Biscochitos

IMG_5245-0

For people who have never heard of this rum-anise shortbread it’s hard to explain the cultural significance they have to people from New Mexico. Although my father is a native New Mexican, growing up in Texas I never tasted these little golden gems that melt in your mouth, until I was in my mid thirties. I spent 3 years in New Mexico and suddenly they were everywhere. especially at Christmas time. These were one of the first things I felt challenged to bake and get right. I read a lot of recipes and asked loads of people for advice. Although there are slight variations in the recipes most are quite similar. They are traditionally  made from lard, sugar,anise, and some type of booze typically brandy,rum or sweet wine. Any recipe that omits the booze I dismiss. The lard can be substituted with butter or shortening but I have settled on 1/2 lard 1/2 shortening.

When I mentioned to my father that I had made biscochitos for the first time his face lit up and he reminisced about his own mother making them.Every year I make hundreds of these for gifts for teachers, colleagues,neighbours and get great feedback from them!

The recipe I use now  was modified from San Felipe de Niri, parish cookbook. This is my mom’s parish and if you are ever in Albuquerque New Mexico please visit this historical landmark as it one of the oldest building in the region being founded in 1706.

Depending on what size cookie cutter you use depends on how many you will get. I used a 3.5cm flower cookie cutter and made 156 of them. I don’t know if I would go much bigger as they are quite rich.

You need to have an assembly line set up to make it fairly easy. This is a great recipe for the family as you can assign jobs to people and everyone feels involved. I do this every-year with my two daughters around the holidays.

IMG_5231   IMG_5234

Biscochitos recipe

Preheat oven to 170 C

Ingredients

720g plain flour

3tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

454g lard or shortening ( I did 1/2 of each)

300g caster sugar

2tsp anise seed

2 eggs

120 ml brandy or rum

50g sugar & 1 Tbsp Cinnamon combined together

Method

Sift flour with baking powder and salt

Cream shortening with sugar and anise seed, using mixer on medium speed

Beat eggs until light and fluffy

Add eggs to creamed mixture

Add flour mixture

Use alcohol to bind dough (only use enough liquid to form stiff dough, drink any remaining alcohol)

Knead slighly and roll out,cut out with cookie cutter

Bake 10-13 minutes until golden brown

While still hot carefully roll in sugar/cinnamon mixture

Macaron mini tower

mini mac 2I have been making macarons for 2 years on a regular basis and and always enjoy the challenge. The results are sometimes unreliable because I prefer to make the French meringue method versus the Italian. The difference between the two meringue’s is the French method uses a method of beating sugar into egg whites and then folding in a mixture of almond flour and icing sugar.  The Italian method uses boiled sugar syrup into egg whites before folding into the almond flour/ icing sugar mixture. I learned how to do the French method in Dublin at The Baking Academy and the Italian method at the La Cuisine Paris in Paris, France. Although the Italian method has more reliable results I prefer the texture of the macaron shell with the French method.  Plus I come from the school of thought if ain’t broke don’t fix it!

mac shells                                       rasberry ripple filling

At this stage I have made hundreds of macarons and still hold my breath a bit as I pull them out of the oven. I usually know before they go into the oven if things are going to work out. The main problems I encounter are the shells being too runny, too lumpy or the heat of the oven altering the colour of the shells. The shells being too runny usually results due to over mixing the egg whites with the almond flour mixture. The shells being too lumpy or grainy is from under mixing the egg whites with almond flour mixture. Humidity can also reek havoc on your macaron shells resulting in cracked and lumpy shells. The colour changes are due to the oven being too hot and not using premium powdered colourings. I buy all my colouring in powder form from France. Gel and liquids are a macaron no-no as the shells hate any additional liquid.

I took a macaron break for a few weeks and have been concentrating on yeast breads but this week I was back making macarons for a school function and I forgot how much I love making them. It is a challenge. Whenever you buy a handmade macaron appreciate the effort and skill put into to it. Of course you can buy frozen or machine made macaron for a fraction of the cost of handmade one, but when you taste the difference you will never want to buy a mass produced one again.

Conchas- Pan dulce

conchas 3

One of the reasons I decided to take a bread class in Dublin a couple of months ago was I am determined to make my own Mexican sweet bread. I haven’t had the real thing in over 10 years but it is one of those flavours and smells you will never forget. I remember the fist time I had one of these, we bought them from  a lady who was selling them after mass outside the church. She also sold menudo, which my mom would bring an empty large Folgers coffee tin to fill up with the menudo. At the time I didn’t appreciate the menudo (which I love now) but I couldn’t wait until we got home to have some the lovely sweet bread she bought. Americans who live in any state bordering Mexico have panaderias and little Mexican grocery shops that sell these and a multitude of other beautifully crafted Mexican sweet breads but these are non existent in Ireland -until now!

The Bread has a sweet paste top on it which cracks when baked. It is scored to resemble shells. It is either plain white or they use pretty bright colours such as pink and yellow or chocolate topping. I decided to make the three different toppings; plain,coloured and chocolate. I spent several hours pouring over recipes on the internet, pinterest to find a  recipe that seemed authentic.I mutated a couple of different recipes from blogs http://www.wildyeastblog.com/conchas-de-colores-naturales/ and www.misrecetasfavoritas2.blogspot.com/. It was different from some of the other ones I had read as it told you to refrigerate the dough after proving for 8 hours up to 24 hours. I didn’t want to make them in a mixer for the first time as it’s important to me to feel the dough by hand if I’ve never made it before. This is the reason I have no photos of the process as my hands were very sticky. It was a great arm work out but will taking out the Kenwood next time around.

I’ll be making these on a weekly basis now as I love the taste and the smell in my kitchen brought me back to my childhood.