Arrowroot is a starch powder obtained from the root of a (West Indian) plant. If I’m not mistaken, I think it may be the cassava plant. Similar to cornstarch or rice flour, it’s often used as a thickener for puddings and sauces. It also has a very low gluten content, so cookies made from it are delicate and powdery, much like shortbread. Because the powder is also called araruta, that may have been where the name uraro originated, thus uraro cookies. Its texture is a melting sort of crunchy, if you can imagine that, given its ingredients of arrowroot (cassava) flour, butter, sugar, salt, eggs, and milk. To put it more illustratively, uraro is a cross between polvoron and butter cookies.
I always thought that uraro cookies were distinctively Filipino, but apparently, they are made all over the world in countries that have a strong cassava culture: in the Philippines they are known as uraro, in Colombia as panderos and in the Dominican Republic as ojaldra.
Where uraro is found, the San Nicolas cookie can never be too far behind. Also made from arrowroot flour, sugar, and eggs, some versions include anise, dayap (lime) and coconut milk. The cookies are made to celebrate the feast of San Nicolas, the patron saint of bakers. Its characteristic leaf shape is created by rolling the dough then pressing it into wooden molds carved with the saint’s likeness. The mold is a favorite among antique collectors because no two San Nicolas cookie molds are alike.
I’ve never been able to make out the impressions on these cookies, but it supposedly shows the saint wearing his Augustinian habit and holding a bird on a plate.
Legend has it that during one illness, San Nicolas was ordered by his superior to eat some meat in order to get well. Not being a meat eater, San Nicolas refused. He was then served a roast partridge better known in the Philippines as pugo (quail). So the roasted bird was brought to the saint who touched it and brought it back to life. Since then, the saint has been depicted in art and in these cookies named after him.