Few people have heard of biscochitos (aka Bizcochito) outside of New Mexico. This regional treat is traditionally served during celebrations, like weddings, baptisms and holidays, especially Christmas. It has been the official state cookie of New Mexico since 1989, when New Mexico became the first state to choose a state cookie.
The biscochito is a crisp, lard or butter-based cookie, flavored with cinnamon and anise. It is a variation of the traditional Mexican wedding cookie. Both are derivatives of recipes brought by the Spaniards when they settled the new world. The name is based on the diminutive form of the word bizcocho (biscuit).
The original recipe arrived in New Mexico with the Spanish colonists that settled the Rio Grande valley around Española and Santa Fe. It evolved over the centuries, influenced by local and indigenous culinary traditions, and successive family matriarchs applying their ‘spin.’
The basic ingredients are lard (traditional) or butter (like that’s any better) with anise and cinnamon. From there variations are as numerous as the people making them, with most people using their abuelitas recipe. That is certainly the case for the Atencio family in Española.
Luis Atencio traced his roots back to the first wave of Spanish settlers to arrive in the valley. His forefathers farmed a land grant received from the King of Spain. His wife, Frances, grew up in Arizona, briefly living in California before marrying Luis.
When Frances arrived in Española, she brought culinary influences from further west and a love of cooking. The family’s popular restaurants, El Paragua and El Parasol, in northern New Mexico were built based on her recipes. Considering they have been popular and successful for 50 years, it is testament to the fact that Frances knew her way around a kitchen.
Frances was influenced by the culinary traditions in northern New Mexico. Her mother-in-law was an advocate of the regional staples: beans, tortillas and chile. Frances certainly used those ingredients in the recipes that made El Paragua and El Parasol regional staples; however, she brought influences and ingredients from further west, like avocados . We may, collectively, owe Mrs. Atencio a debt of gratitude for the prevalence of guacamole in northern New Mexico’s cuisine.
Cooking was her way of comforting others. Her daughters remember her making tostadas for the beauticians at a cousin’s beauty shop, because they were so busy they didn’t have time to stop for lunch. Frances wanted to make sure they got something to eat.
At Christmas she would make a dozen tamales for everyone she knew, which to the chagrin of her family was pretty much everyone in the valley. It is a good thing she had a large family, because it takes an army to make that many tamales. She recruited her husband and nine children to handle tamale deliveries on Christmas Eve. The annual tamale marathon put a damper on her children's holiday enthusiasm at the time, but those are memories cherished now.
A similar creative stroke has been applied to her biscochito recipe, with the addition of sweet red wine. Though the recipe calls for lard, butter can be substituted.
There are no low calorie options when it comes to biscochitos.
1 pound of lard
1 cup of sugar
2 teaspoon anise seed, crushed to bring out the flavor
3 or 4 eggs, 4 medium OR 3 large
2 ounces sweet red wine
6 cups flour
3 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Step 1: Cream lard and sugar together until fluffy.
Step 2: Add anise, eggs and wine. Mix thoroughly.
Step 3: Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Combine with lard mixture. Blend thoroughly to create dough.
Step 4: Roll out very thin, about 1/8” - 1/16.” Cut with desired cookie cutter shapes. Press each cookie in cinnamon sugar to coat. Place sugar side up on a cookie sheet.
350º for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly brown (think light adobe)
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