History of the Biscochito
As told by Diane Porras, Owner, Ositos Biscochitos, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Biscochitos, as they are called in Northern New Mexico or Biscochos, as called in Southern New Mexico, have a long tradition in New Mexico, formerly known as Mexico. Originally introduced to Mexico by Spanish explorers in the 16th Century, they are known by different names in other countries or other cities in the United States. Names associated with biscochitos are names such as Polvorones or Mexican Wedding Cookies.
In Spain they are called Mantecados. This anise and cinnamon flavored, shortbread cookie has been enjoyed by residents as well as many visitors to New Mexico. As a festive cookie it is enjoyed during special celebrations, such as weddings, quincenieras, baptisms and religious holidays. As the "Original Mexican Wedding Cookie" these gourmet treats were cut in the diamond shape because the diamond signified purity for the wedding. They were then sprinkled with white powdered sugar so that everything would be white.
Ninety percent of New Mexico residents will tell you that they have enjoyed biscochos at Christmas time or at weddings. As one family stated during a return visit to relatives in Las Cruces and purchase of biscochos at Osito's Biscochitos; "We love eating your biscochos because it brings back a part of the family that we miss. All our brothers and sisters can sit around decorate the Christmas tree and reminisce about the family growing up while we eat biscochos and sip on wine. Along with religion, we attribute the biscochos as special moments in our lives that we can never forget. If you ever walked into Grandma's kitchen during the holiday season you can never forget that smell of freshly baked biscochos. Tradition is what makes New Mexico special".
In 1989 New Mexico House Bill 406 declared the bizcochito as New Mexico's Official State Cookie. The battle over the state cookie was not about adopting it but how to spell it. Several lawmakers got on the House floor to press for the "s" or"z". Eventually the Senate returned it as "bizcochito". To this day the Senate version prevails, but as we all know, it's the taste that gives a biscochito the name, no matter how you wish to say it.
As a young girl growing up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, my four other siblings and I would volunteer to help my Mom make them. Once she got started, we would see how much work was involved in making them. So once the first batch was baked and sugared we would have our fill of freshly baked biscochos and leave her with the hard part. She would spend the whole day in the kitchen and the smell would drive us crazy. We would eat some and go outside and play. They were very delicious.
I have always been a connoisseur of biscochos. Of particular noteworthy was the way my Aunt Tillie prepared her biscochos. She would cut them in the diamond shape and they just melted in your mouth. So, through observation and working the dough just right I am proud to say that my biscochos have that right mixture of anise, cinnamon and other ingredients. I am complimented a lot by the majority of people who taste my biscocho. Every time an elderly person compliments me I realize that I have a good product.
They have been around and know what a good biscocho should taste like. One elderly Hispanic lady tasted my biscocho at the Farmer's Market. She put it in her mouth and took a couple of steps. She came back and told me in Spanish, "Este es un buen biscocho" which when translated means, "Now, this is a good biscocho". She also stated, "You must have the hands (manos) to make a delicious biscocho that will melt in your mouth. Most people will try and make good biscochos but they will turn hard on them".
It's working the dough just right and making sure that love is added to each one. You have to love making them because anyone who has made them will tell you that it is hard work. That is the secret to making a good biscocho". I will always respect her compliments and input.
As generations pass the recipe is often handed down. Even though other people may have their Mom or Aunt's recipe it is just not that simple to make them. Making them once a year for a special occasion or for Christmas is not enough practice to make delicious biscochos. It's comparable to making good bread or tortillas. You basically have to know how to work the dough
It makes me feel good to hear people describe my biscochitos once they place them in their mouth. The majority of the people say, "Wow, these are delicious. They melt in your mouth, just like my grandmother (abuelita) made them." One lady at the 2006 Southern New Mexico State Fair stated, "You know my grandma has been dead for over six years and when I tasted your biscochitos it seemed like she came back to life. They just melt in your mouth with the right mixture of anise and cinnamon".
This is exactly how I remember my Mom and Aunt Tillie's biscochos and hope to bring back tradition to a special cookie by baking the most delicious biscocho. I have spent long arduous hours ensuring that this special cookie gets from our bakery to your home. I wish you could smell the unique mouth-watering aroma and feel the warmth of your Grandma or Aunt's kitchen.
My biscocho is a very delicate cookie which melts in your mouth. When you receive them you will see the extra effort I have put into packing to ensure that my biscocho arrives in the same condition that it left our building. Also, our tradition has it that if you open your package and find a broken biscocho, then that is the first one you eat. Don't ever complain about eating a good biscocho.