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Most places have a unique local food that’s part of its identity. For example, Bilbao has its bollos de mantequilla (butter buns) and carolina pastries, Donostia has pantxineta (a type of custard slice), the French Basque Country has its pastel vasco (Basque cake), Areatza is known for its guardiciviles cakes and Gasteiz for its vasquitos and nesquitas sweets.

The sweets of Durangaldea may not have international fame, but they’re still special. The region’s restaurants serve all manner of special cakes, tarts and sweets, particularly during festival time, but we want to introduce you to two in particular:

The San Blas cakes and ring-shaped pastries or rosquillas of Abadiño

The tradition of making a tart to mark Día de San Blas (a day celebrating Saint Blaise) almost certainly originated in Eibar but has since been adopted all across the region. At the famous Feria de San Blas on 3 February in Abadiño, there’s never any shortage of tarts and ring-shaped pastries called rosquillas. Saint Blaise was an Armenian bishop and doctor who saved a child’s life after they got a fish bone stuck in their throat. He is therefore known as a saint that protects people against illnesses of the throat. Every year, on 3 February, people put cords around their neck that have been blessed and continue to wear them for nine days. The San Blas tortas and rosquillas are only available on or around 3 February, on Día de San Blas or the Day of Saint Blaise.

What are they like?

Both these San Blas sweets have an anise pastry covered with a layer of white merengue. The tarts also have San Blas written on them in chocolate.

Photo: Eitb.

The artopilak of Durango

The custom of distributing artopilas cakes on Día de San Fausto (13 October) in Durango is said to date back to 1765. In the morning of this saint’s day, councillors from the local town hall distribute the cakes to any locals who have come to receive them. This originally took place under the Santa Ana arch at six in the morning before people let their cows outside. Now it happens mid-morning at the town hall. This particular sweet can only be enjoyed on one day of the year.

What are they like?

They’re like a cupcake but a bit bigger and flatter. Originally they were made with corn flour (artopila = corn tart) but this is the only ingredient from the original recipe that has survived to the present day. The dough also contains raisins and dried fruit, and nowadays they’re made with wheat flour, but with one corn kernel placed on the bottom of each cake.

Reliquias de San Valentín in Elorrio

This small sweet was first made in 1988, the year when Valentine Berrio-Ochoa became a saint. He is the patron saint of Elorrio, and you can buy the small commemorative cakes made in his name all year round. They’re a small memento of Elorrio.

What are they like?

Reliquias are a small almond sponge cake. A small piece of dark chocolate is placed inside before the dough is covered with a layer of white chocolate.

Confectionery in the Convento de Santa Ana, Elorrio

Biscay has 18 cloistered convents, four of which produce sweet baked goods to gain an additional source of income. One of them, the Convento de Santa Ana de Elorrio, is in Durangaldea. Back in 1979 the nuns started making cakes to generate income and they now make more than 15 varieties of tarts and cakes. The confectionery is made to order, and not a day goes by without a nun leaving the convent carrying a large tart. The sizes range from between 4 and 15 servings.

For information on the full range of goods on offer – ranging from cream-filled puff pastry to apple cake and Swiss roll – and to order, write to: dsantanaelorrio@yahoo.es.

Why not take home a sweet reminder of your visit to Durangaldea!

Bon appétit! Or as we say it here, On egin!

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