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Friday
May092008

Hello, Biscochito: A Primer on New Mexico's Official State Cookie

Biscochito
Before a few weeks ago, we had never even heard of the biscochito. But then, one of our spies had the good fortune of meeting with an extremely talented writer who hails from New Mexico (buy her books! here!); when we asked what baked goods were popular in the area, she mentioned this cookie. Intrigued, we tested out a recipe. We were instantly hooked by the taste--to us, it kind of tasted like a mexican wedding cake cookie crossed with pie crust and a melange of spices including anise and pepper--and eagerly set out to learn more about this magical cookie which has claimed the heart of New Mexico (in fact, it's their official state cookie). Let's get better acquainted with the biscochito, shall we?

First off, what is a biscochito?
According to Miguel Hambriento, who wrote The Foods of Old Mesilla, they're "heaven's own little cakes blended delicately of sugar and spice, flour and wine and other secret ingredients, shaped by the swift fingers of the linda señora into small diamonds and baked until they are the delicate brown of the maiden's cheek kissed by the New Mexico sun".

However, if you're seeking a less poetic explanation, it's an anise and cinnamon flavored shortbread cookie which often contains wine. It's frequently made with lard, which gives it a melt in your mouth texture, but shortening and butter are used, more frequently in this day and age.

What's up with this cookie's name?
Depending on where you look, it may be referred to as the bizcochito, biscochito or biscocho. There's a bit of debate over the name of these cookies. In general, it seems that they're referred to as biscochitos in the northern part of the state, biscochos in the southern part of the state. But wait, that's not all. In 1989, when New Mexico House Bill 406 declared the bizcochito as New Mexico's Official State Cookie, there was a battle over how to spell the cookie's name--biscochito or bizcochito. Several lawmakers got on the House floor to press for the "s" or "z". Eventually the Senate returned it as bizcochito.

Of course, as one wise biscochito maker says: "it is the taste that gives a biscochito the name, no matter how you wish to say it."

What's the story behind this cookie?
Biscochitos were introduced to Mexico by Spanish explorers in the 16th Century. In Spain they are called Mantecosos (according to our spanish dictionary, the word mantecosa means "buttery" in Spanish--love it). This cookie has long been associated with celebrations, sometimes being called the "Original Mexican Wedding Cookie", frequently served in a diamond shape to represent purity (just think about it--ew). Today, they make frequent appearances at weddings, quincenieras, baptisms and Christmas parties.

Are biscochitos hard to make?
Well, the recipe is fairly straightforward; however, as bakers well know, sometimes it's not just the recipe but your technique. As one wise New Mexican lady put it, "You must have the hands (manos) to make a delicious biscocho that will melt in your mouth. Most people will try and make good biscochos but they will turn hard on them". (Source: Osito's Biscochitos)

What should I drink with biscochitos?
We'll defer once again to the expert Hambriento, who says: "Biscochos go with vino like an egg on an enchilada". Sounds good to us, Hammie. OK, maybe milk or hot chocolate for the kids.

Where can I buy these cookies?

A few places will ship biscochitos within the US. Try out one of the following websites: biscochitos.net, goldencrown.biz, or santafebiscochitos.blogspot.com.

How can I make these cookies?

If you want to be a purist, here's the lard version:

Biscochitos from a Trusted Source
  • 1 lb lard (no substitutes!)
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsps aniseed
  • ½ cup sweet table wine
  • 6 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1-2 tsp cinnamon for dredging
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Cream lard with sugar and anise seeds. In separate bowl beat eggs until light and fluffy; add to creamed mixture. Add dry ingredients and wine to form a stiff dough. (add more wine as necessary.) Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350º F. Have ready 2 ungreased cookie sheets.

Let dough stand at room temperature till soft enough to roll out; divide into quarters and roll to 1/8” thickness. Cut out with 2 ½”-3” cutter and bake 10-15 minutes, or until cookies are pale blond on top, golden on bottom. Sprinkle with sugar/cinnamon while still warm. Makes about 4-5 dozen cookies.

However, if you're queasy about lard, we won't tell if you try this one; for vegans, we weren't able to find a recipe, but any suggestions? 

Sources used:

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Reader Comments (9)

Wonderful post... Very informational and educational as usual!

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I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for a wonderful job!
I am from New Mexico, and I have been making Biscochitos with my grandmother for years. The only differnce is that my grandmother uses Brandy not wine, and we always sift our flour when making cookies, and the cookies are not dense when we do this. In the artical it mentions technic, to make this wonderful cookie, and that is so very true, because if you don't have the technic to make this cookie or any rescipie, then it will not taste the way that it should. This is a favorite cookie during the holidays for my family, and I am introducing this cookie to my husbands family here in CA, who never heard of the cookie, and they are instantly hooked:o) I never knew that this was my home state's official cookie, but I think that this cookie represents New Mexico very well. There is no other state in the US that has the kind of wonderful New Mexican cooking that we do.
January 16 | Unregistered CommenterTammy

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