Monjavina is a sweet of arab origin, typical of the region of Játiva and of La Vall d’Albaida, where Onteniente, my hometown, is located. You can find it by other names like almoixàvena or monxàvena, but you will very rarely find it in any other regions of Spain other than the ones I just mentioned. My mom, in fact, never made it, as she comes from Seville, and I grew up eating it at the homes of friends. You could say that every household in Onteniente makes it.
The recipe is simple, with few ingredients, and that can mislead as to its result, which is a delicious, light, sugary cake that is best eaten on the day it’s made. My favorite time to have it is mid afternoon, with a glass of horchata (*) if I am in Spain, or an espresso if I am in America. This mid-afternoon snack is usually referred to as la merienda in Spain, a meal that is meant to stave off hunger between lunch and the late Spanish dinner. La merienda is most often also referred to as this meal in the context of children: the meal they eat right after they get home from school.
The recipe I’m sharing is that of family friend Chelo Turégano, who made one last summer for her daughter, my friend Chelo, to bring to our merienda, our afternoon get together of chatting and pool time at my family’s home in Onteniente. My friend Sabela, Chelo’s daughter-in-law, obtained the recipe for me, for which I’m very thankful, as her monjavina is one of the best I’ve tasted.
Monjavina has been made in our region for centuries, with the same recipe, and even on the same days it was usually prepared back then: Thursdays of Lent (I cannot tell you why it was typical of those days). Today you can find it being sold at city bakeries almost every day, although some still only prepare it on Thursdays. Monjavina is delicious in its simplicity, and popular for merienda.
For this recipe, you can either pre-mix the cinnamon and sugar, or sprinkle them separately. I changed my mind throughout, as you can see from the photos: I started by pre-mixing the cinnamon and sugar, but then decided to sprinkle them separately. The first option will give you a more homogenous look, the second one, a more unexpected one. Whichever way you use, the result will be equally delicious.
I leave you with some photos of our merienda, tea time (sans tea), and some images of old Onteniente at night, taken the following day. Looking at those photos now make me miss those leisurely summer afternoons in Onteniente, and my friends, whom I’ve known since I can remember, and with whom I’ve shared laughs, games, songs, camps, classrooms, trips and parties. It makes me happy that their children are my children’s friends, and like us, they’re making memories that will last a lifetime (even if they don’t know it).
(*) Horchata (orxata in the Valencian language) is a Valencian drink made with the fruit of the chufa (tigernut), which grows in the coastal town of Alboraya, bordering Valencia (you might have heard of Alboraya as the town where Lladró Ceramics is headquartered. It’s also where I live part of the summer).
1 cup water
1 cup sunflower seed oil or 3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar (approx.)
1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
Prepare one large or two medium oven trays, and lay them with parchment paper. In a saucepan, heat the water and the oil at medium heat. When it starts to boil, add the flour, remove the saucepan from the heat source, and stir to mix with a spoon until the mix becomes creamy.
Let the mix cool for 20 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat with a handheld whisk or handheld electric mixer or stand up mixer until fully mixed.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Divide the dough between the cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle generously with the sugar, then the cinnamon, evenly over the extended dough. This is the only sugar in the monjavina, so be generous (alternatively, you can pre-mix the sugar and the cinnamon).
Before placing the trays in the oven, lower the temperature to 350ºF (the oven has to be very hot when placing the trays in). Bake until the dough rises, 25 to 30 minutes (I start watching the oven after 20 minutes). The dough will rise in uneven and capricious forms.
Remove the trays from the oven and let monjavina cool. To serve, cut in squares. The monjavina is better eaten the same day it’s made.