If you are a regular follower of my Christmas baking endeavours, you’ll know that most of the delights I post about come from random corners of Europe. I think the only exceptions so far are South African soetkoekies and Japanese-inspired chestnut sweets.
Well today we’ve got another addition to this exclusive set, as we’re heading all the way over to the Southwest of the USA – to New Mexico to be exact.
Bizcochitos are crisp-yet-crumbly biscuits dipped in sugar, and flavoured with aniseed and cinnamon. So far, so festive. However, bizcochitos are much more than just a festive cookie. It turns out that they are nothing less than the official state cookie of New Mexico.
Bizcochitos have a long history that can be traced back to the first Spanish residents of a region then called Santa Fe de Nuevo México, which would go on to become the state of New Mexico. Confusingly, the country of Mexico had not become independent of Spain at this time, so this name doesn’t seem to be as an alternative to the national of Mexico.
Anyway, over time, bizcochitos become associated with weddings and Christmas. Those original cookies were flavoured with the spices available at the time, either those that grew there or those that arrived via trade routes. And I think the use of lard in some versions can be traced back to this too – lard features in quite a few Spanish cookie recipes today. It is certainly the first time I have seen a recipe in which cinnamon and aniseed are the two prominent flavours. It’s an unusual but delicious pairing.
A key part of making bizcochitos is coating them in sugar while still warm from the oven. And you might wonder if you really need to add this layer of sweetness? In a word, yes!
First off, it is traditional, so if you don’t dip them in cinnamon sugar, you’ve just got some aniseed cookies. Oh, and it’s quite fun to dip them as you juggle them, hot from the oven, between your fingers to get them properly coated. Second, it is the sugar that adds the intense cinnamon flavour. I’ve added a little ground cinnamon to the dough in this recipe, but I think you’d be missing out if you didn’t do the dip. Finally, the dough itself is not that sweet – these little guys assume they’ll be rolling in sugar, so just go with it.
This is also a cookie that I discovered in a different way to most of my festive baking. I usually go on the hunt for ideas, trawling the web and looking in cookbooks. But I found out about bizcochitos as I was given a bag of them by our friend Jess when she visited from the US. They were addictive, so I looked them up, made them myself, and I was hooked. I can only hope that I’ve done them justice.
This is a great dough if you want to cut out fancy shapes and have the cookies keep their shape – I’ve gone a bit crazy with the cutters here. Some sources suggest stars and crescent moons are traditional, so I’ve gone with stars as well as hearts and scalloped cookies.
I’ve also done some smaller bite-sized cookies in the shape of a five-petal flower. These have a bit of a story about them. Yes guys, this is a post peppered with asides and memories! The shape is typical of a Japanese cookie called soba-boro which is made from buckwheat flour. I had originally intended to include soba-boro as one of my twelve bakes this year, and I made them twice. Sadly, I just didn’t like them. It turned out that they are known for a specific flavour which comes from using baking soda as the raising agent, and it just was not a flavour that I enjoyed. I thought I had made a mistake in my first attempt, so I was rather deflated when I realised on my second attempt that they tasted the same. Given they are a big hit in their culinary home of Kyoto, it may just be my personal preference. However I was quite taken with the shape, so I decided to try it one these cookies, and I think the result is really great. There is not fancy cutter involved – just cut out the flower, then find something round to cut out the centre (I used the tip of a large metal piping nozzle).
In terms of making these cookies, the process is fairly easy. The only advice I would offer is that once you’ve cut out the cookies and put them on the baking sheet, it is worth chilling them again so that they keep their shape as they bake. I put the whole tray in the freezer for 2 minutes, and it seems to do the trick. Other than that – get baking and think of the dramatic scenery of New Mexico as you enjoy the unusual flavour of bizcochitos.
To make Bizcochitos (makes 40-50, depending on size)
For the dough:
• 225g unsalted butter
• 150g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon aniseed extract
• 2 teaspoons aniseeds, crushed
• 1 tablespoon brandy
• 1 large egg
• 350g plain flour, plus more if needed
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 150g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the cinnamon, aniseed, aniseed extract, brandy and egg, and beat well until light and fluffy.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour to the butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon and then your hands until it comes together to a soft dough.
3. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes, or overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
5. Make the cinnamon sugar – put the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and mix well.
6. Roll the dough out to around 4mm thickness and cut out cookies. Place them on a baking sheet (don’t mix shapes and sized on the same tray – some will burn before others are baked). Pop the tray and cookies in the fridge or freezer for 2 minutes.
7. Bake for 8-12 minutes until golden (the time will depend on the size – the flowers were 8 minutes, the scalloped cookies took 12), and turn the tray around during baking to get an even colour. Let the cookies cool for a brief moment, then fully dip each one into the cinnamon sugar, shake off the excess and transfer to a wire tray to cool completely.