IN GOOD COMPANY OSITO’S BISCOCHITOS
“A Taste Of New Mexico In Every Bite”
Osito’s Biscochitos for any occasion. Joe and Diane Porras work together to produce Osito’s Biscochitos. Joe does the marketing and administration, while Diane makes the traditional cookies from scratch.
Diane Porras of Osito’s Biscochitos hopes that when people sink their teeth into one of her delicate diamond-shaped cookies, they taste a bit of tradition and nostalgia in each sweet, cinnamon-coated bite. “It fills my heart when I hear people say that these cookies take them back to their youth, Porras said. People tell me; These are just the way my grandmother made them. It makes it all worthwhile.”
Biscochitos, a shortbread cookie called “Biscochito” in the northern part of the state, are the State Cookie of New Mexico. Porras said that many families put their own unique spin on their biscochitos, which are sometimes sprinkled with powdered sugar and referred to as “wedding cookies.” Most biscochitos are made with sugar, cinnamon and anise. Recipes for the cookie, and the technique for making them are often handed down from one generation to another.
It is not an easy cookie to make, she said. “It is like bread or tortillas . Y ou have to have a feel for the dough”. Porras has been making biscochitos since childhood when she would make the tasty little cookies with her mother and her aunt. “As a young girl growing up in Las Cruces, my four other siblings and I would volunteer to help mom make them”, she said. Once she started making them, we would see how much work was involved in making them. So, once the first batch was baked and sugared, we would have our fill of freshly baked biscochitos and then we would leave her with the hard part. She would spend the whole day in the kitchen, and the smell would drive us crazy. We would eat some and go outside and play. They were very delicious.
From her aunt, Porras learned a special way to shape the biscochitos a bite sized diamond cut to signify purity which gives the cookies a unique look. With the diamond shape, the cookies just melt in your mouth, Porras said. “A lot of people when they make these cookies at home they use a cookie press.” As she grew into adulthood, Porras would bake the cookies each Christmas and give them as gifts. “I would start baking in November and make tons, Porras said. People would always ask me for them. I love these cookies, and I love making them. I could not understand why they had to be reserved for special occasions, weddings and Christmas”.
In August of 2005, she decided to turn her love of biscochitos into a business ; an undertaking that was not as easy as it sounded. She faced a number of challenges bakery space needed to be found, environmental standards met, new, commercial equipment had to be learned and recipes tweaked to conform to large scale production. She teamed up with her husband, Joe, who handles the business side of Osito’s Biscochitos, while she does what she loves bakes cookies. We’re the perfect team, Joe said. She loves baking them, and I love eating and selling them. The couple found a building, and Joe set about to bring it up to commercial standards with the help of Diane’s father. There was a lot of work that went into the building, Joe said. Commercial equipment was purchased and Diane spent weeks learning to work it and adjusting her recipe to conform to the equipment. Despite the new equipment, there was still much that Diane needed to do by hand such as rolling and cutting.
Many batches she made using her new equipment didn’t meet her standards. Either the texture was off or the cookie didn’t melt in the mouth the way Diane liked , so many cookies were thrown away. Although start up was difficult, Diane said she felt she couldn’t quit. I cannot explain it . It was something I had to do, she said. Sometimes I work until one in the morning, but it is something that I love to do. Today, Osito’s Biscochitos are sold through the company’s website, www.biscochitos.net , at Toucan’s Market and on Saturdays at the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts market. As well, Joe attends trade shows and special venues where he hands out samples and sells the cookies.
Dianes biscochitos have developed their own following and an unofficial fan club. We have people who find us wherever we go, Joe said. People love these cookies. The majority of them place the cookie in their mouth and say “wow”. Diane said that sometimes, people will remark to her that their own grandmother’s cookies were better than Dianes. However, once they taste them, their opinion is that they are just as good or better.Diane cautions them that they better not say that in front of their grandmother or mom. I encourage them to teach their recipe to their own daughter and granddaughter so that the tradition won’t disappear, she said. “The tradition of the biscochito needs to be continued and handed down. Spanish explorers brought the biscochito with them to New Mexico in the 16th century. As the recipes took hold in New Mexico, they became associated with special occasions, weddings, quincenieras, baptisms and religious holidays”, Diane said.
In 1989, the state Legislature passed a bill declaring the treat as the state cookie of New Mexico, although debate over how to officially spell the cookies name continues. “As we all know, it is the taste that gives the biscochito the name, no matter how you wish to say it”, Joe said. Today, Diane’s cookies find their way to distant corners of the world and she uses special tins and packing methods to ensure that they arrive at their destination intact and unbroken. “Many mothers ship the cookies to their children stationed overseas. We also ship to a lot of people who have moved away from New Mexico”, Diane said. No matter where people are in the world, I want them to be able to have a good biscochito.
In response to growing demand, Diane is experimenting with her basic biscochito recipe. She has developed a Raspberry/Habanero chili biscochito for heat lovers who want a cookie with a New Mexico theme. Response to the Raspberry/Habanero biscochito has been over whelming. Diane said, giving her hope that she may eventually diversify her basic product line.Joe and Diane expect Osito’s Biscochitos to continue growing and that is fine with them. This is where I want to be in the kitchen making cookies, Diane said.
BY MELISSA ST. AUDE
The Las Cruces Bulletin
580 S. Valley Dr. Ste #200
Las Cruces New Mexico