Tocino de Cielo – Heavenly “Bacon”

Don’t be fooled by the name.. read on…
Tocino de Cielo is by far my favourite dessert. And every time I am in Spain, I make sure I eat it at least once.
Growing up in Chipiona, our neighbour Ines, would make tocino de cielo on a regular basis and invite me in for an after school “merienda” whenever she saw my bus arrive. I loved visiting with Ines, not just because her tocino de cielo was to die for, but because she was a joyful and talkative person, who enjoyed sharing her stories with mother and me (plus, it seems like she always had a new litter of kittens, which were too cute and cuddly for words).
I believe I have to thank her for my love of this pastry, which is a traditional Andalusian dessert.
The fundamental ingredients for tocino de cielo are egg yolks and sugar. The pastry is said to have been created around the early 1300s by the nuns of the Convent of the Holy Spirit in Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz. The Jerez region is where numerous white wines and sherrys are produced, and egg whites were used in the clarifying process of many wines (some wine producers still use this process today). During fermentation inside the oak barrel, the “finos” grow a layer of yeast on top of the wine, called “flor de vino”. This “flor” actually gives the wine a cloudy appearance and contains a lot of impurities.
Beaten egg whites were added to the wine, creating a filtration system, whereby impurities attach themselves to the egg whites, enabling the clarifying process.
Hundreds of egg yolks were a by-product of the wine elaboration, and it is said that the wine producers, in order to not waste the egg yolks, would donate these to the nuns of the convent. The nuns in turn created this dessert to use the yolks. The name is derived from the appearance and texture, and the “heavenly” or religious nature of the nuns.
And as a by-product of all the macarons I’ve been making lately, I had also about 10 egg yolks left over. I’ve tried making this dessert before with honey and maple syrup and it just doesn’t come out the same. So, I’ve resorted to refined sugar, which doesn’t make me too happy… but I guess somethings just cannot be altered.
Tocino de Cielo
Ingredients
  • 14 eggs (10 yolks, and 4 whole eggs)
  • 500g caster sugar
  • approximately 2 cups of water
Additional Syrup: heat up and caramalise: 1 glass of water and 4 tablespoons of sugar.
Process
In a sauce pan, place the sugar and the water, just enough to cover the sugar completely. Cook, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the sugar is completely dissolved and starts to achieve a golden color. Do not allow to caramelise, or it will become hard and useless. Remove the syrup from heat and cool completely.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Pour the cooled syrup over the eggs very slowly, while continuing to stir. The syrup should be added as a string, in order to create a homogenous/smooth mixture and to avoid lumps. If lumps do occur, strain the mixture to remove them.
Make additional syrup (ingredients above) and quickly pour on the bottom of the mold to be used. Spread on the bottom by swirling the mold. Some people prefer to use individual flan molds, instead of one cake mold. It’s up to you.
In a bain-marie, place your mold, ensuring the water only reaches to about 1/2 the mold’s height. If you add too much water, it may bubble over into the mixture and ruin the pastry. You can also cover the mold with aluminum paper, popping a few holes with a fork.
Cook for 45 minutes au bain-marie. To check if the pastry is done, make a small cut with a knife. If the blade comes out clean, the pastry is done. (The tocino has a gelatinous texture, somewhat like a jello.)
Let cool at room temperature. When completely cool, turn the mold over onto a serving platter, just as you would a flan. If using individual molds, turn these over onto individual plates or a serving platter as well, depending on how you would like them presented. (To make the turning over easier and ensure the pastry doesn’t break, you can use a metal spatula to carefully remove the pastry from the sides of the mold.)
Enjoy with a piping cup of coffee, and don’t forget to say a thankful prayer to the nuns! 😉