Sometimes, the O.G. ways are best.
That was my thought as I saw a van full of nuns drive past me one hot afternoon in Seville. Nuns are a frequent sight in southern Spain, a place more Catholic than the Pope’s hat.
But driving a van? That was new.
Usually, the nuns keep to the sidewalk, if they’re outside at all. Most stay cloistered within their convents, doing… well whatever it is that nuns do! Praying, sweeping, plotting with the Illuminati, I’m not really sure what the life of an Andalusian nun involves.
Although, there is one part of nun life in Seville that I am intimately acquainted with: their skill in the kitchen.
Spanish nuns are the original pastry chefs, and their sugary concoctions have made locals praise the heavens for centuries. It’s no different in Seville, where more than a dozen convents sell sweet treats almost every day.
So head to a convent if you want to indulge your sweet tooth in Seville. But where exactly are the best places to buy nun cookies? And, more importantly, how do you even buy cookies from a nun? (Spoiler: they don’t accept American Express).
Dulces de Conventos in Seville
These nuns really know how to bake. You’ll find a surprisingly diverse selection of cookies, cakes, pastries, and buns for sale at your typical convent, for a bargain price.
And it’s not only the number of options that is surprising!
The ingredients in these nun buns (inappropriate?) can be confusing. Andalusia has a history of cultural diversity, and Seville has been home to Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim populations for thousands of years.
While things were once pretty peaceful, over time the Catholic population became dominant. At the turn of the 16th century, the royals even outlawed the practice of Judaism and Islam, forcing conversions across the country.
Needing to prove their newfound Catholicism, many families sent their daughters into a convent. These girls were given the worst jobs in the nunnery, made to scrub the floors and cook the food.
But they’d only been Catholic for a hot minute, and didn’t know many Catholic recipes. So they did what they knew. Over time, their former Jewish and Muslim recipes have become the signatures of the convents they once inhabited!
These dulces de convento (convent sweets) include shortbreads spiced with cardamom and nutmeg, cakes sweetened with honey and wine, and marzipans made from olive oil and almond meal. These ain’t yo average nun buns!
How to buy Nun Cookies in Seville
Convents don’t work like your typical bakery or pastelería.
Firstly, the hours are… let’s just say they’re limited. Every convent is different, but most are only open for a few hours in the morning, and maybe a couple in the late afternoon. All of them are closed on Sundays. (Most of them also close over summer and for major religious events like Easter).
But as a general rule, most convents should be open at least from 11am-1pm Monday through Saturday. Where possible, I’ve included a list of opening times for the convents listed below.
So, once you get to the convent, how does it work?
Well, there are two ways the nuns like to sell cookies:
The torno system (no contact with the outside world)
This is the most traditional way of buying convent sweets in Seville. For centuries, nuns were kept cloistered within their convents, forbidden to have contact with the outside world.
And still in the most conservative convents today, the nuns are kept hidden from view. That makes it hard to buy a cake from them.
To fix this problem, the nuns invented an ingenious system. When you enter the convent, you won’t see any nuns. Instead, you’ll come face-to-face with a wooden panel, around the size of a door.
But instead of a handle, this panel comes equipped with a torno. It’s a kind of lazy Susan turntable, allowing you to buy cookies without ever seeing a nun!
You’ll ring a bell, place some money on the turntable, and spin it around (the prices will be listed on the wall). On the other side of the panel, a nun collects the payment, places some cookies on the turntable, and spins it back to you.
The face-to-face system
In more liberal convents, you can see and talk to the nuns. Simply walk in, say hola, and order what you’d like to buy! Most convents will have a list of available options and prices by the door. If the nun isn’t at the counter when you arrive, there should be a handy bell to ring. Give it a clang to summon a nun!
But be warned, this ‘menu’ is everything the nuns might have. A lot of the time, they’re reliant on donations of money and ingredients, and might not have baked everything on the list.
Things to know when buying convent sweets in Seville
Apart from knowing how to buy the cookies, there are some other things to keep in mind when visiting a convent.
Firstly, always ask before taking photos! Most nuns don’t mind you taking photos of the convent, but they might not want to be in the photos themselves. Luckily, unlike the ones that run high schools, these nuns are lovely. It must be their access to all that sugar.
Next, you’re going to be buying in bulk. Don’t go in expecting to buy just one cookie, that’s not how these nuns roll. Most convent sweets come in serving sizes of a dozen or more, so be prepared to share!
Lastly, don’t give up if you can’t find the door. The entrances to these convents aren’t always easy to find, and the sweets are usually sold from a separate entrance anyway. Follow signs that say “dulces de convento” or “torno” to find the way, and look for an open door!
If you’re lucky, you’ll smell the cookies before you see them.
Where to Buy Convent Sweets in Seville
Fifty years ago, there were more than 40 convents operating in Seville. But being a nun isn’t the most appealing of jobs to young Spaniards, and their numbers have recently waned.
Plus, their convents, while incredibly beautiful, are pretty expensive to maintain. Most are at least a few hundred years old and in dire need of refurbishment.
All that is to say that today there are only 15 left. Not all of them sell dulces, but for most it’s a major source of income. So, not only do you get to taste some delicious cookies, but you’re also helping to keep alive a part of Seville’s history at the same time!
Here are some of my favourite places to buy convent sweets in Seville:
Convento de San Leandro
The San Leandro convent is one of the oldest in Seville, dating back to 1369. The order of Augustinian nuns who live here goes back even further, being first founded in 1295!
You’ll find the convent right across the road from the San Leandro church, with the door to their torno facing the entrance to the church itself.
That’s right—here they use the traditional torno! To buy these nun cookies you’ll have to go by the honour system and use the turntable.
A word of warning: I hate the sweets from this convent.
Known as Yemas de San Leandro, these famous treats are made of an egg yolk baked inside a pyramid of white sugar. That’s it. There’s nothing else to it.
It tastes like it sounds, super sugary and super eggy!
So why would I recommend a convent in Seville whose sweets I hate so much? Well, it’s the most traditional convent in town, and buying these yemas using an old torno is an amazing experience. Just make sure you get the smaller box!
- Convento San Leandro: Plaza San Ildefonso, 1 | 9am-1pm, 5-7pm (closed Sundays).
Convento Madre de Dios
Founded by a group of Dominican nuns in 1472, this convent was originally based in Triana, across the river from mainland Seville. But when a flood destroyed their home, the nuns turned to the Queen for help!
Queen Isabella (yes, the Isabella), “donated” the nuns a parcel of land in Seville’s old Jewish Quarter, where they have lived since 1495. This is one of the most beautiful buildings in the San Bartolomé neighbourhood, emerging out of a warren of mazelike alleyways.
This convent was in danger of collapsing just a few years ago, but was thankfully restored in 2018. You can buy sweets directly from the nuns here (no torno required), and even have a peek inside their fruit and vegetable garden! Interestingly, out of the 10 nuns who live here, two are Spanish while the remaining eight are from Kenya.
All of the convent sweets sold here are fantastic, but I’ve got a favourite. You just can’t miss out on the naranjitos sevillanos: a ball of nutty marzipan topped with a bit of glazed orange straight from the convent garden!
- Convento Madre de Dios: Calle San José, 4 | 10am-1.30pm (closed Sundays).
Convento de Santa Paula
This is one of the largest convents in Seville, home to more than 20 nuns! Some are native Spaniards, but the majority are from India.
The nuns here belong to the order of St. Jerome, and they’ve called this convent home since 1475. The building has had some changes and renovations in the last few centuries, but its 15th-century heart is still mostly intact!
The sweets from this convent are fairly standard; you can buy the traditional Magdalenas and some great turrón. But the real treat here are the delicious jams and jellies!
The Santa Paula Convent is famous throughout Seville for their homemade marmalades, all available for around €5. Don’t miss their orange blossom jam!
This is a face-to-face convent, and for an extra fee you can also visit the nuns’ museum.
- Convento Santa Paula: Calle Sta. Paula, 11 | 10am-1pm, 4.30pm-6.30pm (closed Sundays).
Convento de Santa Ana
This order of Carmelite nuns first arrived in Seville in 1594, getting their own convent a few decades later!
Buying these convent sweets can be tricky, but worth the effort. First, you have to find the secret cookie door (not easy). Follow the signs for the dulces de covnento, and don’t worry if they have “Carmelitas” marked instead of “Santa Ana”.
Buzz the intercom and tell the nuns why you’re there. They’ll let you inside, where you’ll approach the torno (this is the classic, never-see-a-nun style of convent). From that point you’ll have to ask the nuns what they have! There’s no menu, so you just buy whatever the nuns have baked fresh.
Don’t worry: everything is delicious. And because it’s baked by nuns, it’s also calorie-free!
- Convento de Santa Ana: Calle Santa Ana, 34 | 10am-1pm, 5pm-6pm (open every day, including Sundays).
Convento de Santa Inés
You’ll find the Convent of Santa Inés in the heart of Seville’s old town, close to the Setas monument. There have been nuns living here since 1374!
This is another old-school torno system, with predictably traditional convent sweets! The highlight here are without a doubt their pestiños. Take some dough, spice it with anise, deep fry it and dip it in honey, and you have one delicious snack!
They’re particularly popular during Easter, but you can eat them any time in the year and be pretty happy.
- Convento de Santa Inés: Calle Doña María Coronel, 5 | 9am-1pm, 4pm-6.30pm (closed Sundays).
Convento de San Clemente
The convent of San Clemente is a real hidden gem. Not only is it the oldest convent in Seville (dating to 1284), it’s also well off the beaten path.
Most visitors to Seville will completely miss these convent sweets, which is such a shame! Their pinonades (balls of marzipan coated with pine nuts) are almost sinfully delicious. Although you’ll have to ring the intercom to be let inside, everything here is done face-to-face. (That’s great, because the Clementine nuns who live here are lovely!).
After you enter through the main gate, walk straight ahead and veer to the right to find the dulces de convento.
If you have time, don’t forget to explore the monastery! It’s massive, and there are plenty of beautiful corners to discover.
- Convento de San Clemente: Calle Reposo, 9 | 10am-1pm, 4.45pm-6pm (Monday to Friday), 4pm-6pm (Saturdays), 10am-11am (Sundays).
Convento de Santa María de Jesús
A group of Poor Clares (the name for nuns of the order of St. Clare) have lived in this convent since 1520.
There are more than a dozen sisters here, from Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Kenya. The sweets are typically sevillano, and you can buy some delicious Magdalenas as well as some great marzipan.
- Convento de Santa María de Jesús: Calle Águilas, 22 | Hours unavailable.
Special Note: El Torno Pasteleria de Conventos de Clausura
If you don’t have time to go to the convents, or their hours just don’t work for you, don’t worry!
Luckily, there’s another spot where you can pick up some tasty convent sweets in Seville. Right near the Cathedral you’ll find the El Torno store.
Here you can buy the cookies, cakes, and jams from all of Seville’s convents, as well as a few from out of town. Just remember that they’re likely to be a few euros more expensive than if you’d bought them direct from the nuns!
It’s also a great way to get some nun cookies when the convents are closed for religious events like Semana Santa.
- El Torno: Plaza de Cabildo, 2 | 10am-1.30pm, 5pm-7.30pm (Monday to Friday), 10.30am-2pm (Saturday and Sunday),
Looking for more ways to satisfy that sugar craving? Here are my tips for finding the best ice cream in Seville! And if you’re looking for a sweet and guilty-pleasure breakfast, find out where to get the best churros in Seville, too.
And for everything else, don’t miss my ultimate foodie guide to where to eat in Seville.
Have I missed your favourite nun cookies? Let me know where you get your favourite convent sweets in Seville and leave a comment!