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The Nasty Bits: Biscochitos

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[Photos: Chichi Wang]

Biscochitos are a traditional New Mexican holiday cookie; a subtly porky confection made from lard, with anise seeds and brandy or rum. In December, biscochitos comprise maybe thirty percent of the diet of the average New Mexican. It is considered bad form to go to a social gathering or leave one without having brought your own batch and sampled that of your friends and coworkers.

The recipe is almost always the same: about one part lard to one part sugar to three parts flour, and enough anise seeds, eggs, and booze to bind the dough together. But it's the subtle differences that make the cookie so alluring: some people like to shape the dough into log form and cut it into little circles that possess a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness; others like to roll the dough into sheets and cut the cookies out for a stiffer, flakier texture. People politely eat the renditions brought by others, knowing in their hearts that the best is their own cookie, passed down from their mothers and grandmothers, famed in all of Espanola, Santa Fe, and so forth as the best biscochito in all the land.

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Since I was raised by a Chinese mother who used our oven as a storage cabinet for her woks, for years I was untethered to any specific version of biscochitos. I took most winter seasons as an occasion to fiddle around with my choice of animal fat.

Once I made the biscochitos from lard I had used to confit a few duck; that was the most savory year. Another year, I used part lard and part duck fat, but the cookie lacked the sweet, flaky quality of an all-lard biscochito. This year I went through a beef fat phase and tried to make my biscochitos from rendered tallow. While those were certainly the beefiest cookies I have ever tried, the dough lacked lard's tenderness.

So now I'm back to the tried-and-true, which is simply to aerate the lard with sugar, add the rest of the ingredients, and try really, really hard not to touch the dough too much. Formed into logs and cut into small rounds, the cookies possess a delicate crumb and a slightly savory flavor from the lard. It's a perfectly porcine treat that may tempt even those without a sweet tooth.

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