but crumbles to an almost powdery consistency in your mouth.

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Spanish polvorones. Source: Spanish Food

The Filippino polvoróns, on the other hand, although looks similar in appearance, is made from milk powder, flour, sugar and butter and with only a little bit of pressure, crumbles immediately in your hands. When I first tried one, all I could say was it tasted like baby milk formula and it was amazing. No joke! Crazy as it sounds, my sister and I used to sneak small bites of my baby brother’s milk formula powder and it tasted like dried dairy with some sugar.

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Polvorón from the Philippines. Source: A Cupcake For Two

It’s one of those treats that domestic helpers we’ve had for years in our family and my best friend brought back from their trips to the Philippines, the most popular commercially sold ones being polvoróns from Goldilock’s.

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Goldilock’s polvorón sampler pack, US$27 (approx. £17.66) from Goldilock’s

I’m not too familiar with all the local shops for buying specialised ingredients and foods from other countries apart from a couple of Chinese shops, so whether you can get Goldilock’s polvoróns here in Edinburgh or not, I don’t know. The only way I knew I was going to get polvoróns again was to do what I do with any other Chinese dish I can’t get easily here – make it myself.

The only reason I found out about the difference between polvorones and polvorón is because I tried making the polvorones first using the recipe a friend shared, thinking it would be the same recipe. Don’t get me wrong, they tasted great and on sharing this with colleagues at work and friends, everyone enjoyed it so much they asked for more, but it just wasn’t satisfying the taste of sweetened milk powder that my taste buds were craving.

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Homemade Spanish polvorones I made earlier this week. Recipe from Spanish Food

The Internet is such a wonderful thing, as long as you put your mind to it, you can find anything. Everyone’s sharing their knowledge through the world wide web and sharing the pleasures of their country and things like recipes. I made some proper Filippino polvorón tonight using the recipe from MM Del Rosario. Here’s how I did it:

(Note: The quantities noted in the recipe seemed to make quite a lot – I used 3 cups of flour for the Spanish polvorones and made about 36 of them; with 4 cups of flour for this polvorón recipe you’d probably get about 40 of them so I used only half the quantity of each ingredient)

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Ingredients for making Filippino polvoróns. The white Russian Matryoshka dolls are actually measuring cups which were quite handy for this recipe. I’m used to using the metric system so the cups really help. I got them for £10.99 from Lakeland.


2 cups plain flour
1 cup milk powder
3/4 cup (approx. 180g) butter, melted
1 cup sugar

You might find (like I did) it a bit difficult trying to look for ‘powdered milk’ or ‘milk powder’ in the UK when you enter this in the search tool on websites for Tesco and Sainsbury’s. I found the reason for this is that they don’t call it milk powder (this brings up no search results on Tesco’s website), instead they call it dried milk. When you search for this on Tesco, you’ll find lots of choices. I ended up just going for Tesco brand dried skimmed milk, or alternatively you can get proper East End dried milk powder which is used in Pakistani cooking for gulab jamun (a lovely dessert that reminds me of fresh hot doughnuts soaked in syrup).


1. Pre-heat the oven to approximately 180°C. Measure the flour and put this on a tray lined with baking paper (this stops the flour from sticking to the tray) and put this in the oven. Every few minutes or so, mix the flour so that it’s evenly heated/toasted.

2. Measure the remaining dried ingredients (sugar and milk powder) together in a mixing bowl with the flour.

3. Melt the butter on a low heat and mix in with the dry ingredients.

4. (This is the part where you get to dirty your hands, or if you prefer not to, use a spatula) Press well on the mixture so that the dough feels almost like cookie dough, but less moist. You should be able to pick up the mixture without it crumbling in your fingers. If this is the case, add additional small amounts of melted butter until the mixture feels right.

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5. Put the mixture on a flat surface and flatten to about half an inch thick. Using the cookie cutter, cut out your polvoróns and place them on a tray.

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6. Put your polvoróns to allow the butter to harden. Once it’s been chilled, wrap each individual polvorón in cling film to help keep its shape.

7. Sit back and enjoy your creation!

Have you got any favourite treats from your region or country you’d like to share?


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