This piece originally appeared on Need Supply.
The word “bizcocho” is used for any number of baked goods in Spanish, depending on where you find yourself. But one etymological offshoot, the biscochito, is an icon: a simple, mildly sweet, flaky, cookie with notes of anise and cinnamon born in New Mexico when it was still a Spanish colony. The cookie is a mainstay during the holidays, and is usually eaten after meals with coffee. It is one of the definitive icons of the simple, hardy cuisine of one of the least-known culinary traditions in America.
Unlike Southern food, which has been codified and elevated over the past decade, New Mexican food—a rich patchwork of Spanish, Native American, Mexican and American influences—is still passed on mostly via family tradition. At best, recipes are handwritten on index cards, and even today no two families agree on a given recipe for almost any dish. As far asbiscochitos go, tweaks like a bit more anise, a bit less sugar, or even slightly longer or shorter baking times can make the difference between someone’s favorite version or a cookie they see as inferior.
A couple disclaimers about the version and process shown here: properbiscochitos are made with brandy—New Mexico is the oldest site of wine production in North America, after all—but rum makes an easy and inexpensive substitute, and we just happened to have an old bottle hanging around the kitchen. We also added a nontraditional dash of Xtabentún, a delicious anise liquor sweetened with honey from Mexico’s Gulf Coast. Also, even the oldest New Mexican viejitas today will use a cookie press extruder to shape her biscochitos—for this post, I asked mine to go super lo-fi old school and use her own grandma’s vintage tin cookie cutters. And then I photographed her rolling them out in direct sunlight, which made the dough unusually soft. So, these ones aren’t nearly as pretty as they would normally be. (Sorry!)
Note that for the vegetarians and vegans out there, traditionalbiscochitos are made with lard. In theory, you can substitute with vegetable shortening at a 1/1 ratio, but we have not tested and so can’t vouch for the results.
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 cups lard
- 2 tsp anise seed
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 6 cups flour
- 3 fresh eggs
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup brandy (can be substituted with rum or orange juice)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- cinnamon and extra sugar for dusting
1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Measure and combine flour, baking powder and salt
3. Cream shortening with sugar and anise seeds
4. Beat eggs until light and fluffy
5. Add flour mixture and liquid. Knead by hand or with mixer’s kneading hook until well-mixed. In essence, what you want to do here is bring ingredients together gently, as you would in making a pie crust.
6. Cookie cutters:
If you’ll be using cookie cutters, roll out dough in batches to 1/4-inch thick and cut with cookie cutters, being careful to maximizing the area of dough used.
Dust cookies with cinnamon sugar mixture and place on prepared baking sheet.
If you’ll be using a cookie extruder, add dough to extruder and shape cookies on prepared baking sheet. Dust with cinnamon sugar mixture.
7. Bake each batch for 10 minutes until lightly browned.
Special thanks to Betty Gutierrez for the use of her light-filled kitchen.