With stunning deserts, sprawling red mesas, snowcapped peaks and vibrant sunsets, New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment.
The Southwest state also observes a rich cultural heritage that is just as colorful. The descendants of ancient Pueblo people, Spanish colonizers, and Mexican and American inhabitants contribute to its diversity.
The Spanish influence is significant. About 75% of New Mexicans are Christian, and a third of the population is Catholic. At Christmastime, cities large and small are set alight with seasonal trimmings and customs.
“Las Posadas,” the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before Christ’s birth, is part of the celebrations. From Albuquerque to Mesilla, Santa Fe to Taos, luminarias or “farolitos” (lanterns) light the way for the Holy Family.
Las Posadas processions finish with a spread of traditional culinary treats. Cider, hot chocolate and cookies are among the offerings. Sure to be present are biscochitos, New Mexico’s state cookie. The rich shortbreads made with lard, spiked with anise seed and dusted in cinnamon sugar are ubiquitous during Christmas in New Mexico.
I first tasted biscochitos on a winter trip to Santa Fe years ago. Since then, I’ve tried a few different recipes in an attempt to recreate the delicious experience. This one is an amalgamation of those recipes and produces a delightful cookie. Not well known beyond New Mexico, biscochitos add an uncommon delicacy to the Christmas feast.
Dough: 30 mins
Refrigeration and Baking: 2 hours
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon anise seed, crushed
8 ounces snow cap lard
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon whiskey (optional)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the crushed anise seed.
In a separate mixing bowl, beat the lard and sugar together until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Mix in the egg, vanilla and bourbon until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until dough looks like pea-sized crumbs. Add the orange juice and mix just until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into three equal-sized balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the topping sugar and cinnamon in a small shallow bowl.
Take one ball at a time from the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using 2-inch cookie cutter(s), cut out shapes and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat rolling and cutting with scraps and the remaining dough.
Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes until barely golden. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes. They are likely to break if you handle the cookies before letting them cool a bit. One cookie at a time, dip the tops in the cinnamon sugar and then place on a rack to cool completely.
Cookies will keep in a sealed container for up to a week.
Note: Lard, rendered pork fat, is a traditional ingredient in biscochitos. Vegetable shortening is a suitable substitute if lard is hard to find or if you’d like ovo-vegetarian cookies.
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(Follow Wiechec on Twitter: @nancywiechec.)