Some of you might be intrigued by the title of this post — what in the world is a biscochito (or, as my abuela spelled it, bizcochito)? If you come from a Hispanic family, you probably already know that bizcochitos are most easily described as anise sugar cookies with cinnamon. Historically, bizcochitos are thought to have been brought over to the Americas from Spain in the 17th century. They are thick enough to have a chewy center, and crisp around the edges for that satisfying crunch.
When I introduce them to those “uninitiated” in this cookie cult, I emphasize the anise component, because most people are unfamiliar with the ingredient and its strong, rich, but very unique flavor. In short, anise seeds taste like fennel, and might conjure associations with black licorice (but in my opinion, anise is more delicious than either). With that warning out in the open — I know not everyone is crazy about such tastes — , I also frame these cookies as my absolute favorite of all time.
And I mean it.
The reason is partly sentimental; these are the only cookies that absolutely were, will be, and must be made at Christmastime. In my family, they are ubiquitous at weddings, funerals, and nearly any holiday, as well. My grandmother used to cut them into a beautiful shape (I did a search but haven’t found anything to its likeness yet!), and the beauty of the cookies was enough to make one indifferent about all the lard they contained. Many joyful times in my life have been marked by their presence. I could summarize by saying that they are special; they evoke family, comfort, celebration, and tradition for me. Bizcochitos signify both a specific and general culture in which I find much of my identity. (All this in a cookie!)
My dad perfected his own version, nixing the lard, as well as the complicated design. Each family that makes bizcochitos will probably tell you that the right way to make them is their way. Such is the nature of a bizcochito — we can’t even agree how to spell it! Nevertheless, permit me a few sentences to reminisce on my family’s methods, to give you a sense of what an art this is (and you will appreciate, I hope, the simplicity and liberty of my own adaptation all the more).
My father used to make as many as 200 cookies at a time to celebrate the onset of Advent. Or before visiting (our very, very, very numerous and wonderful) relatives.
When making bizcochitos in our home, the keys to remember were:
1) You cannot make bizcochitos in batches smaller than 12 dozen.
2) You must cream the ingredients with your hands — any other utensil involved in the mixing is blasphemy, and everyone will know if you transgressed; the cookies will be flat. People will be sad. You will probably need to go to confession. Twice.
3) There is no such thing as too much cinnamon.
4) You will need — literally — an entire dinner table for the process of rolling the dough.
5) Use a timer, and you will avoid many tears.
Bizcochito baking is an all-day, seriously labor-intensive affair — early morning to dinner is spent in la cocina. It is a true act of love. My dad, being the thoughtful and dear man he is, would bring gallon-sized ziploc bags filled with biscochitos to mass on Sunday and hand them out to all the older Hispanic women in our church who grew up with them, but weren’t able to make them anymore. They would kiss him and cry out with total joy — these cookies have so much meaning for many of us!
This is what bizcochitos do: they make people happy, they make the world a better place.
Also, they are delicious.
Almond Flour Anise Bizcochitos (or Biscochitos!)
This was the only recipe I wanted to work on over my winter break, and thankfully I had the godfather of Bizcochito Baking taste-test and critique my labors to perfection. I wanted to share these with my “uninitiated” friends to get a sense of how well anise might be received by younger folks that hadn’t grown up on it. I am so delighted that anyone who tried it loved it! The best part, of course, is that nearly anyone can eat these — they are not only gluten-free, but grain-free, vegan, and — contrary to many other bizcochito recipes — easy! The recipe is much simpler and quicker than it first appears. I hope you and yours love them.
2 ½ C. blanched almond flour (you can make your own, or buy it from here in bulk, like I do)
2 TB arrowroot powder
2 TB coconut flour
2 TB cinnamon
½ t. salt
½ t. baking soda
6 TB non-hydrogenated shortening
½ C honey or agave (honey is not vegan, of course)
2 TB pure anise extract
1 TB vanilla extract
2 TB anise seeds
Cinnamon Sugar Topping
¼ C sugar
2 TB + cinnamon
1) Preheat oven to 350*.
2) In a small, flat bowl, mix the cinnamon sugar. Set aside.
3) Mix all dry ingredients except the anise seeds together, and set aside.
4) In a small bowl, add wet ingredients and mix thoroughly with a fork until combined.
5) Add wet ingredients to dry, and either mix with a fork or cream together with your hands.
6) Add anise seeds, and mix gently but thoroughly.
7) Form dough into 1” balls, and flatten into circles with your hands. You may want to experiment with keeping the edges rugged, or smoothing them, and with size and thickness. (See note below.)
8 ) Arrange the shaped dough balls on a parchment lined baking sheet, and place in the oven. Keep a close watch on them, and when the bottoms and edges begin to brown (around 8 minutes or so), remove. Let sit for one minute.
9) Now the tricky part: Working carefully and quickly (it might take a couple tries), remove one cookie at a time from the sheet, and press the top of each into the bowl of cinnamon sugar. Set aside and repeat until all cookies are topped. (The cookies must be quite warm to get the sugar to stick, so please be very careful not to burn yourself!)
Note: I find I enjoy them just as much without taking the time to make them look like the rolled-out, perfectly round, glutenous bizcochitos of my youth, but please feel free to take a little extra time and give yours a more refined edge, or experiment with shape and thickness!
As I mentioned, every community or family will have its own cult(ure) of the bizcochito. While my version is a tad different than my grandma’s or dad’s, it is a recipe I look forward to passing on in my own family someday — a recipe with a legacy, evolved ever so gently for each generation.
I hope all is well with you, dear readers.
What are your sentimental foods?
Have you tried anise (or even a bizcochito) before?