Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Convent Cookies

This idea excited mostly me, probably because no one else in my family grew up being taught by nuns, but how I loved searching out the little convents in Spain where cloistered sisters sell fresh-baked goodies from behind little blind cupboards!  My grade-school life was filled with the secret mysteries of nuns - what did they wear under their habits?  what would she (my 1st grade teacher, Sr. Irmine) look like without her wimple?  what did they eat? - so this charming opportunity to catch a glimpse of a cloistered nun was just too intriguing for me.  Rick Steves says if you stand just so at the cupboard window, blocking out the light, you might be able to see the sister, but that didn't really work for us.  Our experiences were interesting and fun though.  First we visited Convento de Corpus Christi in Madrid (quite easy to find as it is in central Madrid).

El Convento de Corpus Christi in Madrid.

There is a doorbell to the left of the giant studded door which you ring and tell them you'd like to buy sweets and they will buzz the door open for you.  Then you enter a small room where there is a menu of baked goodies and a price list next to a framed opening with a lazy Susan in the center.

A nun's voice will shout something from behind the wall in Spanish, which we didn't understand, but was probably along the lines of, "What would you like?"  When we didn't answer, she spun the lazy Susan which magically disappeared around the back and reappeared with a variety of cookies, biscuits, and confections to choose from.  We selected a box, checked the price on the price list, and placed the money on the lazy Susan, which she then spun around again, all without us ever catching a glimpse of her.

I thought the whole transaction was precious and felt like we were supporting a truly good cause.  Selling their baked goods is a valuable source of income for these nuns to support their existence as well as their 17th century convent.  Convento de Corpus Christi is open from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.  Some of their recipes have been preserved over the ages from the Moors and include almond biscuits, caramel topped sugar cookies, Sherry mantecados, and orange flavored sweets.  Prices for a dozen run about 7€ - 9€.

In Seville we went to check out another convent, Convent Tienda El Torno, but were disappointed that it wasn't a convent at all - or not that we could tell - because the address was a shop, staffed by a young woman, who sold pastries over the counter.  I was not impressed and so we left, but there are apparently several other dessert-selling convents in Seville that may be more fun to purchase from.

We ventured the experience again in Arcos de la Frontera, Spain, at the Convent of the Mercedarian Nuns, the last remaining convent in Arcos.

I am truly fascinated by the lives these nuns lead, cloistered in this old building, avoiding any direct contact with the public.  Notice the window grills high up on the windows and the peepholes for the sisters to see through.

Again, you enter the lobby and approach the blind cupboard where the cookies appear after a greeting from a faceless voice.  You make your choice, leave your money, and if you're getting change it will spin around again.  An absolutely charming transaction that I'm afraid is a dying art with fewer and fewer nuns in the world.

Our powdered sugar nutty confections were delicious.


  1. The whole experience sounds quite surreal - like visiting a secret society, only to buy cookies. How were the cookies?

    1. They were delicious each time we tried them!

  2. I'm guessing that only nuns could get away with this. Anybody else who won't show themselves while selling you candy and I'd get a really creepy feeling.
    The concept though, is really cool.

    1. LOL! I never quite thought of it that way, but I guess you're right!

  3. We're going to Madrid in the spring, so I'll be sure to take my kids here.


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