A New Mexican favorite that's perfect for the holidays!
While this isn't anything close to the Christmas cookies we usually have in our house at this time of year, I've been curious about what a bizcochito actually is and what it tastes like pretty much since Josefina came out over ten years ago. While I've got access to a diverse range of food and goodies in my neck of the woods, I'd never seen or heard of one except in the context of her books, and already, I've found out some neat trivia. Did you know there's such thing as a state cookie? I didn't before doing research for this post! I also discovered that most people I've seen since making these cookies had never heard of them before.
Fair enough, really, because even if they are the state cookie of New Mexico, they really only seem to have huge ties to that specific part of the world, and other places are a little less familiar with them. When I tried to explain that they were basically a sugar cookie with anise seeds and cinnamon sugar on top, my taste testers were convinced to give them a chance, and were surprised to discover they tasted like old fashioned Italian cookies they'd tried before! Who would have thought.
Bizcochitos get their name from the word "bizcocho", which is used in the Spanish language to refer to a variety of cakes, pastries and sweets. The recipe can trace its roots back to the 16th century, when Spanish explorers first began exploring the territory that would become New Mexico. They're sometimes also known as the original Mexican wedding cookie, and are often served as dessert during holidays, weddings, and other social and religious events. In Josefina's Surprise, Josefina and her family have them as a Christmas treat.
This particular recipe is the official American Girl recipe for bizcochitos. Josefina used to have a set of tiny plastic bizcochitos and a recipe for making your own as a part of her holiday collection, but they were both long retired by the time I started collecting for her, and they're way too expensive on the secondary market for me to have snapped them up just yet. I'm not sure if this recipe is exactly the one that would have came with the set, but it was published in the American Girl's Hallmark recipe tin, and can be read here on americangirlfan.com.
You start off by cutting 1 cup of lard (I used vegetable shortening) into two cups of flour. Then, add 1 3/4 cups of sugar, 2 tablespoons of anise seeds and three beaten eggs into the mixture. This all gets stirred until it forms a dough.
The dough was super soft and sticky, so it took a lot of flour to get it to where I could roll it out and actually get a cookie shape that wasn't going to fall apart. Usually, when my dough's too sticky or soft, I just eyeball putting in flour until it stiffens up, which can be a pain if you're trying not to over mix your dough, but I usually get lucky and it winds up turning out okay.
Josefina's bizcochitos are shaped like stars, circles and moons, but I didn't have cookie cutters that really make these shapes, so I used a set we got from my grandma to try and get a couple interesting different shapes.
To give them a little extra interesting flavor, you brush them with a combination of two parts vanilla extract, four parts water and sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar, and then they're ready to bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about five minutes, or until they're a little brown around the edges. Mine took about seven minutes to cook fully.
The major disappointment with this recipe was that my cookies really didn't hold their shape at all. I wanted pretty shapes, and I got awkwardly shaped blobs and a couple triangles and diamonds. I wonder if this was just the fault of the size of the cutters I used, because they were pretty small and the shapes kind of got lost when the cookies expanded as they baked. If the shapes were larger, maybe they would have held up better? Might be worth trying next time.
Because my cookies were pretty small, this recipe made a lot of them. Like, a lot. This isn't even all of them, they just couldn't all fit on my plate.
Now, I want to go on the record as saying the first cookie I sampled was the first bizcochito I've ever had, so I'm by no means considering myself to be an expert here on what the texture is supposed to be like or anything like that. Originally, after pulling one off the cookie sheet and letting it cool a little, I thought it was way too sweet and very gummy, not at all like what I was expecting. This wouldn't be the first time that an American Girl recipe let me down though, so I was wondering if maybe this was just a bad recipe, or if I'd made them wrong, over mixed the dough or something like that. That said, I thought the cookies had a much better texture after they'd cooled down, and maybe even better after they'd been sitting around (under plastic wrap!) for a few days. I didn't eat any after my initial tasting didn't go so well - my sister and her boyfriend both agreed that they were very sweet right after I pulled them out of the oven - but my other taste testers liked them a lot and - as I mentioned - said they reminded them of old Italian style cookies they'd had before. I brought in some of the leftovers into work to see how they went with that crowd.
... And they went. Seriously, I went in with a good two dozen and came back with about ten. Wondering why everyone else liked them so much, I took another bite and found them to be a lot crisper and better tasting. They were still sweet, but not really cloyingly sweet, and the vanilla, cinnamon and anise seeds worked very well together to create a very different, interesting cookie. I wouldn't necessarily say they melted in my mouth - as a good bizcochito is supposed to do - but they didn't sit heavy like a rock, either, and there was a good short bread like crunch to them, even though they were almost wafer thin.
So overall? I was pretty impressed even if my initial reaction was a little subdued. They grew on me! I agree with my sister's boyfriend that I don't think I'd be able to eat like, twenty or even five of these in one sitting like I could with say, a chocolate chip cookie just because they are pretty sweet, but they're tasty and definitely a step up from a traditional sugar cookie. This recipe was also super easy to do if a tiny bit time consuming (as most rolled cookies are), so it's definitely something an ambitious eight-and-up year old could tackle with minor parental supervision, which is always nice when it's a recipe that comes from an official cookbook or activity set. I think we've got our first real winner of the holiday season!
Better late than never, right?