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The Mexican cookies invented by Catholic nuns

Tortitas de Santa Clara

Lumine Captis | Shutterstock

V. M. Traverso - published on 01/17/24

The Tortitas de Santa Clara were born out of a convent in Puebla, where nuns mixed European ingredients with local food staples.

Mexico is known for delicious food. From tacos to enchiladas and guacamole, there is an endless list of Mexican delicacies, and some of the country’s specialty foods reveal its rich multicultural past. That’s the case of “Tortitas de Santa Clara,” literally small cakes of St. Clare.

These round cookies made of wheat flour and topped with pumpkin seed jam are the brainchild of a nun from the Convent of Santa Clara in the city of Puebla, the town where the Mexicans won over the French during the famous battle on Cinco de Mayo, and also known as the birthplace of mole poblano.

Tortitas de Santa Clara
According to a local tradition, the nun who invented these popular cookies was looking to combine European ingredients with local food staples.

According to a local tradition, the nun who invented these popular cookies was looking to combine European ingredients with local food staples.

“It was a time when cooks were mixing recipes brought over from Spain with Mexican ingredients,” Claudia Soto, the third-generation owner of La Gran Fama, the oldest bakery in Puebla, told Food 52. “And selling sweets like these was a way for nuns to survive.”

In the case of Tortita de Santa Clara, sugar imported from Europe was mixed with the convent’s pumpkin seed candy. 

Today, nuns from the Convent of Santa Clara, which has moved from its original 17th-century building into more modern facilities, still bake the beloved cookies following the same centuries-old recipe. As explained by local baker Juan Manuel Hernandez Fuentes in local culture blog, the first step is to bake the cookies using dough made of wheat flour, butter, egg yolk and baking soda. Each cookie is cut into small circles and placed onto a baking sheet.

Then the jam is made. The pumpkin seeds are soaked overnight to make it easier to peel off their skin and are then washed, ground, and mixed with a sugar-based nougat. The mix is then beaten and cooled off until it reaches a thick consistency. After baking the cookies for 15 minutes, the pumpkin jam is added on top of the cookies.

Puebla Mexico
Tortitas de Santa Clara were invented by nuns in the city of Puebla.

As revealed by Sister Mary in an interview with Food52, the entire process is made by hand, using copper pots that prevent sugar from sticking during baking. Hernandez Fuentes, owner of the popular bakery Don Juan in Puebla, says that the Tortitas de Santa Clara are by far the most popular product sold in local bakeries. 

To taste the most authentic Tortitas de Santa Clara, don’t miss a visit to Puebla’s famed “Calle de los Dulces” (Street of Sweets) dotted with bakeries that specialize in the famous nun-invented sweets. More than 40 dulcerias are found in the two blocks that go from the outdoor market “Mercado Victoria” to the theater called “Teatro Principa,” making it Mexico’s sweet-tooth mecca. And for those interested in visiting the birthplace of the Tortitas de Santa Clara, don’t miss a trip to the historic Convento de Santa Clara, conveniently located a five-minute walk away from the “Street of Sweets.”

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