Calling all sweet tooths: it’s that special panellet time of the year again

Catalonia expects to sell 262,000 kilos of All Saints’ Day marzipan cakes

Freshly made pine nut panellets (by Laura Busquets)
Freshly made pine nut panellets (by Laura Busquets) / Cristina Tomàs White

Cristina Tomàs White | Barcelona

October 31, 2019 04:25 PM

Last year, pastry chefs set out to sell a staggering 250,000 kilos of panellets in the days leading up to All Saints' Day on November 1, and this year they expect to sell some 262,500 kilos - 5% more than in 2018. But what exactly are panellets?

Panellets are small round marzipan cakes found in Catalonia as well as Aragon, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and Andorra and are eaten on All Saints’ Day, which is known locally as 'Tots Sants'. 

Their exact origin is unclear, with some hypothesizing that they could possibly date back to the time of the Muslim Iberia of Al-Andalus due to their almond base. 

In any case, by the early 19th-century panellets were used as offerings placed on the tombs of the deceased coinciding with Christian All Saints’ Day holiday. Although nowadays graveyard visits on November 1 may not be as widespread as they once were, people still enjoy eating these sweets as much as ever as part of the larger 'Castanyada' tradition where people also get together to feast on roast chestnuts and sweet potatoes. 

The most traditional panellets are usually covered in pine nuts - 75% of all panellet sales are of this kind and Barcelona’s Guild of Bakers claims that the pine nut variety is "king"  - but also those that are covered crushed almonds or coconut. Many bakeries, however, have also begun to sell panellets with a modern twist, such as chocolate or exotic fruit-flavored ones.

Pere Camps of the Pastisseria Lis bakery, founded in 1962 in Barcelona's Raval neighborhood, explains how these tasty treats are prepared: "Marzipan is made from ground almond made into powder with sugar. We add egg white or egg depending on the kind of panellet it is for. For pine nut ones, we have the pine nuts coated in egg yolk and we grab them with our hands and start adding them to marzipan balls."

Panellets can be pricey, but Camps believes that it is understandable when considering the "elevated price" of pine nuts: "Lately we've been buying them for over €55/kilo."

Despite more recent fears that the 'Castanyada' is being replaced by the imported holiday of Halloween - even Camps has a few pumpkin-themed sweets on sale at his bakery - the renowned pastry chef contends that this is not quite the case: "[The tradition] lives on, but before families were much larger and now families are increasingly smaller and therefore the number [of panellets people buy] has decreased somewhat. People still meet up with friends for the 'Castanyada'."