Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The Cookie Comes on Little Pig Feet
What the buffalo was to the Plains Indians and other Native Americans, I believe the pig is to modern humankind. Or, at least, it should be. For its gifts are prodigious and worthy of worship. From the pig we get not only an unbelievably tasty, moist, and healthful meat, but also ham, bacon, proscuitto, chorizo, Italian sausage, and cracklins. Not to mention the hands down best cooking fat in existence: Lard.
It's incredible stuff and you can read all about it by logging onto www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lard.
Here, I want to sing its praises as the main ingredient in the biscochito, a cookie that is near and dear to my heart, not only for its flavor (a fragrant mixture of anise, cinnamon, and sherry), but also for its famous texture, which resides somewhere between a sugar cookie and shortbread. Irresistible.
Okay, so I'm probably prejudiced. After all, biscochitos ARE the New Mexico state cookie, as much a part of our holiday celebrations as tamales and midnight mass, and I've been sucking on the things since infancy. You can, of course, eat them year round, but to me their spiciness is a little too heady for July. Best saved for this time of year, served after dinner with a glass of port or a mug of Mexican hot chocolate. And you can't ask for a better cookie to pair with coffee in the mornings.
Probably the best thing about biscochitos is that they are super easy to make. The dough is pliable without being sticky, and it can take multiple handlings and rollings out without affecting the final cookie's texture. They freeze beautifully, too. In fact I always store mine in the freezer and pull out one or two – or an entire batch – as I need them. Just give them a couple minutes to warm back up and they're good to go. If you don't freeze them, make sure you store them in a super airtight bin away from any humidity. You want them to keep their crunch.
So, here you go. Moi's Family Recipe.
1 cup Snow Cap lard, at room temperature*
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons coarsely crushed anise seed (make sure seed is fresh)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sherry, preferably Harvey's Bristol Creme (you may also substitute bourbon, brandy, or red wine)
3 cups white all purpose baking flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Set aside.
Cream lard, sugar, and anise seed on medium high speed until light and fluffy. Add the lightly beaten egg and continue to mix on high speed until incorporated. Alternate the quarter cup of sherry with the dry ingredients until dough begins to form. Stop mixer and scrape out contents onto a lightly floured work surface and work dough quickly into a uniform mass. The dough should be soft, but not sticky. If too sticky, work in some more flour. Pat out to about an inch thick and place on a platter, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon in a small bowl.
Once dough is refrigerated, roll out onto a lightly floured work surface to 1/4" thickness. Cut dough into desired shapes and place on lightly greased cookie sheet. In my experience, the dough is soft enough to remain attached to the cookie cutter, which makes the shapes easy to pop out onto the sheet. If they stick to your work surface, use a thin metal spatula to release.
Sprinkle the top of each cookie with the sugar/cinnamon mixture.
Bake in oven for 10-13 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned at the edges.
Once out of the oven, they are extremely delicate. Let them sit on the baking sheet for 10 minutes to firm up slightly. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Makes about 36 cookies. Recipe may be doubled.
* I know people who make these cookies with butter and to me the texture is NOT the same. So unless you are a vegetarian (in which case you'll want to use vegetable shortening), please, use lard. Your cookie will be better for it.