Easter Unmasked

Saturday, April 11, 2009 53 comments

Uraro-Almond Cookies

The Moriones Festival

During our visit to the Philippines this past Christmas, Mr. Noodle and I spent an unforgettable day in my mother's hometown of Mogpog in the province of Marinduque, a small hamlet only 45 minutes from Manila by air (and interminable hours by land-sea route). Throughout the year, the town's residents hum along in serene obscurity - that is, until Eastertide, when a remarkable Holy Week event known as the Moriones Festival takes over the enclave and surrounding communities.

Forget about chocolate-bearing bunnies or peeping marshmallow chicks: Moriones is not for the faint of heart or weak of faith. Marked by colorful costumes, dramatic pageantry and dismaying acts of religious devotion, the festival is one of the most intense in the world and is wholly unique to the small island province of Marinduque, located between the larger Luzon and Mindoro islands of the Philippine archipelago. 
 (photo from J. Richard Stracke)

Although it served as the original archetype for other provinces' Easter events, Moriones is different in that it is neither focused solely on the Crucifixion nor does it involve the rather disturbing spectacle of modern-day penitents actually being nailed to a cross, which usually receives the bulk of sensational media coverage. Instead, the focal point is Saint Longinus, believed to be the Roman centurion who, upon piercing Jesus' side as He suffered on the cross, was miraculously healed of his partial blindness by Christ's blood splashing on his eyes. The soldier immediately converted to Christianity and was eventually martyred by beheading on the orders of Pontius Pilate (additional source: Catholic Saints.info)

The origins of Marinduque's festival have been traced to a 19th-century Mogpog parish priest, Padre Dionisio Santiago, who organized a dramatic re-enactment of St. Longinus' conversion and martyrdom. What began as a Lenten pageant became the full-blown tradition of today in which local residents don elaborate costumes and fearsome masks representing Roman centurions. In fact, Moriones is derived from the word morion (Sp. morrión), a type of helmet worn by 16th century European soldiers (Dictionary.com) and, in the context of the festival, refers to the aforementioned masked participants. As for the men and women portraying the Roman legionaries, custom dictates that they are volunteers who wish to fulfill vows of penitence or to make pleas of divine intercession for ill health or other personal misfortunes.

Beginning on the Monday before Easter Sunday, the moriones roam town streets, playing pranks on adults and traumatizing young children for life. During the Good Friday re-enactment of the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), they appear in a more somber and ominous role: tormenting the figure of Christ, burdened by a heavy wooden cross and accompanied by barefooted devotees whipping themselves in bloody penance. The culmination of the festival is the chase, capture and symbolic 'beheading' of St. Longinus by these quasi-centurions in the town square on Holy Saturday (note: the saint's actual date of death took place well after the Crucifixion).

Marinduquenos take great pride in this vibrant folk-religious tradition and none more so than the wonderful residents of Mogpog, from where it originated. True to their joyous nature, they have managed to find a way to observe one of the Catholic Church's most revered holy events with appropriate gravity and somberness but in a colorful, creative and celebratory way. 

[Sources for Moriones information: Wikipedia.org, Marinduque official website, Cockatoo.com

Colorful miniature moriones

Filipino Easter Food?

Unlike in other parts of the world, there are no specific foods that are particularly correlated to Easter in the Philippines. While special breads are baked in many European cultures and the traditional Easter table in the United States might hold a succulent baked ham, Filipinos take their fasting periods quite seriously and adhere to the Lenten prohibition of meat consumption on Fridays. On Easter Sunday, the celebratory feast is apt to consist of the same traditional festive fare (such as lechon) served during other holidays or is borrowed from other cultures (Italian pasta dishes and American-style baked hams are quite popular). After 40 days of penitent eating, anything goes!

Uraro-Almond Cookies
Lacking a dish specifically linked to Easter in the Philippines, I turned to one of Marinduque's most popular products - the uraro cookie. Also known as arrowroot, uraro is a starchy tuber that is ground into a fine, easily-digested flour more commonly used as a thickener (The New Food Lover's Companion, 27)Rejano's Bakery has been producing these bite-sized treats since 1946 and is considered the island's best source. After numerous attempts, I still have not cracked Rejano's secret recipe so instead, I offer this gluten-free shortbread recipe featuring arrowroot flour. (For another uraro recipe, see Lemon Arrowroot Wafers)

Yield: Oops, I forgot to count! Best guess is about 3 dozen.


1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened 
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups arrowroot (uraro) flour
1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup rice flour

To make:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees;
2. Cream butter and powdered sugar;
3. Add egg yolk and mix well;
4. Add flours in 1/2 cup increments, beating well between each; it should form a rather dense but soft dough which you can refrigerate to firm up;
5. To form cookies, pinch off a piece of dough and roll between your palms to form a grape-sized ball; place on a baking sheet lined with Silpat or parchment paper and repeat;
6. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool and serve with tea, coffee or cocoa!

Kain na! (Let's eat!)

For the real deal, check with Rejano's Bakery to find a retailer:

Rejano's Bakery
Bo. Banahaw
Santa Cruz, Marinduque
Tel: (042) 3211069
E-mail: mitareyes@digitelone.com


  • Jenn said...

    I have yet to experience Easter in Pinas. I hope to one day.

    btw...that roman centurion pic is kinda freaky looking. Talk about crazy. lol.

    I want some of those yummy cookies. ;-P

  • Scate said...

    It's so great to see other traditional food for such a shared holiday time. THanks!

    ALso - congrats on winning. I saw your name on Joellen's or some other give-away... I started hearing Will Farrell say "I KNOW him!" while pointing and jumping in an elf costume...

  • Lori said...

    What an interesting story! I love hearing about all the different traditions around the world during the Easter season. There was a Passion play here at our Cathedral in Maringa. There is also a city in Brazil that does a walking Way of the Cross where you follow the play for 3 hours. Some cities do beautiful saw dust carpets through town. It is all so fascinating.

    These cookies sound like the perfect Easter treat. I hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend!

  • Admin said...

    Cool post, TN. Delicious-looking cookies too. Do you think cornstarch or tapioca starch might work in lieu of arrowroot flour? I'll definitely be trying to get arrowroot, but just in case ...

  • Anonymous said...

    Great post, the statues of the characters remind me of the morality depictions of the 10 Gates of Hell in Singapore - the facial expressions were very similar - they were not happy campers.

    Knowing that Mr. Noodles clan is descending on you this Easter - have you introduced an traditionally family foods into the mix?

    The new shade of green for the site is nice - It took me by surprise when it opened in this color.

  • Reeni said...

    The moriones are so scary! I would be traumatized even as an adult! Thanks for sharing the interesting story and history with us. Your cookies look delicious, and like great tea cookies!

  • Michele said...

    Your cookies look absolutely delicious and lovely pix by the way. I also enjoyed reading about the Filipino Easter traditions. One of my dearest childhood friends was 1/2 Filipina and your stories always remind me of her. Happy Easter Noodle!!!

  • zerrin said...

    Never heard about Moriones Festival or just moriones before. Thank you for this informative post.I always learn a lot from you, I love that you have such additional information besides recipes in your posts. By the way, arrowroot is new to me but love cookies with almond.

  • Sapuche said...

    This is a fantastic essay, capturing in your always well-considered words not only the “gravity and somberness” of this holy event but also the “colorful, creative and celebratory way” in which it yearly unfolds. Unfortunately, as you mention, the sensational aspects of Moriones are what we usually see in the media, but I’m glad that you put them in proper context and elaborated on this amazing Holy Week festival. It’s not something I normally get to read about, and I really appreciated your thorough presentation of it! Btw, those uraro-almond cookies look great! I love the close-up with the bits of almond visible.

  • Daily Spud said...

    Fascinating as always, Ms. Noodle. I hadn't heard of the moriones at all and I can only imagine how interesting it would be to visit at Easter-time, see the festivities at first hand and eat some of those uraro cookies while I'm at it :)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thank you, everyone, for your great comments! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

    Elra - The original arrowroot cookies are some of my favorites. I'll keep trying until I get the recipe right!

    Girlichef - Thank you! I've become nut-crazy and the almond meal is a great way to incorporate the flavor without actually adding calories since it substitutes for some of the flour.

    Chitra - They are quite the crispy treat!

    Jenn - I have to admit that Christmas would be my holiday of choice but Easter is really much more unique. I want see if if I've gotten over my fear of the moriones! The cookies are super easy to make when you have a little bit of time.

    Scate - Thank you! I was so excited about winning the magazine subscription at Joelen's, I was jumping around like a madwoman! 8-) She has the most awesome prizes. As for the cookies, I'm going to start incorporating them into our Easter trads here!

    Mediterranean Kiwi - Happy Easter! I'm a bit behind in my blog reading (as always) but I see that you do have a post about it. I am incredibly interested to read about Easter in Greece and your traditional foods during this time.

    Chef E - Thank you! We had a wonderful time with my in-laws; my MIL actually helped me choose the photos to go on this post! 8-)

    Lori - Easter in Brazil must also be amazing as their Catholic tradition is as strong as in the Philippines! I would love to see/learn more about the sawdust carpets - are they set in patterns or colored? We went to Easter Sunday Mass and I must say, it wasn't terribly different from regular mass - I miss the pageantry of other places.

    Leela - Thank you! I do believe that either will work; I discussed a similar recipe with Cris at From Our (Brazilian) Home to Yours which, she noted, uses tapioca (aka manioc or cassava) flour. Please let me know if you try it out and how it turns out!

    Bob - Thanks! Filipinos definitely focus on the religious aspect of Easter more than we sometimes do here in the US but they still manage to make it colorful and relatively fun.

    Oysterculture - We Asians apparently have this thing for snarly, mean faces! 8-) The whole MN branch of the clan was here over the weekend and we had a very traditional American Easter meal of baked ham, scalloped potatoes and poached asparagus. I had no problems scarfing it all down!

    Reeni - My eldest sister says she is still traumatized by her childhood encounters with the Moriones! As for the cookies, they are great with tea or coffee but as they are bite-sized, it's easy to lose track and gobble them down!

    Foodie WLT - Mr. Noodle has been having them with his coffee all weekend but no dainty fingers for him. He just pops them in his mouth!

    Mel - Great to 'see' you here! The cookies go on the sheet as a ball but they spread out only far enough to make these nice little domed shapes.

    Sophie - Thank you! I used to only use rice flour for sticky, steamed treats but have found that they really make cookie-type baked goods so much more light and crispy! I'm hooked. 8-)

    Maya - I hope you enjoy these! They are still not quite the same as the Marinduque-style arrowroot which are more dense. These are still quite light and buttery but I'm going to keep trying to tweak the recipe until I get it right! BTW, those beet and sweet potato cakes are incredible!

    Michele - Thank you! I'm always so happy to hear that posts like these bring such happy memories. I hope you had a wonderful weekend with your planting!

    Zerrin - Thank you! The Moriones Festival really deserves attention but it is overshadowed by the stories of people having themselves nailed to a cross. I just wanted to let others know that it's so much more than that. As for arrowroot, it's common in the Philippines (and South America) but even here, it's usually found only in small containers for use as a thickener. I really had to search for enough to use for baking! But definitely, almond cookies are great!

    neena creates - Yes, dare yourself! You can probably find the 'real' uraro cookies in LA - send some to me! 8-)

    Sarah - I love almonds in just about anything but then again, I'm a nut person!

    Sapuch - Thank you so much! The cookies are still such a far cry from the Marinduque-style uraros but I love experimenting so I'll keep at it. As for the Moriones Festival, my mother speaks so proudly of it as it originated in her hometown and province. It's such a shame that the focus is on the rather bizarre ritual of self-mutilation that international media likes to show. I wanted to do my part to shine the light on the still-freaky-but-not-as-horrific aspects of the Filipino Easter season.

    Carolyn - The texture of my version is actually closer to a shortbread cookie, buttery and crisp, rather than meringue-like. The Marinduque uraro cookies are much drier and less sweet, which some might find rather chalky but I love them!

    Spud - Easter is another reason to visit the Philippines (but it's much hotter and humid at this time of year, which is one of the reasons that playing a moriones and wearing the mask is considered a penance)! As for the uraro cookies, my version is still off (although no one has complained about my experiments) but they're still quite tasty!

    Joie - Thank you! Just my bit to spread a bit of Filipino-ness to everyone!

  • foodesign said...

    Thanks for the history & info re Moriones festival. My sis-in-law is from Sta. Cruz and I've been to Marinduque a few times. The most recent visit was early last year. I'd like to share with you my write up about the trip and those addictive Rejano cookies (below) I agree they're the best!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Phanitha - Thank you! I asked my in-laws to try both the original and my version, and of course they said they like mine the best! 8-D

    Sam - I hope you do have an opportunity to visit the Philippines; I'm a little biased, of course, but the people and country are both beautiful and incredibly hospitable. As for the festival, even I was under the impression that incorporated the more sensational (and bloody) activities but it is really something different, though no less amazing.

    foodesign - What a great post on Marinduque! Despite the exhausting travel to get there, it certainly looks as if you had a wonderful time. And Rejano's cookies should be a national treasure! My version is still quite different b/c I haven't yet figured out the proper proportions of the 4 ingredients. Also, I'm wondering if the arrowroot flour here is processed differently - the one I have is so incredibly fine it's like vapor! 8-)

    Thanks for stopping in and I look forward to reading more of you blog, too!

  • Phyllis said...

    Fascinating! I'd never heard about the Moriones festival before. Sounds like a wonderful annual tradition with all the colorful re-enactments.

    "traumatizing children for life" sounds about right to me - I would have had issues through adulthood (those masks are pretty scary)

    Uraro cookies look awesome! I've never baked with arrowroot but I'll have to give it a try.

  • Natasha said...

    I enjoyed reading this post! It's just fascinating how different cultures celebrate the same event is such diverse ways. Oh and those cookies look great! They remind me of ones I had growing up in Trinidad called "chinese cookies". Very buttery and simple.
    Thanks for sharing stories of your beautiful Philippines!

  • Nazarina A said...

    I would enjoy these delicious cookies even more at your kitchen table with a cuppa java. Oh! and of course you would have me so engrossed because you would be narrating this little bit of Phillipino history!

  • Anonymous said...

    I so appreciate that you take the time to research and present really interesting information along with a delicious recipe or two--thank you for that!

    Hope you had a lovely Easter, TN :)

  • raquel said...

    As always, your posts are a delight to read. I have been in Marinduque only once and unfortunately not for the Moriones festival. Perhaps one day I will. And you make me crave uraro! I love those cookies. And I'm sure your almond version are as delicious if not better!

  • Anonymous said...

    wow, I really enjoyed this post. I love learning new things, and this different easter tradition is fascinating.
    those cookies look SOOO good. I have some almonds to get rid off, so I think I could make my own almond meal from them!

  • The Duo Dishes said...

    Kain na! We've got to memorize that one. Your posts are always so informative about different ways food relates to cultures and our lives. Love that so much. And these cookies sound so good. Hard to eat just one.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Phyllis - I was about 5 yrs old when we left the Philippines but I clearly remember being petrified of the moriones (family story has it that I would hide under the bed). But the uraro cookies really make up for the scary memories!

    Natasha - Thank you! The reason I love learning about different cultures is discovering those differences where you think they'd be the same and then similarities between varied countries (like Easter and cookies!)

    Nazarina -I would love to sit down with these cookies and coffee, and talk with you about so many things but I'm afraid I might not be able to stop eating or talking! 8-D

    Screamin' Mama - Thank you! I love sharing these bits of info but it's also a re-discovery for me: I grew up in Canada and the US so I'm relearning all about my Filipino heritage!

    OPC - We did indeed have a lovely Easter with my husband's family. I'm so happy that you've enjoyed reading my posts and the recipes really underscore how food is such a prominent part of our lives and identities.

    Raquel - Thank you! My version is still far from the original but I enjoy trying to figure out the recipe. When my mother comes to visit, I will have to ask her to stock up on Rejano's for me!

    Pearl - Hi! I will be visiting more often. 8-)

    ChiliCheeseFry - Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it and btw, I like your new profile pic on Foodbuzz!

    Lisa - Thanks! They're not quite on the level of your chilled lemon souffles but they make some nice little treats!

    Burpandslurp - Definitely make some almond meal! I've started using it as a substitute for some of the wheat flours in my bread and cookie recipes (as well as using more arrowroot and rice flours) and they've turned out well.

    Duo Dishes - I think it would be fun to learn how to say "Let's eat" in different languages but rubbing your tummy is pretty much universal! I'm so enthusiastic about discovering the connections between our food and our lives and just want to share it. As for the cookies, the pics make them look bigger than they really are - in fact, they are bite-sized which truly makes it difficult to stop at just one!

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    I love cookies with minimal ingredients. I don't think I've ever made a cookie with rice flour... looking forward to trying it out. Funny about your yield - I never count, but does it really matter?... not like they won't all get eaten!

  • Scotty Snacks said...

    Mmmm. Mmmm. Although I am quite fondly hooked on the ensaymada filipino deseert treat, these here Uraro-Almond Cookies do look like the bomb deal. I think I'll have to try and give them a bake next time I'm doing cookies :)


  • Teanna said...

    You are a like a human book of information on different cultures! It is amazing! What a phenomenal post! Those cookies are definitely going on my list of things to try!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Diva - I'm so glad you liked it! The cookies were easy to make and even easier to eat. 8-)

    Gastroanthropologist - I know what you mean! I should just write "Yield: Form dough balls until all done." I haven't yet used the rice flour by itself in baking although I understand that it's best in 'light' baked goods such as cakes and cookies, rather than breads and heavier pastries. However, I do love it in traditional sticky, pasty-type Filipino dessserts!

    Maria - Thank you! I'll swap them for some of those black bottom coconut bars. 8-)

    Hornsfan - Thanks! I hope you had a great Easter weekend, too.

    Beancounter - At least you make it home more often than me! The last time I saw a real moriones, I was probably about 4 yrs old. I don't doubt that they're still scary!

    ScottySnacks - I want to try making ensaymada but thought I'd better start with simple cookies first! Let me know if you do try them out.

    Teanna - Thanks so much for the compliment but I can only claim credit for gathering others' great info into one place. (Okay, I'll let myself bask in a teensy bit of glory for just a second!) 8-D

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Claudia - Thank you! Your Italian treats are hard to beat but these little arrowroot cookies are just the thing when you want a bite or two!

    5 Star - I don't recall if I've welcomed you back properly! I can't wait to read about your recent London trip. Thanks for your comment - I'm really getting hooked on arrowroot flour and almond meal. 8-)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Leela - Thanks for letting me know! That's great and I'm so happy you like them. What's even better is that it can serve as a base - I'd love to try tossing in some finely chopped dried fruit, perhaps? One thing is for certain: I'm going to use alternative flours like these more often!


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