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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 (49)

Lard delivery vehicle! How can you go wrong with the bizcochito?!

May 12 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Cakelaw: Enjoy!

EB: Yea!! I always think they taste better (they being baked goods) once you have the story!

Amanda: You said it!

May 12 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

I feel like any "state" food item from NM should contain green chile!

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterTrevor

Love the sound of this cookie...biscochito..& the description touches my heart-"heaven's own little cakes made by the linda señora"! What an absolutely great post. That's what makes blogging so special! Gracias senorita for this!!

And to imagine I come from a state where Jello is queen. Sigh.

May 13 | Unregistered Commenterchou

Trevor: So that's what's missing! :-)

Passionate baker: Isn't that a nice, poetic description? Love it!!

Chou: You're from Utah!?!? Please, tell us why it's such a big deal there!!

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Where have I been? I spent the first 18 years of my life in New Mexico, and have never had one of these. And I didn't even know they were the state cookie!

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

as a new mexico native i was so excited to see this post!~

i grew up on biscochitos. my next door neighbor would make them for me and my sister (as well as homemade tortillas).

the smells that would come from her house were incredible. she also had a full outdoor kitchen where she would cook in the summer when her kitchen would become unbearably hot.

thank you for bringing back such wonderful memories (i can almost smell them baking now...almost...)!~

I recently moved to New Mexico and now work at Chocolate Maven Bakery and Cafe in Santa Fe. We sell and ship Biscochitos nation wide as well. (chocolatemaven.com) Most customers are surprised when I tell them they're the official state cookie. Ours our made with all natural ingredients and have a lovely hint of anise.

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Deborah, Go back and get some! :-)

Octavine: ooh, glad to hear that they brought back some memories! And oh, homemade tortillas. I am jealous!

Erin: How fantastic!! I hear that is a wonderful place!!! Judi (the writer who told me about the bischochitos) is a fan of Chocolate Maven. I can't wait to visit myself, one day!

May 25 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

It's a great place. Check out the Carrot Cake Cupcakes as well. The heavenly cream cheese frosting is my favorite thing!

May 25 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I've linked your nice post about bizcochitos http://sandradodd.com/bizcochitos" REL="nofollow">here and there are photos of my first 2008 batch http://sandradodd.blogspot.com/2008/12/bizcochitos.html" REL="nofollow">here.

For those passing through Albuquerque, it's easy to find bizcochitos at Christmas time, but the only place I know of that has them always is Garcia's restaurant, which has several locations and will be pretty easy to find. They always have them right by the cash register at the one near me, at Juan Tabo and Comanche Blvd.

December 10 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Dodd

Just heard about these cookies the other week on a Food Network show. Interesting to see so many variations: shortening, butter, lard, whole egg, egg yolk, NO egg. Yes, this is a candidate for a vegan version I found today at cooks.com:

http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1610,152184-231206,00.html

I haven't tried this recipe yet, but I intend to. It is completely unleavaned, as it has neither egg nor baking powder, so it really is just a pastry crust. I imagine one could add wine, brandy or sherry (or port?) for the flavor as well, but that might really mess with how this particular recipie turns out.

I will try some of these variations as soon as I pick up some anise and lard! Yum!

February 19 | Unregistered Commenterpolytek

I learned "biscocho" meant "sponge cake" or "pound cake" in Spanish while in college, but here in Mexico they sell "biscochos" everywhere, and it's definitely a cookie. A "mantecada" in Mexico (at least in Guadalajara) is a smaller formed cookie, usually made with a cookie press. In a big city like GDL all the cookies are made with butter or vegetable shortening now, but I'm sure in some of the smaller towns or more southern Mexico one could still find cookies made with lard.

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I have lived in nm my whole life and have grown up eating and making these cookies i know the lard is off putting but using butter does not give them the flavor you want also try doing 1/2 oragne jusice and 1/2 brandy they are great i add 2 teaspoons of vnaillia and 2 tsp cloves and 2 tsp of cinnamon in the dough while mixing
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