What is a Peruvian wedding without an extravagant table full of sweets? We are crazy about them, and manás and truffles are always the centerpieces of these exquisite displays of craftmanship. Maná are also one of the favorite sweets at birthdays, baptisms, first communions, baby showers, engagements, and most other social events. It sure is up there on the list of top confections in all our celebrations.
This milk, egg, and sugar treat has no resemblance to the Biblical manna bread that fed the people of Israel during their long journey through the desert, after escaping from Egypt. Only the name is similar. Our maná comes from the XIX century, and it is believed to have its origins in the convents of colonial Lima. Even nowadays, there are some convents where nuns still make this, as well as other sweets, like limones rellenos (stuffed lemons).
Labor and love intensive, maná has many uses: it can be molded into little balls, or sprinkled with ground cinnamon; sandwiched between two walnut halves or two candied cherry halves; used to fill prunes or dates; rolled to cover petit fours and decorate them with delicate flowers… Maná is also the traditional cover of the most luxurious and breathtaking cake, the uncomparable Bola de Oro (several thin cake layers filled with apricot marmalade and manjarblanco (dulce de leche), covered with maná, and decorated with glace and maná fruits). This cake is beautiful beyond belief, and people pay good amounts of money to have it on special ocassions, and even to have it sent to other countries. One can’t find this cake in pastry shops or bakeries, it must be ordered in advance, because it is made only upon request. Still, it’s extremely popular, and present in many celebrations.
To make maná fruits, mold the sweet dough with your hands. This feels like playing with play-doh, it´s really easy and fun. To color them, use liquid food coloring and thin brushes. You´ll discover that despite the time near the stove, and all the work involved, the house will be full of its sweet aroma, and your family and friends will be amazed by the beauty and addictive taste of these little gems.
- 2 eggs
- 5 egg yolks
- 2 cans unsweetened evaporated milk
- 2 cups sugar
- 8 - 16 oz. powdered sugar
- In a heavy saucepan or one with a heavy bottom, put eggs, egg yolks, milk and sugar, and combine everything. Put over high heat, stirring constantly, and bring to a rolling boil.
- Lower the heat to medium, and cook for a good half an hour, stirring with a wooden spoon, as often as possible. Take care that the mixture doesn´t scorch at the bottom of the pan. If that happens, my best advice is to start again.
- The mixture will curdle and start to look drier, like the texture of cottage cheese. When you can see the bottom of the pan, and it doesn´t look wet anymore, it is ready.
- Turn off the heat and let it cool a little before proceding to the next step. Now you can take a moment to relax with a cup of tea or coffee.
- Pour the mixture in the bowl of the mixer, and with the paddle attachment, beat at medium speed until soft, adding the powdered sugar by tablespoons, stopping from time to time to clean the sides of the bowl.
- You maná is ready when it´s no longer sticky, but soft and pliable. Now you can transfer it to a table sprinkled with powdered sugar, and knead gently for a few minutes, adding more sugar until it does not stick to your fingers.
- Use at once or store well wrapped in plastic wrap.
- This recipe yields 3 lb. of mana dough, or 1.4 kg.