Almost every state has an official bird, flag, flower, and motto. But not every state has an official cookie. Only New Mexico and Massachusetts do.
New Mexico has bizcochito (pronounced bis-co-CHEE-toe). It's a shortbread cookie flavored with a spice called anise and topped with cinnamon sugar.
Massachusetts' state cookie is a chocolate chip or Toll House cookie.
When you bite into a bizcochito, you taste hundreds of years of history that began when the Spanish reached the New World in 1492. The Spanish explorers brought wheat flour, which was unknown in the Americas.
The word bizcochito comes from the Spanish word bizcocho, which means "biscuit." Bizcochito means "little biscuit."
The earliest versions were not sweet. They were hard biscuits that softened when dunked in coffee or tea. Properly stored, they lasted more than a year.
When explorers and settlers in New Mexico began to trade with the Comanche Indians, they would offer the biscuits as barter.
The Catholic Church also established missions in the region, beginning in the 1500s. Priests were probably some of the first people to introduce the anise seeds that give the cookie its distinctive flavor.
Bizcochitos were made to celebrate the defeat of the French by the Mexican Army at Puebla in 1862, says Jane Butel, author of numerous cookbooks on Southwestern cooking and owner of the Jane Butel Cooking School in Albuquerque, N.M. Today, that event is celebrated as Cinco de Mayo.
"Mexican women made these cookies to honor their soldiers," she says. "They were made in the shape of a fleur-de-lis, the symbol of France, from cookie cutters made out of tin cans. The women supposedly said 'stamp them out,' referring to the French, as they cut out each one."
By the 1850s, New Mexico was no longer part of Mexico. It belonged to the United States. But strong cultural ties remained. The bizcochito traveled north from Mexico. "There was a lot of back and forth between the two areas," says Ms. Butel. "The cookie became popular because it was celebratory, and it was practical. It was easy to make, inexpensive, and used ingredients found at home."
Lard made from animal fat is not often used in baking anymore. But it is still commonly listed as an ingredient in bizcochito recipes. Many bakers will tell you that without lard, the cookies are not as delicious or flaky. "We try to insist on lard," says Nicole Ammerman, an instructor at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. "Without it, you don't have a true bizcochito."
Bizcochitos are a great alternative to traditional rolled sugar cookies, according to Ms. Ammerman. Unlike sugar cookies, bizcochito dough does not need to be refrigerated before it can be cut into shapes.
Bizcochito recipes are often handed down in families. This has produced almost as many recipes as there are bakers. Some cooks use egg yolks instead of whole eggs. Some use apple juice, grape juice, or other liquids instead of water. Whatever the recipe, no holiday celebration in New Mexico is complete without bizcochitos.
Although bizcochitos are largely unknown outside the Southwest, the chocolate chip cookie is one of the most popular cookies all across the US.
Almost half of all cookies baked at home are chocolate chip. "They're comfort food," says Barb Randall, a food writer and cooking instructor in Lake Oswego, Ore. "They're a nice, quick, and easy cookie to make – and, of course, most people love chocolate."
More than 100 million bags of chocolate chips are sold each year. That's enough to make more than 5 billion cookies. Because chocolate chip cookies are so popular, it may be hard to believe they've been around only since the 1930s.
It may be even harder to believe that chocolate chip cookies were invented by accident.
As the story goes, Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband, Kenneth, bought a restaurant in Whitman, Mass. In the 18th century, it had been a tollhouse, a place for travelers to rest. The Wakefields named their restaurant the Toll House Inn.
One day Mrs. Wakefield was making chocolate butter cookies. To save time, she added chopped pieces of Nestlé semisweet chocolate bars to the dough. She expected the chocolate to melt and spread through the dough. When it didn't, she served them anyway, calling them Chocolate Crunch Cookies.
The cookies proved so popular that Nestlé made chocolate just for them – a scored chocolate bar with a tool to chop it into pieces.
The chocolate chip cookie became the Massachusetts' state cookie in 1997 after a third-grade class in Somerset successfully petitioned the legislature. Gov. William Weld favored Fig Newtons – also invented in Massachusetts – but his choice was outvoted.
In 1989, the New Mexico legislature named the bizcochito its official state cookie.
The weeks between now and New Year's are a traditional time for baking cookies. Trying out new recipes can be a great way to spend time with family and friends.
"When you cook together, you share the experience with your family," says Ms. Randall. "Even the smell of an ingredient can bring back memories and stories you can tell. And there's nothing like having someone make cookies just for you."
After all, who wouldn't want to eat a bizcochito or chocolate chip cookie warm from the oven?
2 cups shortening (or fresh lard)
1 to 1-1/3 cups sugar (see note)
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon anise seed (see note)
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/2 to 1 cup water
6 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, cream shortening with 1 to 1-1/3 cups sugar and anise seed. Blend in the egg yolks and then 1/2 cup water.
In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt until thoroughly combined. Gradually add this to the shortening mixture and mix well. Add up to 1/2 cup more water, if needed, to make the dough hold together.
On a floured board or a large piece of wax paper, roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
For topping, in a wide bowl, thoroughly mix the 1/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon and, one at a time, dip tops of cookies in it.
Place cookies, sugar side up, on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until bottoms are golden.
Makes 50 or more cookies, depending on their size.
NOTE: Made with 1 cup of sugar, these cookies are not overly sweet. You may add up to 1/3 cup more sugar, if you prefer.
Anise seed has a licoricelike taste. If you enjoy that flavor and want to be authentic, use 1 tablespoon anise seed. But you may use slightly less and still have cookies with good flavor.
Cream 1 cup of butter. Add 3/4 cup each of brown and granulated sugar and two eggs beaten whole.
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 teaspoon hot water and mix alternately [into creamed sugar-butter mixture] with 2-1/4 cups flour sifted with 1 teaspoon salt.
Lastly, add 1 cup chopped nuts and 1 pound of Nestlé's Semisweet Yellow Label Chocolate cut into pieces the size of a pea.
Flavor with 1 teaspoon vanilla and drop by the half teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes in a preheated oven at 365 degrees F. Makes 100 cookies.
– Original recipe for Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies, from 'Toll House Tried and True Recipes,' by Ruth Graves Wakefield (1940).
Note: See packages of chocolate chips for more modern recipes.