Marranitos (aka puerquitos or cochinitos de piloncillo) is a delicious Mexican pan dulce shaped like a little pig that tastes like a soft gingerbread cookie!
My marranitos have the same spicy-sweet flavor and fluffy texture, but it’s a keto and gluten-free recipe made with almond flour and pea protein, so you can enjoy them on Cinco de Mayo (and anytime!)
What do marranitos taste like
With the comforting taste of brown sugar (piloncillo) and warm spices, marranitos are a cross between sweet bread (pan dulce) and cookie: fluffy and tender on the inside and a little crispy outside.
Although traditionally marranitos recipes don’t take ginger, they taste a lot like gingerbread! There might be an explanation for it…
Did you know? This cherished Mexican pan dulce is also called chichimbré.
The origin of this word is disputed, but many sources say that chichimbré comes from gingerbread (say it aloud!), and that the cochinitos de piloncillo is an adaptation of the English gingerbread, with a similar flavor but made with local ingredients.
These soft Mexican piggy cookies are traditionally made with piloncillo, a brown sugar in solid form very common in Central and Latin American countries.
In Brazil, piloncillo is known as rapadura and I used to eat loads of it when I was little!
Some recipes for marranitos take a cup of piloncillo – and that’s on top of the one cup of sugar already in the recipe 😳 To make these marranitos sugar-free (as much as possible), I used a small amount of blackstrap molasses instead.
Keto & gluten-free marranitos ingredients
These are the healthy ingredients you’ll need to make the low-carb and gluten-free marranitos: (specific quantities are in the recipe summary at the bottom of the post)
- Extra fine almond flour and unflavored pea protein: a high protein, low-carb and gluten-free flour combination
- Psyllium husk powder: replaces the gluten, making the gluten-free marranitos cookie dough pliable for rolling and cutting without breaking
- Lard and keto sweetener: these will be creamed together for fluffier cookies
- Eggs: at room temperature
- Baking powder and baking soda: for leavening and color
- Flavoring: Cinnamon and cloves powder, plus vanilla extract
- Blackstrap molasses: A small amount for a more authentic flavor
Ingredient notes and substitutions
Lard (manteca de cerdo)
Maybe because of their shape, I always assumed that marranitos were made with manteca de cerdo (or just manteca), the Spanish for lard.
But then I started researching this pan dulce recipe to learn it before re-inventing it the keto and gluten-free way. And I was surprised to see that most of the recipes use butter (good!) or hydrogenated vegetal shortening (eww!)
I found only one recipe of marranitos with lard. The author communicated with a Mexican chef, and she confirmed that marranitos were traditionally made with lard.
While I don’t much care for historical accuracy, I care for deliciousness. And I do think that lard makes this marranitos recipe even better.
Lard has a blander taste (if properly rendered, it’s nearly tasteless) so the warm and sugary flavors of the marranitos can really shine.
If you must, though… just substitute it for an equal amount of butter.
Authentic marranitos pan dulce are made with piloncillo sugar and/or brown sugar, and sometimes also take up to a whole cup of molasses. To make this low-carb and keto friendly marranitos recipe, I used blackstrap molasses.
It’s a sugar, but it’s the best way I found to achieve a flavor similar to piloncillo while keeping the net carb count low.
Just one tablespoon has enough concentrated flavor to give the marranitos a amazing taste while adding a negligible amount of carbs to the recipe (each cookie has only 0.7 net carbs!)
If you prefer to skip it altogether, you can substitute the sweetener in the recipe for a keto gold or brown sweetener.
The best sweetener for soft marranitos
For soft, panaderia (Mexican bakery) pan dulce style, I recommend pure allulose (or xylitol) sweetener. Due to its crystallizing properties, pure erythritol will turn the marranitos too crispy.
You can also use erythritol baking blends that contain allulose, or mix half allulose and half erythritol.
If you don’t mind them crunchy you can make them with just erythritol. They will taste a lot more like gingerbread cookies than they already do!
Powdered or confectioner’s sweetener is a better choice for creaming the lard or butter, as it quickly dissolves and gets lighter and fluffier.
It’s hard to find confectioner’s allulose, though. You can easily powder it yourself in a a blender or food processor for a couple of seconds.
As I mentioned, marranitos recipes don’t usually have ginger added. But if you want to add some ginger powder to your cookies, just do it! You can add one to one and a half teaspoon.
I found several marranitos recipes with ginger, and I added ginger one time while recipe testing. Daniel actually preferred them with ginger. I personally would leave it for gingerbread.
Another common addition to marranitos is star anise. It gives an interesting licorice flavor. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon of ground star anise powder for the recipe.
If you add it, you can cut back on the cloves powder from 1/2 to 1/4 teaspoon as well, as both are pretty strong flavors.
How to make marranitos
In a medium bowl, sieve or mix together, using a whisk, all of the dry ingredients: almond flour, pea protein isolate, psyllium husk powder, baking powder and baking soda.
This is important to loosen up the powders and fluff them up (especially the pea protein isolate).
In a larger bowl, add the lard and powdered sweetener and cream them together. You can use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or a hand mixer.
You can even do it by hand if you have the patience (it takes some time!) The process is exactly like you would do with butter.
The only difference, between creaming lard and butter, is that lards is already white in color. So the visual cue of “beat until pale” doesn’t apply here. Go by texture, and beat until it’s light and fluffy.
Then, add the 2 eggs, the vanilla extract, and the blackstrap molasses. Mix everything together.
If the mixture breaks (like creamed butter also does on occasion), don’t worry, it won’t affect the marranitos. The dough will come together when you add the dry ingredients.
Start adding the dry ingredient mixture, half of it first, the mix. Then, add the second half and mix until the dough is smooth.
If using a hand mixer, add the second half a little at a time, as it might get too hard for the mixer. I usually finish mixing the dough by hand.
Do you need to refrigerate the dough?
It is not a must, but it does make it easier to cut the marranitos and transfer them to the cookie sheet without breaking them. I suggest you do it if you can.
While testing the recipe, I noted the difference between cutting the marranitos with the dough just mixed and after being refrigerated for one hour.
With the non-chilled cookie dough, I had to be much more careful when cutting the marranitos and a couple lost their tail and feet when transferring to the cookie sheet. I had to re-roll and cut them again. The refrigerated dough was MUCH easier to work with.
To refrigerate the dough, divide it in half and make 2 squares, wrap them in plastic wrap and chill for one hour. You can put it in the freezer for 20 minutes to speed up the process.
Cut the pig shaped cookies
Open the dough on a silicone baking mat , it’s a great non-stick surface that you don’t need to flour. If you spread the cookies on another surface, you can “flour” it with pea protein isolate if needed.
Roll out the dough to 3/8 inch thickness (just under 1 centimeter). These Mexican cookies are supposed to be thick and soft, so don’t cut them any thinner or they might end up crisping up and being more like gingerbread.
Use a pig shaped cookie cutter to cut the dough into puerquitos. This pig cookie cutter set comes in 3 sizes so you can choose.
Usually, the marranitos de piloncillo that you can get at the panaderia or from Mexican street vendors are pretty large (about 4 to 5 inches).
I made mine marranitos way smaller, thinking it would be easier for portion control. But it wasn’t… they are just irresistible.
Transfer the marranitos to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Beat the remaining egg and brush it over the top of the cookies, then take them into the preheated oven.
How long do marranitos take to bake?
Bake the low-carb marranitos until there’s just a touch of golden around the edges of the cookies, so they will remain soft and slightly chewy, like the authentic Mexican pan dulce.
It takes about 10 to 11 minutes at 170 °C (340 °F). If the dough was chilled before cutting, you’ll need to bake a little longer – about 13 minutes.
Storage and freezing
Marranitos can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. To extend their shelf life, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
The puerquitos can also be frozen for longer storage. To freeze, once they are completely cooled place them in an airtight container or freezer bag. They can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months.
When the need for piggy cookies arises, just remove the marranitos from the freezer and let them sit at room temperature for a while to thaw out.