Author: Jo Elizabeth Pinto, Bizcochitos, a Holiday Treat
With the holidays approaching, I've got cookies on my mind. How can I not? It seems everywhere I turn, someone is talking about them. A Kiebler™ commercial on TV, a luscious new recipe on Facebook, a family memory that pops up in conversation … and man, what a memory! Bizcochitos! My mouth waters just thinking about them.
Every year, my grandma started rolling out batch after batch of the buttery cookies as soon as Thanksgiving was over. By the first of January, she had made hundreds of them--maybe thousands—to give as gifts and serve to guests in her home. Actually, forget butter. She unabashedly scooped globs of pork lard out of five-pound buckets, which was why her cookies tasted so divine. As a kid, I hadn't heard enough about high cholesterol and clogged arteries to be put off by the lard. I just reveled in the sweet smell of spices that made me drool every time the oven door opened. But now, as I contemplate baking my own bizcochitos with my daughter, I'm not sure I can force myself to buy lard at the store, much less touch it with my bare hands and feed it to my family. I know how delicious the lard would make my cookies turn out, but still--it's so horrifically unhealthy! There may be vegetable shortening in our future.
No one knows exactly where the recipe for bizcochitos originated. The first Spanish colonists who settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, may have brought a version of it across the Atlantic with them. Throughout the centuries, the recipe probably evolved along with the regional culture of the indigenous people. Over time, recipe ideas have been expanded by local customs and suggested by immigrants from other Spanish-speaking countries. In 1989, New Mexico declared the bizcochito its state cookie. By doing so, New Mexico became the first of the fifty U.S. states to have an official state cookie. Bizcochitos are traditionally served at wedding receptions, baptisms, and religious celebrations, especially at Christmastime. They’re often paired with hot chocolate.
Bizcochitos are thick, crunchy sugar cookies flavored with cinnamon and anise, which tastes somewhat like black licorice. Since anise can be a bit of an acquired taste, some modern bakers leave it out and add extra cinnamon instead.