Hector and I went back and forth over this Mantecaditos recipe. I prefer a buttery, bite-size cookie because that’s what I grew up eating. On the other hand, Hector is more about a bigger cookie, with no concern about the butter to flour ratio. I bring you the offspring of the beloved cookie of so many Puerto Rican children here. A compromise cookie, if you will.
Not only are these mantecaditos super simple to whip up, but they’re also freezer-friendly. As a result, you can make a ton of cookies ahead, pop them into the freezer, and have a quick treat for dessert, guests, or teatime. I mean, if you’re fancy enough to do teatime.
How do you pronounce Mantecaditos?
Mahn-tay-cah-DEE-toes. Easy peasy, right? Say it a few times to get the hang of it.
Okay, thanks. What are Mantecaditos? Where are they from?
Mantecaditos translates to “little ice creams,” which, I’ll admit, makes zero sense. They resemble sprinkle-topped ice creams, but they’re not ice cream, so there’s that. But what they really are are shortbread thumbprint cookies that often come with guava or cherry filling or sprinkles. As you can see, I spare no expense when it comes to my cookie greed, so I hit mine with all of the above.
Many cultures have versions of shortbread cookies, and Puerto Rico is no exception. I say Puerto Rico, but mantecaditos are enjoyed around the Caribbean islands, respectively. Because I developed it, this recipe is Puerto Rican, though, and pays tribute to my PR roots.
Typically, mantecaditos have an almond flavor. I stick to that flavor profile here, but you can absolutely swap out the almond extract for many other options. Vanilla, rum, or lemon are the different flavors I see people use in their recipes. Because I do that cherry and guava business, I think almond goes best in these cookies.
When it comes to the shapes of mantecaditos, they can be as varied as the bakers making them. I prefer my cookies to be poppable. That means I want to grab a handful and chuck them into my mouth with minimal effort. Hector grew up eating mantecaditos that required two or three bites. I’m not a fan because they’re crumbly- again, they’re shortbread- so that means they’re messier. You can roll yours as small or as big as you want, though. As written, this recipe makes 4 dozen cookies. The bigger you roll yours, the less you’ll have.
What do I need to make Mantecaditos?
You need all-purpose flour, baking powder, and ground cinnamon for these cookies, which is the dry mix. Additionally, for the “mantequilla” (butter) part, you need unsalted butter, which needs to be at room temperature. Brown sugar, granulated sugar, and kosher salt, you need, too. Finishing the cookie dough is an egg (also at room temperature) and almond extract. Again, you can flavor yours with your favorite extract if you’re not feeling almond-y today.
We’ll talk toppings a little bit later.
To actually bake the cookies, grab your sheet pans, baking mats or parchment paper, and a cooling rack.
How do I achieve buttery goodness?
Since buttery is the name of our cookie game, use butter. I know some folks like to cut their butter with shortening for shelf-life and softness, but with shortbread, that’s not necessary. Shortbread is supposed to be slightly crisp and crumbly, so butter is where it’s at. As always, use unsalted butter as it allows you to control the sodium content of your cookies. Since hard butter doesn’t play well with mixing, you also want to make sure you give the butter enough time on the counter to come to room temperature. That ensures your butter blends smoothly.
Add the sugars and salt to your bowl of room temperature butter.
Why not cream the butter and sugar to light and fluffy here?
Often, the goal with cookies is to reduce the amount of pan spread. Pan spread is just what it sounds like: how much the baking cookies spread on the pan. When it comes to these mantecaditos, we want the least amount of spread possible. Butter and sugar, when creamed to a light and fluffy consistency (like what we’d do when mixing cake batters), contribute to spreading. As a result, we want to minimize the amount of beating in this stage. Instead of light and fluffy, we shoot for pasty and slightly grainy.
Accomplish this by using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Begin mixing on low speed. Once the butter and sugars combine to form a thick paste- about a minute or so- turn the mixer off. Scrape down the bowl and the beaters.
Add the room temperature egg and the almond extract to the bowl. Blend again, on low speed, just until the egg is mixed into the butter and sugar mixture.
Scrape down the bowl once more, then sift the dry ingredient mixture in. Sifting the flour mixture into the dough makes for lighter cookies.
Once the flour is sifted on top, blend it in with your mixer, again, on low speed.
How long do I mix the Mantecaditos dough?
At this point, the dough will resemble a coarse meal. The butter and flour will combine to create clumps of dough that may be separated in the bowl. Continue mixing on low or medium-low speed until the dough begins to hold together as pictured. You don’t want to overdo it on the mixing, but 1 1/2 to 2 minutes is a reasonable length of time. You can stop when the dough looks like thick oatmeal.
Remember earlier, when I talked about pan spread? Developing the gluten proteins in the flour also helps limit the pan spread, so mixing for this length of time is beneficial. Over-mixing, though, will lead to tough cookies, so there is a limit.
Once the dough has come together, scrape down the bowl and beaters and grab some plastic wrap.
Do I have to chill the cookie dough?
You don’t have to do anything. But, if you want the best mantecaditos, you should chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.
The reason why is because all of that mixing got the butter all hot and bothered. If you attempt to roll and bake the dough now, you’re guaranteed a floppy, flat cookie. Yes, the cookies will still taste amazing, but they won’t hold a round shape, let alone a thumbprint.
Flatten the dough out into a rectangle. Specific measurements aren’t crucial here, but thickness is important. You want the dough to be about 1/2-inch thick. Just use your hands to form it into a rectangle, which is roughly 8-inches by 6-inches. Just eyeball it. This isn’t a math class; it’s a cookie class.
Wrap your rectangle in plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes up to 24 hours.
How big should my Mantecaditos be?
Remember that I like to make my mantecaditos one- to two-bites max. That means I want to roll them to be slightly smaller than their end result. The baking powder and egg in the dough cause the cookies to expand, so I cut my cookies into 1-inch squares. Again, we made them 1/2-inch thick, so cut the rectangle you formed into 8 1-inch strips. Then, cut each of those strips into 6 sections of equal size. Like I said earlier, don’t worry about precise measurements here; just shoot for 48 squares generally similar in size.
Once the squares of dough are cut, roll them between the palms of your hands. I have a tendency to produce balls that look more like tops, but whatevs. Just do your best.
What are the typical toppings for Mantecaditos?
The most common way to top your mantecaditos is with guava jelly. Don’t make the same mistake that some do and think guava paste is interchangeable with guava jelly. The former is much thicker and takes longer to melt than jelly does. In addition to guava jelly, some people top their cookies with whole maraschino cherries and nonpareils (or sprinkles). Again, I suffer from mantecadito FOMO, so I need to have all three in case the mood strikes.
Because this recipe makes 4 dozen cookies, I divide them equally to cover 16 cookies with each topping. So, be sure to pick out and drain 16 maraschino cherries if you’re using them. You don’t want them to leak too much juice during baking.
Once you’ve formed a ball of dough, place it on a sheetpan lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. If you are going the nonpareils (or sprinkles) route, you can press the dough balls into the sprinkles, making sure they stick. When I top my mantecaditos with the nonpareils, I don’t form the “thumbprint” or the dent in them. I don’t like the way the nonpareils congregate in the dent. Instead, I leave them in a ball and press the dough ball into the sprinkles to adhere them to the surface. Then, I place the coated ball onto the sheetpan and press it down lightly to keep it from rolling.
What’s the best way to make the dents in thumbprint cookies?
Though these are thumbprint cookies, I have an aversion to having crap under my fingernails, so I cheat. Instead of using my thumb to press a dent into the surface of my cookie dough balls, I use a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon.
Hold the ball of dough between your thumb and middle finger and press the bottom of your measuring spoon down into the center of the ball. It’s okay if the ball breaks slightly on the side; just pinch the dough together again. The measuring spoon often likes to stick to the dough; just turn the spoon up to slide it out of the center. This prevents the ball from coming with it or the spoon from taking dough when it’s lifted.
Continue pressing the spoon into the remaining balls of dough to create their “thumbprints.”
If you’re using them as a topping, making the thumbprints beforehand reduces the chance of having “smooshed” cherries. Additionally, it makes filling your mantecaditos with the guava jelly less messy…unless you’re me, apparently.
Fill the dents in the dough with your preferred toppings. Usually, I fill mine with a 1/2 teaspoon of guava jelly, but that’s because I don’t care if my filling bakes over the cookie’s edges. If you’re a stickler for the perfect IG photo, use the same 1/4 teaspoon to fill your dents.
How long do I bake Mantecaditos?
If you only have one oven, keep the other balls of dough in the fridge while you bake the first pan of cookies. You can fill them, but you want to make sure the butter doesn’t warm up more than necessary before baking the cookies.
Once the cookies are filled, bake them for 16-18 minutes in an oven that’s been preheated to 350°F. I bake mine for 17 minutes exactly, but that’s such a rando number. I like my cookies to have golden brown bottoms but light brown sides. Baking for this length of time will result in browned cookies that still have a slightly soft interior.
After the cookies have finished baking, remove their pan from the oven. Replace that pan with another one to continue baking the remaining cookies. The baked cookies need to cool on the sheetpan for 3 minutes before you attempt to move them to your cooling rack. That cooling period allows them to set up a little and reduces the risk of their breaking when you try to transfer them.
Once transferred to the baking rack, leave the mantecaditos to cool completely. You can also eat them straight away. That guava jelly is a b*+@h when it’s too hot, though, so mind your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
How are the cookies served?
That depends. When I was a kid, they were “served” slyly. In other words, I’d sneak into the canister that held them and shovel them into my mouth without permission. It was a toss-up as to whether I’d get a beating for “stealing” the mantecaditos or if I successfully got away with eating food in my own damn house.
You’re probably grown and can do what you want, so just serve them at room temperature. A cup of café con leche or tea is a great adult drink to enjoy them with. The kiddos love a good mug of hot cocoa to sip while they eat theirs.
What’s the best way to store Mantecaditos?
Store the mantecaditos in an air-tight container at room temperature. Don’t keep them in the fridge because the butter in the cookies will harden, and the flour makes them go stale faster. They’re completely safe at room temperature.
Can I freeze Mantecaditos?
You can actually freeze them both before and after baking, but I recommend before. In fact, the dough is best frozen after rolling but before filling.
Just roll the dough into the balls and arrange them on a sheet pan in a single layer. Once they’re frozen solid, transfer the dough balls to a freezer storage bag and freeze for 2 months. I prefer this method because it allows me to bake the cookies a couple at a time instead of chiseling dough from a frozen glob. Just thaw the cookie dough until it’s soft enough to press with the dent, fill, and bake as instructed above.
If you prefer to freeze them after baking, keep in mind that, upon thawing, the guava and cherry-topped cookies will probably be a bit soggier than those that are freshly baked. The freeze time, however, is extended to 3 months.
What are some swaps and substitutions for this Mantecaditos recipe?
Think of more ways to top your mantecaditos:
- Chocolate kisses can be press onto the fully baked cookies after you pull them from the oven.
- Replace the guava jelly with your favorite flavor.
- Roll the mantecaditos in holiday-themed nonpareils instead of rainbow.
- Press your favorite nut into the center of the ball of dough.
Raspberry jam and coconut in the dough like I did in this Raspberry Coconut Thumbprint Cookie recipe are other terrific ways to switch up these cookies.
How long are the cookies good for?
While I highly doubt they’ll last as long, mantecaditos are good at room temperature for 3 or 4 days. Just remember to store them in an air-tight container. Come day 2, they lose their crispiness, but they transform into this oddly satisfying firm-soft texture that is quite lovely. The cherries on the cherry-topped ones start to shrivel up around day 2; it’s also important to dry them really well to prevent any mold from forming.
So, hopefully, you now have a weekend baking project to complete with the family. Pin this recipe to your cookie boards and share it with your world.
Mantecaditos (Puerto Rican Almond-Flavored Butter Cookies)
- sheet pans
- silicone baking mat
- hand mixer or stand mixer
For the Mantecadito Cookie Dough
- 2 1/3 cups (317 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (2 grams) ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
- 1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/3 cup (80 grams), packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (56 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) kosher salt
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
Optional Toppings (use one or a combination of the three)
- guava jelly (about 1/3 cup)
- maraschino cherries drained (12-48)
- nonpareils (about 1/4 cup)
Make the Mantecadito Cookie Dough
- Sift together the all-purpose flour, ground cinnamon, and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Set this bowl aside while you mix the remaining batter.
- In a separate mixing bowl, use your mixer to blend together the butter, brown and white sugars, and salt on low speed to form a thick paste. Mix for 1 minute, then turn the mixer off and scrape down the bowl and the beaters.
- Add the egg and the almond extract to the bowl. Blend again, on low speed, just until the egg is mixed into the butter and sugar mixture. Scrape down the bowl once more.
- Add the dry ingredient mixture to the butter mixture in two batches. Once the first batch has been added, blend it in with your mixer, again, on low speed. Stop the mixer and scrape down bowl and beaters before adding the remaining flour mixture to the bowl.
- Blend the dough once more on low speed just until the butter and flour combine to create clumps of dough in the bowl.Continue mixing on low or medium-low speed until the dough begins to hold together, or 1-2 minutes. Stop when the dough looks like thick oatmeal.
Chill, then Form the Cookie Dough
- Once the dough has come together, scrape the dough of the mixing bowl and onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Press the dough into a 8x6-inch rectangle that is roughly 1/2-inch thick.
- Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes up to 24 hours.
- After the dough has had time to chill, cut the rectangle into 8 1-inch wide strips. Cut each of those strips into 6 squares of equal size creating 48 squares generally similar in size.
- Once the squares of dough are cut, roll them between the palms of your hands to form them into balls.Once you've formed a ball of dough, place it on a sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Top and Bake the Mantecaditos
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C).
- If you're topping the mantecaditos with nonpareils: press the dough ball into the sprinkles to adhere them to the surface. Then, place the coated ball onto the sheet pan and press it down lightly to keep it from rolling.
- To fill the mantecaditos with maraschino cherries or guava jelly: press a dent into the surface of the cookie dough balls using the bottom of a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon.Fill the dents in the dough with a whole cherry or with 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of the guava jelly.
- If you only have one oven, keep the pan of formed cookies in the fridge while you bake the first pan of cookies. Once all of the cookies are filled, bake them for 16-18 minutes or until lightly browned.
- After the cookies have finished baking, remove their pan from the oven. Replace that pan with another one to continue baking the remaining cookies. Cool the baked cookies on the sheet pan for 3 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Serve the Mantecaditos at room temperature and enjoy them with a cup milk, café con leche, tea or hot cocoa.
Mantecaditos Swaps and Substitutes:
- Press chocolate kisses onto the fully baked cookies after you pull them from the oven.
- Replace the guava jelly with your favorite flavor of jam or preserves.
- Roll the mantecaditos in holiday-themed nonpareils instead of rainbow.
- Press your favorite nut into the center of the ball of dough.
- After baking, cool the cookies completely.
- Transfer the mantecaditos to an air-tight storage container and store at room temperature.
- Don't refrigerate the cookies because the butter in the cookies will harden, and the flour in the dough will cause them to go stale faster.
- Store on the countertop for 3-4 days.
Mantecaditos Freezing Instructions:Before baking:
- Roll the dough into the balls and arrange them on a sheet pan in a single layer.
- Freeze the balls of dough, uncovered until frozen solid.
- Transfer the dough balls to a freezer storage bag and freeze for 2 months.
- Thaw the precise amount of cookies you want to bake it's soft enough to press with the dent, fill, and bake as instructed above.
- Allow the baked cookies to cool completely.
- Arrange them on a sheet pan in a single layer and freeze completely.
- Transfer the mantecaditos to a storage bag and freeze for 3 months.
- Thaw at room temperature.