“El Hornazo”: An Andaluz Semana Santa Sweet

By Hannah Hawkinberry

A traditiona Jaenes hornazo, complete with cooked egg nestled in the center.

A traditional Jaenes hornazo, complete with cooked egg nestled in the center.

As an expat in southern Spain, every holiday in this country is yet another wonderful excuse for me to try new foods, and Semana Santa, or “Holy Week,” celebrated at the beginning of this month, was no exception. Pestiños (fried folds of dough), leche frita (fried milk), torrijas (fried bread dipped in milk) and arroz con leche (rice in milk with cinnamon) are just a few Spanish favorites. I am a devout foodie with an unfortunately finicky stomach when it comes to diary and fried foods, so these new delicacies came as both a blessing and a curse. Of course, I tried them all anyway, the taste-tester in me winning out over my healthy conscience (as usual.) Like any good cultural experience, I came away happily content and only slightly worse for wear.

Luckily, there is one Semana Santa dessert that didn’t leave me in bittersweet bliss. I happened upon it in a bakery window while walking back from watching another procession in Jaén, the county seat of the province where I live. It caught my eye because it was the first thing I’d seen all week that included an egg as a visible ingredient. As an American coming from a culture where eggs are one of the main symbols of Easter, I was surprised to see such a lack of them in this part of the world. El hornazo, however, is different: it holds a whole cooked egg nestled in a circle of flaky pastry dough and draped with two more slices of dough in the form of a cross.

The hornazo found in egg basket form is typical in Southern Spain and closely related to the religious and gastronomical practices of its people. In the weeks before Easter (Lent or Cuaresma), many Christians do not eat meat, and many years ago the best way to conserve the eggs that couldn’t be eaten during Holy Week was to cook them. For this reason, along with its significance as a symbol of rebirth, eggs have been incorporated into many Easter traditions here. Nowadays, some of the most well known hornazos in Jaén province come from Vilches, a town known for its baked goods and fresh meat products.

Standing outside that bakery in Jaén, I was like a little girl out window-shopping with her parents. I promptly announced to my friends that I had to have one of those fine-looking pastries (with the added excuse that I was on a Semana Santa cultural food mission, of course), and I was not disappointed. From its perfectly golden-brown, flaky goodness to the sweet “angel’s hair” jam, the hornazo can give any tasty bakery item a run for its money. And with the all-important egg cooked with shell intact directly inside its little pastry nest (adding crunch or a challenge in delicate eating, depending on your preferences )– this sweet treat gets extra points for originality and resourcefulness during a very special holiday.

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