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Friday, December 16, 2011

Biscochito Cookies-A New Mexico Christmas Tradition

Northern New Mexico during winter is cold with night time temperatures in the teens and day times in the 30's and 40's.That doesn't keep people from their business, though. Yesterday in Las Vegas, Old Town's Bridge Street didn't have a parking space as folks walked up and down the sidewalks shopping the local stores for last minute Christmas gifts. It helped that the local stores are having a drawing for as much as $1000 if you spend at least $50 around town. Let's just say I did my part when it came to local spending.

Towns bedeck their businesses and walkways with what are called farolitos in the north and luminarias in the south. It began back in the 1500's when bonfires were lit to guide the way to midnight mass. In the 1800's there was a switch to paper bags half filled with sand with a lit candle inside. These have morphed into plug in lights that look like the real thing. If you have a rooftop decorated with farolitos/luminarias, it's easier to flip a switch, so that's how it goes. It's still beautiful, no matter what the power source.

People brave the cold to watch Christmas light parades, follow the path of Mary and Joseph as they look for an inn, gaze at beautiful luminaria displays, hang around bonfires, and just soak in Christmas with family and friends.

But it's cold, so there has to be time for some restoratives, like biscochitos and hot chocolate. Again, it was the Spanish who brought these cookies to New Mexico in the 16th century. Everyone has their favorite family recipe. I don't have a favorite yet, but in the spirit of Christmas, I went to the Mora Winterfest last Saturday and bought four different bags of biscochitos there. (My oven was broken, so it was a good reason to buy lots of baked goods from my neighbors.)

A shortbread type cookie with a little anise flavor, covered with cinnamon sugar, biscochitos are not too sweet, perfect with hot chocolate, coffee, or tea. It's just what you need after wandering around in freezing weather, looking at Christmas lights or following Mary and Joseph around town.

There are many biscochito recipes: just do a search and you will understand what I mean here. My suggestion is to find a family recipe that someone's grandma used to make and give it a try. Most of the traditionalists swear that lard is integral to a flaky cookie and I agree. You can't taste it, and come's Christmas! In the meantime, here is a recipe I found in a cookbook called License to Cook, compiled by the New Mexico Federation of Business and Professional Women.

Biscochitos (Anise Seed Cookies)

1 pound butter flavored Crisco
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 t anise seed
2 eggs, beaten
6 cups flour
3 t baking powder
1 t salt'
1/2 cup orange juice
1 T cinnamon

Cream Crisco,  sugar, anise seed in large bowl. Add eggs and beat well. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in another large bowl. Alternate adding flour mixture and orange juice to creamed mixture until a stiff dough is formed. At this point some people roll out the dough to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness and cut the dough into desired shapes. Others will make a log out of the dough, refrigerate it, and slice it into rounds 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Dust the top of each cookie with a little of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until cookies are lightly browned.

Note: Some bakers will immediately dip the cookies one more time in the cinnamon sugar mixture when they are done baking. Others will replace the orange juice with brandy or sweet wine.

Feliz Navidad!


  1. It all sounds very lovely...and the lights are really nice...Thats a great photo of the cookies, and they sound delicious!!

  2. Thanks for posting this's fun to hear about the customs in different parts of the US. These sound like my kind of cookie! I'm a good Norwegian and was raised on cookies that consisted of lots of butter, and white sugar. Not too sweet! Have a wonderful holiday!


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