Ask any native or longtime Taoseño and they’ll tell you that there is no Christmas without the cinnamon and anise-flavored little discs of heaven called biscochitos.
An often-told history of biscochitos begins in Spain, where they are called mantecados, stemming from the word manteca, which means lard. The cookies came to North America with the conquistadores during the 16th century and were quickly adopted in America under various regional names. No one would try to pass these off as health food, but then again, this is the holidays — indulgence is given the green light. The main ingredients in biscochitos are flour, sugar, baking powder and lard.
Another story about the biscochito places the treat’s origins south in Mexico. Biscochitos are said to have been baked for the first time after the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when the Mexicans overthrew Emperor Maximilian. Today, that victory is celebrated as Cinco de Mayo. After that, the biscochito, became a “commemorative cookie” for the Mexican troops.
Colors and shapes
The French must also have a place in biscochito history because traditionally, they are shaped like a fleur-de-lis. It is not uncommon, however, to see them shaped like bells, hearts, stars, ovals and even chiles — the latter is a very appropriate cookie shape for this part of the country. Sometimes food coloring is added to make them red or green.
The cookies are sugared by hand and then dusted with cinnamon. Biscochitos melt in the mouth and are perfect to dunk in coffee or hot chocolate. They are soft. They are sweet.
A true Christmas cookie
In the Southwest, biscochitos are the Number 1 holiday sugar fix. No cookie is baked in more Taos kitchens during Christmas than the biscochito.
They are also often offered to las posadistas — the local people who participate in Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration that re-enacts Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging in Bethlehem.
These spicy, sweet cookies are so popular here that Taos Herb Company has been hosting the Best Biscochitos contest for eight years running. The winner receives a $100 gift card to Taos Herb and two runners-up get gift bags. Selected judges are asked to rate the cookie entries based on texture, flavor (of course) and appearance. Cookie masters from the professional realm to home bakers who create from passed-down recipes enter the contest every year.
Taos Herb started the contest because as owner Rob Hawley stated, “We were thinking about how else we could honor local traditions. This is because much of our herbal wisdom is based in the knowledge that comes to us from the Spanish elders.”
In 2010, Taos Herb’s Elva Archuleta told The Taos News, “Biscochitos are a Christmas thing and a lot of peoplearound here make them.” Last year’s winning batch came from the kitchen of Dolores Anaya. This year’s contest will be held Thursday, Dec. 7. Judging begins at 1 p.m. Bakers must deliver their biscochitos by 10 a.m. the day of the contest. Registration is done at Taos Herb Company and is due by the Dec. 6.
The public is welcome to hover around and wait for the possible chance to have a cookie or two.
Taos Herb Company is located at 710 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, a few doors down from Albertsons. For more information, call (575) 758- 1991.