Biscochitos Are The New Mexican Shortbread Cookies Perfect For The Holidays

The holidays are the best time to bake cookies and share them with your friends and family. One of New Mexico's favorite Christmas cookies is the aromatic biscochito. This iconic holiday treat is passed down through generations of family bakers, preserving the cookie's legacy and cultural significance. Not only are these cookies a popular choice during the holiday season, but biscochitos are often eaten at special celebrations like weddings, baptisms, or anniversaries.

In Spanish, "biscochito" is used as a term of endearment that means "little cookie," and the basic recipe is so simple that it only contains four main ingredients. While butter can be used in this recipe, Norteño culture dictates that true biscochitos are made with lard and won't taste quite the same without it. Think of them as a zesty sugar cookie infused with hints of licorice from anise seeds, the cookie's signature ingredient. Not to be mistaken with star anise, which does have a similar flavor but is part of a completely different plant family, anise seeds are used to give biscochitos a distinctly warm spice.

The biscochito is New Mexico's official cookie

Similar to Spanish mantecados, the New Mexican biscochito was likely introduced by Spanish immigrants in the 16th century and influenced by local traditions, showing up in cookbooks throughout the 20th century. Anise is a Mediterranean spice that was hard to come by when the state was first being settled, so the cookies became a dessert mostly reserved for special celebrations. Thanks to the dedication of bakers throughout New Mexico, the biscochito became so popular that it was designated the state's official cookie in 1989.

For many New Mexicans, this holiday baking tradition holds special significance and imparts a deep sense of cultural identity. Vanessa Baca, an Albuquerque city council member, writes for New Mexico Humanities, "Biscochitos have a far deeper significance than being just sweet treats. They represent family roots." She goes on to mention that you'd be hard-pressed to meet a New Mexican family that doesn't have their own recipe, which almost always includes lard for its specific taste and delicate texture. Just over the border, lard is used in Mexican cooking to enrich dishes with a level of flavor that butter just can't mimic. Depending on the region of New Mexico (and the specific family), you may even find some boozy biscochito variations.

Biscochito flavor additions

Biscochitos are made from just a few simple ingredients — flour, salt, egg yolks, and baking powder — as well as a few more specific additions like cinnamon sugar, lard, and anise seeds, which can be crushed to intensify the cookies' licorice flavor. While lard might not be a typical pantry staple for the average baker, it's readily available at grocery stores. The consistency of this shortbread cookie variant will be similar to pie crust dough, which is then rolled out and cut into cute shapes before baking. As soon as the cookies emerge from the oven, they're either dunked in or dusted with even more cinnamon sugar to complement their spices. Vanilla and orange zest are also included in some biscochito recipes for added complexity.

And what could possibly make these holiday cookies taste even more festive than a dose of Christmas cheer? Brandy or sweet wines are some common grown-up additions to this popular Christmas cookie, but some bakers use Amaretto, orange juice, whiskey, or even bourbon for an extra-tasty kick. This respected culinary achievement may seem simple, but still manages to pack in layer after layer of sugar, spice, and everything nice.