The tender, crunchy, and beautiful tri-color Mexican sugar cookies known as polvorones are a family favorite, especially around the holidays.

My simple polvoron recipe requires just 10 ingredients and 15 minutes of active time to make, meaning you can easily bring the delicious scents and flavors of your favorite panaderia home!

wooden cutting board on top of a brightly embroidered flower tablecloth and topped with round and square-shaped tri-color Mexican polvorones cookies.

What are Polvorones?

Polvorón is Spanish for “powder” or “dust,” which is meant as a descriptor of how these tasty shortbread cookies crumble as you eat them. Polvoron is also the singular of polvorones.

While they originated in Spain in the 1400s and are often classified as a type of mantecado cookie (which means they are made with lard, a.k.a. manteca), dozens of varieties of polvorones have since emerged across Latin America and the Philippines. It shouldn’t be surprising; this cookie dough is so versatile!

Using the same recipe, you can make a variety of shapes and colors, then cover it with your choice of toppings. They can be flat or domed. Sometimes they are served with a dollop of jam or jelly in the center, similar to thumbprint cookies.

Traditional Mexican polvorones cookies are large, and triangular, and feature pink, yellow, and brown (chocolate) colors. You can easily swap out the shapes and hues to fit your preferences. You can also add different flavorings to make your own flavor combinations; citrus zest, nuts, and extracts are all easy additions.

I dusted my mini polvorones with granulated sugar after baking to give them a sparkly exterior, but feel free to experiment and brush yours with an egg wash and then bake them with colorful sprinkles. You could also dust them with powdered sugar once they are fully baked and have cooled for more of a “snowball” appearance that is consistent with Mexican wedding cookies.

These tri-color Mexican cookies are perfect for Christmas gift-giving or to enjoy all to yourself with a cup of Café de Olla. They’re also an excellent dinner party dessert served alongside Ponche Navideño (Mexican Christmas Fruit Punch), Mexican Hot Chocolate, or my Easy Spiced Mulled Wine.

ingredients for making Mexican polvorones measured out on a marble surface.

Ingredients & Substitutions

As promised, you only need 10 simple ingredients to make this polvorones recipe. Here’s what to grab:

  • Unsalted Butter & Butter-Flavored Shortening – Cookies made with shortening rise better and are more tender, but those made with butter are more flavorful, delicious and rich. Using a combination means you get the best of both worlds! Feel free to swap in salted butter if that’s what you have on hand. You can also use regular shortening and add 1/2 teaspoon of imitation butter flavor.
  • Powdered Sugar – Also known as confectioner’s sugar, this powdery sweetener is essential to getting the proper melt-in-your-mouth consistency. If you don’t have any on hand, you can easily make your own using sugar, cornstarch, and a food processor.
  • Baking Powder – Not to be confused with baking soda, this is used for leavening. Don’t try to make the swap; it won’t work.
  • Egg – Let it come to room temperature to make it easier to work into the dough.
  • Vanilla Extract – For richness.
  • Wheat Flour – Using wheat flour in this recipe creates denser, heavier cookies that hold their shape during baking and gives these cookies a nuttier, heartier flavor.
  • Cocoa Powder – For flavor and color. I typically use Dutch-process cocoa because it is less bitter, but feel free to swap in regular cocoa, black cocoa for even darker color, or cacao powder instead.
  • Food Coloring – I used red and yellow to make the traditional tri-color cookies (alongside the part that is colored with cocoa powder), but you can easily swap in your own favorites.
  • Granulated Sugar – While this is optional, I love adding a bit of sparkle to my polvorones. Feel free to swap in different colors of sanding sugar to match your color palate. You can also brush the cookies with an egg wash and add different colors of sprinkles or non-pareils before baking, or wait until the cookies are cooled entirely and coat them in powdered sugar instead.

How To Make Polvorones Mexicanos

Since these are shaped shortbread cookies, there are a few more steps than what you’d find in a drop cookie recipe. Rest assured, none of them are difficult! Here’s how to make these delightful Mexican sugar cookies:

Step 1: Cream the butter, shortening, and powdered sugar together until smooth.

butter, confectioners sugar, and shortening on a marble surface.

Step 2: Add in the egg, vanilla, and baking powder. Gradually, add in wheat flour, mixing to combine after each addition. 

Step 3: Knead the dough with your hands on a flour-dusted work surface.

Step 4: Add Color. Divide the dough into three equal parts and place them in separate bowls. Add pink or red food coloring into one portion of dough and knead until it reaches the desired color; add yellow food coloring to the second bowl and knead until it reaches the desired color. Add cocoa powder to the last dough ball and knead until thoroughly combined.

NOTE: If you want to add different flavors for the yellow and pink colors, this is the time to do it. Consider adding citrus zest and/or lemon extract to the yellow dough, and/or try almond extract or pulverized freeze-dried strawberries to the pink dough.

Step 5: Chill. Cover the containers of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

slicing a rectangular log of tri-color Mexican polvoron dough.

Step 6: Shape. On a lightly floured surface, roll each color into a cylinder with a diameter of about 2-inches and 16 to 18-inches long (for mini cookies). Place the three colors side by side on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cover tightly with plastic and roll gently to fuse the three colors together.

NOTES: I shaped the cookie dough roll into a square, but feel free to adjust for round cookies, or place two rolls of cookie dough on the bottom and one on the top to form a triangle. You can also feel free to pause after shaping and freezing the dough; it will keep in the freezer for up to 2 months!

Step 7: Prep. Freeze shaped dough for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

raw polvorones on a baking sheet before being placed in the oven.

Step 8: Cut. Take the dough out of the freezer, remove the plastic wrap, and cut the cylinder of dough into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Place cookies onto the prepared baking sheet.

Step 9: Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly golden. 

baked polvorones on a baking sheet with one being tossed in sugar while it is still hot.

Step 10: Dust with granulated sugar while warm. Allow to cool, then enjoy!

brightly colored towel lining a basket filled with polvorones next to a mexican cafe de la olla.

Optional Variations

While I love making these tri-colored Mexican shortbread cookies to look and taste like my childhood favorites, there’s plenty of room to customize them to your liking.

  • Mexican Wedding Cookies – Omit the cocoa and food coloring. Add about 1/2 cup of chopped, roasted nuts to the dough and skip the shaping step. These should be formed into a slight dome shape, so use a cookie scooper to assist you. Bake as directed, then cool entirely before sprinkling liberally with powdered sugar.
  • Polvorones de Canela – These are essentially the Mexican version of snickerdoodles. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the dough, omitting the cocoa and food coloring. Roll into a single log, then slice and bake as directed. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar while still warm.
  • Different Colors – Pink, yellow, and brown triangles are the polvorones I grew up with, but since then I’ve taken to making them in different colorways to suit different needs. Consider making a batch with your school colors for the annual PTA bake sale, go red, white and green for Christmas, etc.
  • Mix-Ins – Citrus zest, flavor extracts, warming spices, and finely chopped nuts are all fair game. You can also add a dab of jam, jelly, or cajeta in the center of larger cookies or use the preserves to sandwich two cookies together.

Do you have a favorite iteration of polvorones that the world should know about? Let me know in the comments.

brightly colored basket filled with round and square tri-colored Mexican shortbread cookies known as polvorones.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do Polvorones taste like?

These cookies taste very similar to shortbread or sugar cookies. They remind me of biscochos with the dusting of sugar on top – just one bite makes me nostalgic for home!

How to store Polvorones?

Similar to shortbread cookies, these cookies can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for two weeks or frozen for up to two months. 

Are polvorones cookies good for shipping?

So long as you ship them in a well-insulated, airtight container, yes! Just make sure to add plenty of tissue paper to keep them from jostling around too much or they will crumble ahead of arrival.

If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #muybuenocooking.

Polvorones (Tri-Color Mexican Sugar Cookies)

5 (3 ratings)
If you have visited a Mexican panaderia (bakery) you might have seen tri-color Mexican cookies, called polvorones. Traditional polvoronesare in the shape of a triangle, featuring pink, yellow, and dark chocolate colors. They are tender and lightly crunchy.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter flavored shortening
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 large Nellie’s Free Range Egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups wheat flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • Pink or red food coloring
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Granulated sugar for dusting

Instructions 

  • In a stand mixer, cream the butter, shortening, and powdered sugar together until smooth.
  • While mixer is set on low, add in the egg, vanilla and baking powder. 
  • Turn the stand mixer off. Gradually, add in wheat flour and turn mixer on to combine ingredients after each round of additional wheat flour. 
  • Remove mixture from your bowl. Gently knead the dough with your hands on a work surface lightly dusted with flour.
  • Divide the dough into three equal parts and place in separate glass bowls. Add pink or red food coloring into one portion of dough and knead until desired color. Add yellow food coloring to the second bowl and knead until desired color. Add cocoa powder to the last dough ball and knead until thoroughly combined.
  • Cover the containers of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll each color into a cylinder with a diameter of about 2-inches and 16 to 18-inches long (for mini cookies). Place the three colors side by side on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cover tightly with plastic and roll gently to fuse the three colors together. I shaped the cookie dough roll into a square, but feel free to adjust for round cookies, or place two rolls of cookie dough on the bottom and one on the top to form a triangle.
  • Freeze for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Take the dough out of the freezer, remove the plastic wrap, and over a clean surface, cut the cylinder of dough into 1/4-inch thick pieces.
  • Place cookies onto a lightly greased baking sheet.
  • Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until bottoms are lightly golden. 
  • Dust with granulated sugar while warm.

Notes

  • Similar to shortbread cookies, these cookies can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for two weeks or frozen for up to two months.
  • While I love making these tri-colored Mexican shortbread cookies to look and taste like my childhood favorites, there’s plenty of room to customize them to your liking.
    • Mexican Wedding Cookies – Omit the cocoa and food coloring. Add about 1/2 cup of chopped, roasted nuts to the dough and skip the shaping step. These should be formed into a slight dome shape, so use a cookie scooper to assist you. Bake as directed, then cool entirely before sprinkling liberally with powdered sugar.
    • Polvorones de Canela – These are essentially the Mexican version of snickerdoodles. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the dough, omitting the cocoa and food coloring. Roll into a single log, then slice and bake as directed. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar while still warm.
    • Different Colors – Pink, yellow, and brown triangles are the polvorones I grew up with, but since then I’ve taken to making them in different colorways to suit different needs. Consider making a batch with your school colors for the annual PTA bake sale, go red, white & green for Christmas, etc.
    • Mix-Ins – Citrus zest, flavor extracts, warming spices, and finely chopped nuts are all fair game. You can also add a dab of jam, jelly, or cajeta in the center of larger cookies or use the preserves to sandwich two cookies together.
Serving: 1cookie, Calories: 80kcal, Carbohydrates: 8g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 5g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 11mg, Sodium: 3mg, Potassium: 20mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 79IU, Calcium: 6mg, Iron: 1mg

Photography by Jenna Sparks 
Originally published: December 2019