3-31-10

BISCOCHITOS

MAKES 8 DOZEN SMALL COOKIES

Like everyone, I’ve made some good decisions and I’ve made some bad ones — and sometimes I don’t know which is which for a while. But without a doubt, one of the best decisions I ever made was moving to New Mexico.

In the spring of 2001, when I was 24 — working a job that involved waaaay too many spreadsheets, paying ludicrous amounts of money to live in a windowless room the size of my childhood closet (no, really), silently seething at my roommate, and just altogether displeased with the state of my NYC life — I took a position teaching art in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and convinced my boyfriend to pack up his duffel and try his luck with me, setting up homestead in the Land of Enchantment.

Neither one of us had spent more than 24 hours in Albuquerque until the day we drove up in our U-Haul. But we learned to love it — A LOT, in fact — and we spent a few wonderful years there (enchanted years!) before wily old New York lured us back.

If you ever happen to find yourself in my apartment, you’d see the evidence everywhere: the red and yellow Bernalillo license plate on the bathroom wall, the portrait of a mission church on the way to the Jemez that hangs above my desk, the salvaged viga dining room table that is most definitely not of Brooklyn floor-through proportions. And in the kitchen, scribbled notes and recipe cards I begged from students and their parents.

Recipes like this one.

Biscochitos were made the state cookie of New Mexico in 1989 — but their legacy stretches back centuries and centuries; indeed, the lard-enriched treats are a staple of celebratory spreads at southwestern Christmases, Easters, baptisms, and quinceñeras. Though sprinkled with it, they are not particularly sugary. Instead, like the best shortbread, they are rich and subtle and crumbly, and just on the sweet side of savory. And they just keep getting better over time. Sort of like New Mexico, I guess.

1 lb. lard
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons crushed anise seed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
5 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup orange juice

For cinnamon sugar:
1/2 cup sugar
3 sticks cinnamon, ground

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream lard and sugar together until fluffy (It’s hard work, but you may as well grab a wooden spoon and do this by hand, because the lard tends to gunk up a hand mixer.) Next, beat in the yolks and the anise seed and ginger.

2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. Then alternating with drizzles of the orange juice, incorporate the flour mixture into the lard and sugar. Finally, as it all starts to come together, use your hands to knead the mixture into a pliant dough. You want the dough to be stiff enough for rolling but not so dry that it crumbles.

3. Divide the dough into 4 large balls. Working in batches, flatten each ball on a floured countertop and roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness. Then, use small cookie cutter of your choice to press shapes from the sheet of dough (note: if you want to stick to the rules, geometric shapes like stars, diamonds, or a fleur de lis motif are most traditional). With a thin spatula, transfer cut-outs to prepared baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Sprinkle cookies generously with cinnamon sugar, and lightly press the sugar into the dough. Bake for 14-18 minutes, or until cookies are light golden and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire track to cool, and repeat with remaining balls of dough.

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One Response to “3-31-10”

  1. Diablito mio! Cookies really get my attention, and these are new for me to try. It will be heresy, but I’ll have to substitute butter for at least part of the lard; we can’t get real lard here in Mendocino county. I get what you mean about New Mexico; I lived there for a while. In fact, I fell into the sacred sand pit at the church in Chimayo, and consider that a baptism of sorts.

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