Tag Archives: anise

LAS POSADAS AND BISCOCHOS

Along the Border in El Paso, they’re called biscochos and in Northern New Mexico they are called bizcochitos, but they are the same cookie and an important part of the Christmas tradition. They are served at nearly every party, but they are essential to Las Posadas. This celebration recalls the biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging on their journey to Bethlehem in order to participate in the census. Throughout New Mexico the story is re-enacted in villages and urban centers alike. Two individuals dressed as Mary and Joseph lead a band of pilgrims from door to door, often around the plaza, seeking lodging. Repeatedly they are turned away, often with scornful cries, until at last they are welcomed in –  usually at the church on the plaza – to find rest and warmth.

Once the crowd is inside the welcoming site, there is a celebration with traditional songs, hot drinks like atole, and treats, always including biscochos.

There are many recipes for biscochos, but the best ones always include lard. This recipe is the best of the best. It comes from Lorenza Zuñiga, an amazing woman who worked as my promotora de salud many years ago when I worked in the clinics in the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border.

RECIPE

Ingredients

For cookies

  • 7½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise
  • 1 pound lard
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3  cup pineapple juice (more if the dough is too dry)

For sugar-coating

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground anise

Method

  • Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and anise. Then add lard and mix well before adding beaten eggs and enough pineapple juice to make a soft dough. You may need to knead with your hands for a few minutes to incorporate all the ingredients.
  • Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a ¼ inch thickness. This should make a circle about 20 to 24 inches across. Cut into diamond shapes and place on an ungreased baking sheet.
  • Bake in an oven preheated to 350° for 10 to 15 minutes or until light brown. Check often as the cookies burn easily.
  • While the cookies are baking combine the remaining sugar, cinnamon and anise and place in a tray or other wide, shallow container.
  • When the cookies are baked, transfer them, still warm, to the sugar mixture in a tray. Turn them while cooling to completely coat them
Lard and dry ingredients

Lard and dry ingredients

Kneaded dough

Kneaded dough

Sugar and spice topping

Sugar and spice topping

Cutting two-inch diamond shapes

Cutting two-inch diamond shapes

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Cooling and ready to eat

Cooling and ready to eat

The recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies, of course depending on the size of the diamonds.

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PIZZELLE

Special pizzelle iron

As Easter approaches, I remember a wonderful treat from my childhood.

Batter ready to be spooned into the baking iron

When I was about 10 years old, my family lived in an apartment in the midst of a big Italian family. The grandparents, known to all as “Ma and Pa”, lived in the “Big House” which was surrounded by the smaller homes of their many children and their families. Two unmarried daughters as well as the family of one of their brothers also lived in the Big House. It was clear that the Big House served as the social and communications center for the whole family.

Heating the pizzelle iron

Evening meals were a gathering of the famíglia, with the women serving the meal to the men who ate at a long wooden table in the kitchen. Then the children took their turn, and finally the women ate and cleaned up. This family tradition carried over into many other activities, especially near the holidays. In the spring, before Easter, there was a great deal of cooking and baking in preparation for the celebration ahead.

A spoonful of batter ready to bake

A favorite during this baking spree was the pizzelle. These delicate cookies were baked outside over a hot stove.  Kids clustered around to get them still warm from the griddle. That’s still the best way to eat them. You can spread them with butter or jam while they are still warm, and they are so good. You can also form them around a conical wooden dowel (like the plunger in a chinois) while they are still soft and warm. As they cool, they will firm up and make a perfect cone for your gelato or ice cream.

Nearly ready to take off the iron

You will need a special pizzelle baking iron, but you can find one in most specialty cooking stores or websites.

A crispy pizzelle

 Ingredients
1¾ Cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 eggs
½ Cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon anise extract
melted butter to brush the pizzelle iron

Wrapping a still-warm pizzelle to make a cone

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and lemon zest and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer until pale yellow and smooth. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and anise extract and beat until completely combined.
3. Gradually stir in the flour, baking powder, and lemon zest mixture to form a smooth batter.
4. Heat the pizzelle iron on both sides until very hot. Brush both sides of the mold lightly with butter, spoon in about 1 tablespoon of batter, and close the iron. Trim off any batter that oozes out of the iron. Bake about 1 minute on each side or until the pizzelle is golden brown. Transfer the baked pizzelle to a cooling rack and repeat the process until the batter is used up.

A stack of pizzelles ready to eat

Yield: 24 to 30  5-inch cookies

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