Biscochito Cake (This Is What My Memories Taste Like)
The state cookie of New Mexico, Biscochito's are sugar-style traditionally spiced with anise and cinnamon and shaped by hand into a Fleur-de-Lis. The scent memory with these is tremendous to me; their fragrance is what scents the air of that southwestern state, and even the faintest whiff catapults me back in time.
Throughout most of my childhood, and into early adolescence, we often drove from our home in Denver to a B& B on the outskirts of Taos run by one of my Dad's former college professors, Roy, and his wife, Bev. Made up of two buildings, a main adobe house and a second two-storied wood-framed guest house (where I saw a ghost, but that’s another story), the properties sat snugly amongst the trees on the top of a hill. To reach them necessitated driving past a small, old, cemetery which lay at the hill’s base and, in my memory, contained only the graves of children who’d perished a century before during an epidemic (a memory my Mom recently confirmed!).
A wide variety of animals roamed freely around the grounds, including peacocks, llamas, and pheasants. They kept a chicken coop and had two giant bull mastiffs who towered over us kids but were gentle as lambs. Come to think of it, they may have had a lamb or two as well.
There was a stone courtyard and a fountain where, we were told in late-night tales, La Llhrona haunted in search for her drowned children. Only my older sister was brave enough to sit out a full night is watch (she fell asleep so we will never know if La Llhrona came). Kachina dolls lined up along a shelf near the ceiling and, off of the living room, a glass and green-painted space housed their many caged birds.
And then there was the kitchen, that place of smooth terra cotta tiles where Roy and Bev cooked up the most splendid meals as well as those freshly-baked Biscochito that came to define New Mexico to me. They tasted of magic. Of dust and old churches and ghosts and Indian caves and long drives. Of mystery.
And now, a cake.
Preheat oven to 350°
Prepare one 8" x 4" cake pan
3 cups (300 g) cake flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt
1 c (240 g) whole milk
1 t vanilla extract
1 t anise extract
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks; TK g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 T cinnamon
2 T sugar
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
Set aside. In a glass measuring cup, mix together the milk and extracts. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until lighter in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add each egg white, one at a time, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds before adding the next egg white. Once all the white have been incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat the batter for an additional minute.
With the mixer running on low speed, alternately add the dry and wet ingredients in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry. Once only streaks of dry remain, remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing by hand with a rubber spatula.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a small offset spatula.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top springs back lightly when pressed, a toothpick inserted into the center come out clean (or with just a few crumbs), and the sides begin to pull away from the pan.
Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cake to the rack to cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, print out the Fleur-de-Lis and cut out around the black leaving you with a white paper stencil. Once the cake is completely cool, set the stencil on top of the cake, centering as much as you can, and press it down lightly onto the cake's surface. Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and sprinkle on the exposed cake, being careful to avoid the paper as any excess might run off onto other parts of the cake. Remove the stencil, and serve.