Whether you were “born here all your life” or moved to Santa Fe this year, you probably know that in New Mexico, the holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without bizcochitos. A relatively simple anise- and cinnamon-flavored cookie, the bizcochito (sometimes spelled with an “s”) has its origins in recipes brought to New Mexico by the early Spaniards, but the recipe has evolved over the centuries. In 1989, the New Mexico Legislature designated the bizcochito as the state cookie (we were the first state in the Union to recognize a cookie as an official symbol, by the way). They make appearances at all manner of special occasions and celebrations, from weddings and christenings to birthdays and housewarmings, and you’ll find them in all shapes and sizes, from small, chunky, and round to large, thin, and flower-like. Sometimes they come in the form of stars, hearts, or crescent moons. Recipes vary slightly — suggesting a splash of whiskey, brandy, sangria, Concord grape wine, or orange juice — but the popular imperative is that they must be made with lard.
In a 2013 story for New Mexico Magazine, revered local author Cheryl Alters Jamison writes about the annual Christmas Eve open house hosted by Larry and Angie Delgado and their family, specifically mentioning the extensive preparations of tamales, chile con queso, and bizcochitos, among other foods. “Reverence of tradition: it’s one of the most valuable lessons we can pass on,” Larry says. The bizcochito certainly plays its part. Of the bizcochito’s official cookiedom, the website for New Mexico’s Secretary of State (currently, Maggie Toulouse Oliver) says, “It was chosen to help maintain traditional home-baked cookery,” and the site includes a recipe to help further that purpose. In the Delgado family, Jamison writes, “the biscochitos fall to Lori … who hails from Minnesota. She never saw a biscochito before joining the family, but she has ‘just the right touch,’ ” and her recipe reportedly came from a friend of her mother-in-law’s. My consummate baker pal Suzanne Doty uses her mother’s recipe, which has a provenance that includes a women’s club cookbook, the Santa Fe School of Cooking, contributions from friends, and an adaptation or two.
Ask any native New Mexican who makes the best bizcochitos, and they’ll almost certainly say, “My mom!” or “Mi abuelita!” If you turn to the great and powerful Google, one name stands out: Lovin Oven Bakery Shoppe in Española (107 N. Riverside Drive, 505-753-5461), where a rolling pin stands in for the “i” in the building’s colorful sign.
Believe the hype: flower-shaped, tender, and delicately sweet, these bizcochitos have an ethereal, un-pinpoint-able quality that elevates them above the rest. The anise is prominent in both flavor and seedy texture, and you’ll detect a sprightly hint of salt that amplifies every note. They are worth the trek, but depending on the time of year, you may arrive only to have your request met with an incredulous negative shake of the head: Bizcochitos are made year-round, but demand hits a fever pitch in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, and most orders for Christmas have been placed well before December. While you’re there, though, don’t neglect Lovin Oven’s light, airy, delicately glazed doughnuts — they rival Krispy Kreme’s — and that other delightful seasonal confection, the buttery Mexican wedding cookie, dusted with powdered sugar. Don’t worry about the sweet flurries covering your cheeks, sweater, and jeans — just enjoy the crumbly cookies and every one of your inhaled-sugar-induced coughing fits.
If your quest for the holy grail of cookies is thwarted and you don’t have a New Mexican grandma or tía to turn to, don’t despair. Look elsewhere, from renowned producers in the Duke City to panaderias on Cerrillos Road and even your local grocery store.
Golden Crown Panaderia (1103 Mountain Road NW, 505-243-2424, goldencrown.biz) is one of Albuquerque’s best-known bizco bakers, offering “original,” sugar-free, blue-corn (made with flour from Isleta Pueblo), chocolate, and cappuccino varieties. Blake’s Lotaburger (locations at 2004 St. Michael’s Drive, 3200 Cerrillos Road, 2820 W. Zia Road, 404 N. Guadalupe St., and 4706 Airport Road) uses Golden Crown’s cookies in its infamous biscochito milkshake, which typically becomes available mid-December.
Bizcochitos from Burque-based Celina’s (404 Osuna Road NW, 505-269-4997, celinasbiscochitos.com) range from traditional to lemon and cocoa chocolate chip, with another official New Mexico state food — chile — making appearances in both red and green forms (the latter paired with pecans).
This holiday season, Celina’s offers a cranberry- walnut special, and the new Zia-embossed bizcochito is an eye-catching celebration of New Mexico heritage and symbolism. Celina’s bizcochitos are available across Albuquerque and online, but if time and fuel are at a premium, pick up the traditional variety in Santa Fe at either location of Posa’s (1514 Rodeo Road, 505-820-7672, or 3538 Zafarano Drive, 505-473-3454) or enjoy them with your coffee at Ohori’s (1098 S. St. Francis Drive; 507 Old Santa Fe Trail; 505 Cerrillos Road; 505-982-9692, ohoriscoffee.com).
Bev’s (505-639-6646, bevsbiscochitos.com) smaller, chunkier bizcochitos are made in varieties with and without anise (a thoughtful gesture for those who suffer from an inborn aversion to anethole, the aromatic compound found in anise, fennel, and licorice). The Albuquerque-based wholesaler makes them available online and locally at Kaune’s (511 Old Santa Fe Trail, 505-982-2629) and the Eldorado Supermarket (7 Avenida Vista Grande, 505-466-2602).
If you’re picking up tamales or enchilada casserole for your holiday party, while you’re at it, grab a pack or four of toasty-brown mild bizcochitos from El Parasol Restaurant (1833 Cerrillos Road, 505-995-8015; 298 Dinosaur Trail, 505-995-8226; elparasol.com).
When you gather your holiday tortilla trove at Alicia’s Tortilleria, step down one door to Panaderia y Pasteleria Pan de Vida (1314 Rufina Circle, 505-690-4338), which sells rough, nuggety bizcochitos in plastic containers. You’ll find more delicate, floral-shaped bizcos among the other colorful delights at Del Valle Panaderia (3140 Cerrillos Road, 505-438-2532), which adjoins El Paisano Supermarket.
The bizcochitos from Sweet Santa Fe (8380 Cerrillos Road #414, at the Fashion Outlets; 505-428-0012; sweetsantafe.com) won a 2020 Scovie Award in the “Kid Friendly — Unique” category, so while they are a regular, year-round menu item, be smart and call ahead. ◀