In Spanish, yemas means "egg yolks." It also refers to yemas de Santa Teresa, a very rich and creamy, traditional Spanish dessert. They are simple and made of egg yolks, granulated sugar, and water with a powdered sugar coating.
This delicious delicacy has a rich history in Spain and is a specialty of many pastry shops, particularly in the city of Avila. Some Spaniards like to prepare this sweet for the feast day of St. Theresa, which is October 15th. However, it is a great recipe to prepare anytime you find yourself with leftover egg yolks.
- 3 ounces/75 mL water
- 1/2 cup/100 grams sugar (granulated)
- Optional: 1/2 lemon peel
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar)
- Begin by making the syrup. Measure the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Dissolve the sugar by continually stirring while bringing the water to a boil. Add the lemon peel, if using. Continue to simmer until the mixture is a thick syrup, stirring often. Remove from heat and remove the peel.
- In a mixing bowl, use a whisk to lightly beat the egg yolks.
- Pour the beaten egg yolks into the syrup. Put the heat on the lowest setting, and stir the mixture slowly and continuously for 3 to 4 minutes with a whisk, until the yolks begin to solidify. The mixture will start to pull away from the sides and bottom of the pan as it cooks.
- Remove from heat and spoon onto a plate to cool.
- Once the mixture is cool, sprinkle powdered sugar through a sieve onto a countertop or stone. Place the yolk mixture on top and roll it to cover it in sugar.
- Pinch off a small bit of the yolk mixture (about the size of a golf ball or walnut). Use your hands to roll it into a ball, covering it in powdered sugar at the same time. Continue until all of it is rolled into balls, adding more powdered sugar if needed.
- Place yemas on a plate and chill in the refrigerator. The powdered sugar on the outside will form a small crust as the balls cool.
- Serve on a platter or place in paper candy cups.
The History of Yemas
The exact origin of yemas de Santa Teresa is not clear. Some believe they are Arabian. Others say that nuns made them behind the monastery walls of Avila and that they became popular during the life of Saint Theresa of Avila (Santa Teresa de Jesus), which explains the name.
The truth is probably closer to the latter story, since winemakers used egg whites to help purify wine, and they did not have any use for the yolks. It was common for them to give all their leftover yolks to nuns at the convents, who traditionally prepared pastries and cookies to sell.
What is certain is that yemas began to be produced in the mid-1800s by pastry shops within the walled city of Avila, where they quickly became very popular. They were so popular, in fact, that the pastelerias (pastry shops) could not keep up with the demand.
Today, yemas are a popular sweet all over Spain.
Small pastry shops in Avila still carefully guard their secret family recipes, which have been passed down from generation to generation.