Biscochitos: a traditional New Mexico treat

 

biscochitos

The name comes from the Spanish word bizcocho used in its diminutive form, biscochito. But there is nothing “diminutive” about these spicy, anise-flavored cookies. They are utterly satisfying, and, like so many delicious treats, loaded with carbs. Their main ingredients are flour, sugar, baking powder, and lard.

Story originally published in Taos News

The history of biscochitos stretches back to Spain, where they are called mantecados, which makes sense, as manteca means lard. They arrived with the conquistadores during the 16th century and were quickly adopted in America under different names, depending on the region. In Cuba, a similar kind of cookie is known as tortica de Moron.

The French connection

Another story about the biscochitos’ origin places it in Mexico. Biscochitos are said to have been baked for the first time after Battle of Puebla in 1862, when the Mexicans overthrew Emperor Maximilian—their victory is celebrated today as Cinco de Mayo.

The biscochito, then, became a “commemorative cookie” for the Mexican troops.

Shapes and colors

Traditionally, biscochitos are shaped like a fleur-de-lis, but they can also be cut to look like bells, hearts, stars, ovals, and even chiles. Inspired bakers may even use food coloring to paint them red or green.

They are sugared by hand and then dusted with cinnamon. Soft and sweet, biscochitos melt in the mouth and are perfect to dunk in coffee or hot chocolate.

No Christmas without biscochitos

In the Southwest, biscochitos reign supreme among holidays’ sweets. They are often offered to the posadistas—the people who participate in Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration that re-enacts Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging in Bethlehem.

“There is no Christmas without biscochitos,” says Yolanda Ochoa, who bakes up at least three batches from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. “We share them with family, friends and strangers… Sometimes several of us make biscochitos the same week. Then, of course, we have to compare flavors and exchange recipes and tips. You always learn something new.”

Biscochitos are also served at weddings, quinceañeras, birthdays and graduations. They are all-purpose and all-season treats.

The Taos Herb biscochito contest

Every year in December Taos Herb Company sponsors a biscochito contest. The winner gets a $100 gift card to the store and two runner-ups receive gift bags.

Rob Hawley, Taos Herb Company owner, wants to keep the biscochitos tradition alive. He has been running the contest for five years now. There are usually ten judges who take into consideration the cookies’ texture, flavor and appearance to determine the winner. Some come from the Taos County Senior Program, and others, like Robert Graham, are professional bakers. They share a love for all things sweet.

Patricia Barela-Rael, a Talpa-based artist and the granddaughter of renowned santero Patrociño Barela, was the winner of last year’s contest.

“Making biscochitos always reminds me of my grandparents,” she said. “My grandma had her own recipe, but I added a few twists that my foster abuelas at the Senior Center taught me.”

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About dovalpage

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana and now lives in Taos, New Mexico. She has a Ph.D. in Spanish literature and teaches at UNM Taos. She also freelances for Taos News, Profile, Hispanic Executive and other publications. A bilingual author, she has published eight novels, six in Spanish and two in English, two collections of short stories in Spanish and one in English. Her English-language novels are A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010). Her collection of short stories The Astral Plane, Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond was published by the University of New Orleans Press in 2012. In her native Spanish she has authored the novels Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain), El difunto Fidel (The late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009), Posesas de La Habana (Haunted Ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004), La Regenta en La Habana (Edebe Group, Spain, 2012,) Orfeo en el Caribe(Atmósfera Literaria, Spain, 2013) and El retorno de la expatriada (The expat’s return, Egales, Spain, 2014). Her short novel Las Muertas de la West Mesa (The West Mesa Murders, based on a real event) is currently being published in serialized format by Taos News.
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