Tuesday, 06 March 2012 05:00

The Bizcochito Cookie/New Mexico's official state cookie

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Bizcochitos? Biscochitos?
However you spell it, cookies mean Christmas in New Mexico


Sharon Niederman | For The New Mexican
Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008
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In 1989, New Mexico became the first state in the union to adopt an official "state cookie." With that matter put to rest, the Legislature of this great state conducted a debate on the proper spelling of the revered anise-flavored shortbread cookie that appears at Christmas — not to mention weddings, baptisms and quinceñeras

 



The debate generated as much attention as the question about whose body is buried in Fort Sumner and the adoption of the State Question. Traditionalists held with "biscochito," but "bizcochito" eventually got more votes. 

So, in pursuit of the best bizcochito in the land, I sought the recipe and manos (hands) of an authentic New Mexico cookie queen. 

The author of cowboy-cookie cookbooks and a "professional cookie decorator," Tuda Libby Crews is a seventh-generation Harding County resident. She doesn't just live in the middle of nowhere. She lives on its far eastern edge. Says Tuda, "I'm 47 miles from a gallon of milk." 

Be assured, Dear Reader, that I would drive over the rainbow and back to bring you recipes for the most authentic and scrumptious New Mexican delicacies. And I promise you that Tuda Libby Crews' bizcochitos are by far the most delectable, melt-in-your mouth native New Mexico cookies I have ever encountered. Their not overly sweet flavor, lightness and delicate crumbliness could inspire poems and wedding proposals. No doubt, had Marcel Proust tasted one of Tuda's bizcochitos instead of his madeleine, French literature would have taken a different course. 

As my husband said when I returned home and presented him with the three I saved for him, "Those are the best bizcochitos I ever put in my mouth, and they could be the best cookies I have ever tasted." 

Tuda practices her art from the well-equipped, red-trimmed kitchen of the cozy adobe family ranch house she and her husband, Jack, remodeled. 

"There's no Christmas without bizcochitos," she says. The cookies are as essential to her family's holiday as the posole, beans and chile that are always on her table this celebratory time of year, in addition to a roast of their home-grown beef, prepared simply, on the grill, with just salt and garlic salt, until medium rare. And she always serves the cookies with natillas, a sweet, creamy custard. 

While cookie history holds that bizcochitos claim a heritage reaching back to 16th-century Spain, where they were known as mantecosas, meaning "buttery," Tuda adds her own speculation. She believes they may have traveled up from the South after the Civil War as shortbread, then picked up their anise accent once they crossed the Río Grande. 

You are not likely to find bizcochitos outside New Mexico, though — not unless you happen to be lucky enough to receive a tin for the holidays from your abuelita, that is. Although the cookies do freeze and pack well, the art of preparing them does not seem to have crossed state lines. 

Tuda learned about baking bizcochitos from her grandmother, Isabell C. de Baca, a "fabulous cook" who, as a girl, attended the Academy of the Sisters of Loretto in Santa Fe. 

"My earliest childhood memories are of midnight Mass, posole and bizcochitos," Tuda says, recalling her "rich, prayerful and vivid" childhood Christmases under the tutelage of her "strict Catholic grandmother." 

No Crisco allowed 


Like most confident, experienced cooks, Tuda measures her ingredients with her hands, but on one point, she is rigorous. "You have to use the lard to get the authentic flavor and texture." Her message is clear: No Crisco allowed. 

She does adapt with decoration, however. Depending on the occasion, she will play with the customary brown cinnamon-sugar mix on top. At Christmas, she decorates her bizcochitos with red and green sugar, and for parties she favors hot orange and lime-green sugar toppings. 

And the shapes of her bizcochitos, which she sculpts with her sharp little knife, one by one, are also special. Instead of baking them in the traditional round or heart shapes, she creates fleur-de-lis and rosette patterns. 

Just like Grandma taught her. 

*** 


Note: Before rolling out your dough, prepare topping, grease cookie sheets and preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

TUDA'S BIZCOCHITOS 
(Makes about 96 bizcochitos) 

For the cookies: 
1 pound lard 
1 heaping cup sugar 
2-3 eggs 
1 teaspoon salt 
6 teaspoons anise seed 
6 cups flour 
3 teaspoons baking powder 
1/8 cup red wine 
1/8 cup orange-juice concentrate, partially thawed 
For the topping: 
4 teaspoons cinnamon 
3/4 cup sugar 


Set mixer on #7, or close to full speed. Whip the lard until it is silky — about 10 minutes. While mixer is operating, add sugar and beat until incorporated. Stop mixer and scrape sides of mixing bowl. 

Continue beating, adding eggs, one by one, then salt. Then add in the following order: anise seed, flour, baking powder. Continue beating. Add wine and orange-juice concentrate. Beat until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. 

Moisten countertop and fingers. Remove dough from mixing bowl and roll it out between two pieces of plastic wrap. (The bottom piece of wrap should be gently floured.) Touching the dough as little as possible with your fingers, shape it into a rectangle and pat it down. 

Ideally using a marble rolling pin (which is cold, heavy and keeps the dough at the proper consistency) roll out the dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut the dough into quarters. Dip each quarter into sugar and place each on a greased cookie sheet. 

With a small, sharp knife, approach the first pan of dough. Cut the dough into 1-1/2 inch strips. Turn the tray, and cut the other way. You now have a cookie sheet of little squares. Make four little cuts toward the center of each square. With your thumb and forefinger, raise the dough of each cut square toward the center, creating a small rosette. 

Bake about 13 minutes or until brown around the edges. Tuda prefers her bizcochitos crisp. If they are not brown enough, return to the oven for another 3 to 4 minutes. The exact cooking time may vary from oven to oven. 

Read 5782 times Last modified on Thursday, 08 March 2012 20:43
Maria Montez-Skolnik

Family

Both sides of my family trace their roots in the Santa Fé area to the 1600s.  In the earlier years they were primarily farmers, builders, craftsmen, artists (wood carvers and weavers), and educators.  I graduated from SFHS & NMSU and received my BA & MA in Speech & Language Pathology. I divide my time between Santa Fé and the San Francisco Bay Area.  

 

1 comment

  • Comment Link David Stephenson Tuesday, 06 March 2012 14:53 posted by David Stephenson

    Yay! Now I see the picture!

    A minor point: The postings say "Written by" when often they are clearly not. I think "contributed by" Or "Posted by" would be better.

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