This little piggy went to a party

Who takes Mexican cookies to a Lunar New Year party?

That would be me.

But these crisp, orange-scented, piggy biscuits are tough to resist. And in the Year of the Pig? That’s a free pass.

The little guys are great dunkers, equally happy dipped in milk, black tea, or chili-laced hot chocolate.

I first had piggies from a storefront bakery in Pilsen (Chicago, not Czech Republic), right down 18th Street from The National Museum of Mexican Art. The panaderia moved hundreds of puerquitos — pillowy, crackle-topped, molasses numbers that were more like sweet rolls than cookies — every day. But it was their thin, cinnamon-y cochinitos that enticed me to take the long way home once in a while.

Cochinitos (little piggies)

Adapted lightly from my 30-year-old, broken-spined copy of The International Cookie Cookbook by Nancy Baggett. Here, I’ve favored butter over her specified lard, settling on a 5:4 ratio, since butter averages 80% fat (versus 100% for lard). If you prefer a lacier, sandier cookie and can get good, fresh lard, knock the fat back to 3/4 cup). Makes about 4-1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies.

I got my little piggy cutter at Fante’s. Of course, you may use any cutter shape you prefer.
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (about 4 inches each)
  • grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 1/4 cup juice from that orange (top off with water if necessary)
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I prefer 1/2 cup light + 1/4 cup dark)
  • 2/1-3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup + 3 tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • generous pinch of fine sea salt

Mix the granulated sugar, ground cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl; set that aside for sprinkling atop the cookies just before they hit the oven.

If you’re put off by the texture of zest, don’t worry; this all gets strained out.

In a small saucepan, mix together the zest, cinnamon sticks, orange juice, and brown sugar. Bring to a low boil over medium heat, stirring regularly so you don’t get burnt bits on the bottom of the pan. Once the sugar’s completely dissolved, set the pan aside and let the syrup cool before you strain it. Save the lovely, orangey, spicy syrup; toss the solids.

A years-old note reminds to let the zest and cinnamon steep — straining it off too soon shorts the infusion. That other note prompts me either to add a pinch of salt or to pinch myself.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (probably about 4 minutes). Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the syrup and vanilla, and mix for a few turns. With the mixer on low, tip in the flour (I go gradually, in 3 stages) and beat until everything’s incorporated.

Divide the dough in two. Place each half on a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap, smash the blob into a disk (this’ll make it easier to roll out later), and wrap it up tightly. Refrigerate for at least an hour (longer — up to a day — is fine, just give them a chance to warm up for 10 minutes or so before you try to roll).

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC, and grease several baking sheets or line them with parchment or silicon mats.

Roll out the first disk on a lightly floured surface. Cut out the piggies (or your favorite shape) and use a spatula to transfer them to the baking sheet, keeping a good inch margin around each cookie. Bundle and re-roll the scraps till you fill the first pan. If the dough gets sticky and soft, re-chill it for a few minutes before you resume.

While rolling, be sure to lift the dough once or twice and re-dust underneath so that your cookies release intact from the counter. Dust your rolling pin and the top of the dough, too.

Sprinkle each cookie with the cinnamon mixture. Bake 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned all over. If your oven has hot spots (most do), rotate the pans 180º halfway through. Remove the pan from the oven, and let the cookies crisp up for a couple minutes before you lift them over to a cooling rack. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough.

In the oven, these short (fat-laden) biscuits can quickly go from light brown to burnt, so do your best to make them uniform. I shoot for an even 1/4-inch thickness all around.

Completely cooled cookies will keep nicely (they do stay crisp!) in an airtight container for 5 days or so. For longer storage, tuck the container into the freezer.

 

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I love the story behind these cookies, and my favorite cookie cookbook (Elinor Klivans’ 125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble, and Savor) also has a broken spine, a few spatters of butter on the pages, and many notes scrawled throughout it. I love how delicious these sound – the orange juice/zest is calling my name!!

    1. Susan says:

      Thanks, Jayme. They’re so simple, but sometimes they’re exactly what I crave. Just a couple with an afternoon cuppa!

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