Tasting History: A Modernized Recipe for Bizcochos de Chocolate

This is a guest post to Illuminations for the Great Rare Books Bake Off, by Dr. Tanya M. Peres, Associate Professor of Anthropology.

Do you put together a cookie tray for the holidays? The first time I did was in 2003 with my good friend Kristin when I lived in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve been making them every year since to share with family, neighbors, and co-workers. Not sure what a cookie tray is? The way I understand them is that they are actual platters (often decorative) on which you place an assortment of homemade cookies and other treats (candies, popcorn, muffins, etc.). These are then given out to friends, family, co-workers, or brought to potluck holiday parties. I really enjoy them because you get to make a variety of treats – all the favorites and often some new ones. Kristin and I made at least 8 different recipes that year and it was a lot of fun (though her glass top stove suffered a major crack!).

When I signed up for the Great Rare Books Bake Off I knew I wanted to try something that was suitable for a cookie tray. Since we are all crunched for time and trying to limit trips to the grocery store, the recipe could not contain hard-to-source ingredients. It had to be something that my kids would eat. I also wanted something that tied into one of my research interests – namely foods and foodways of the Spanish Colonial period. The first book I turned to was Nuevo Arte de Cocina, sacado de la Escuela de la Experiencia Economica, written by Fransican Friar Juan Altamiras of Aragon. Much to my disappointment, the sweet recipes for Feast days consisted of apples and red wine ragout or creamed rice with almond milk (at least in the translated and edited version published by Vicky Hayward in 2017). The ingredients for these recipes were easy enough, but neither was suitable for a cookie tray and in the matter of my kids liking them? It was a toss-up.

I decided to reach out to my colleague, Dr. John Worth, a historical archaeologist at the University of West Florida who specializes in the Spanish Colonial period. He has translated numerous 15th, 16th, and 17th century Spanish documents for research purposes (and I think out of his own curiosity). If anyone had a secret stash of appropriate dessert recipes, it would be Dr. Worth! My major requirement was that it contain at least one ingredient native to the Americas. 

Dr. Worth consulted the 1755 Arte de Repostería, en que se contiene todo genero de hacer dulces secos, y en liquido, vizcochos, turrones, y natas: bebidas heladas de todos generos, rosolis, mistelas, &c. con una breve instruccion para conocer las frutas, y servirlas crudas. Y diez mesas, con su explicacion, written by Juan de la Mata. You can find a digital copy here. 

(Image: Front page of Arte de Repostería, en que se contiene todo genero de hacer dulces secos, y en liquido, vizcochos, turrones, y natas: bebidas heladas de todos generos, rosolis, mistelas, &c. con una breve instruccion para conocer las frutas, y servirlas crudas. Y diez mesas, con su explicacion, written by Juan de la Mata. Text is written in difernt size and style of fonts.)

He quickly translated the recipe for little cakes called Vizcochos de Saboya (Mata pp. 94-95):

Beat eight egg whites very well, until they are very foamy, and when they are in this state, mix in just as many egg yolks, beating them in the same manner, so that everything blends, adding on top of everything a pound of sugar passed through the sieve, and dried in the drying rack [estufa], beating everything a third time very well, to which are added three cuarterones [9 Spanish ounces, or 0.25881 kg] of very dry flour, mixing it by means of the spoon with the preceding composition [boxwood], with which it should be beaten, as is stated.  And if you wish to give it an agreeable flavor, a grating from the peel of a lemon can be added.  And it should be distributed on molds of tin plate, or playing cards, all of which should be covered with a little pork lard, although not in the manner that greases them, but just sufficient to contain the pasta so that it doesn’t stick.  And if you wish to make them small, like eight-real coins, they should be placed on paper with the spoon in small portions, round, and somewhat heaping, sprinkled with sugar, blowing them curiously on one side so that it is disproportionate, with which they should be cooked in a breadmaker’s oven (horno de Panadero) at medium heat.  And in order to know when the bizcochos are cooked, and somewhat consumed, that is to say, lighter, take one out, trying it, and if it is ready, take the rest out hot, in conformity to whether they are large, from the molds, or if they are small, from the paper, with the point of a knife underneath, and they can be served or kept in a little box.

(Image: Screenshot of the original recipe for Vizcochos de Saboya written in Spanish.)

Since I wanted a recipe with an ingredient native to the Americas, he also sent the chocolate variation of vizcochos. 

Vizcochos de Chocolate … Another way (Mata pp. 97):

Take six fresh eggs, and having separated the whites, beat them vigorously until they have made lots of foam, adding six egg yolks, and beating everything together again while it dissolves, next adding twelve ounces of powdered sugar, seven of flour, and one and a half of chocolate, all passed through the sieve, beating it well for the space of a quarter hour so that it mixes.  And finally, it should be distributed, like the rest, upon sheets of paper, drying the already formed bizcocho in the same manner that was stated for those of Saboya.

(Image: Screenshot of the original recipe for Vizcochos de Chocolate written in Spanish.)

In reading over the ingredient lists and instructions, I realized that I did not have enough eggs at home (we have chickens and the weather change is slowing down their egg production + my son used a bunch this week for his science fair experiment). 

(Image: My son’s science experiment consisting of glass jars of vinegar and eggs.)

I liked the idea of making little cakes, just not enough to feed a banquet hall – at least not in 2020! 

I did what all modern cooks do – I went online and searched for Chocolate Bizcocho. Bizcocho is a general term Spanish for desserts and depending on where you are in the Spanish-speaking world will determine what you are served if you order them. For instance, in Uruguay, bizcochos may be a croissant or a cookie. In Spain, bizcocho is a single layer sponge cake. Closer to home in the Southwestern US, bizcochitos are cinnamon-anise cookies. They are so popular they were named the New Mexico State Cookie! 

I wanted something more cake than cookie and that included chocolate (because it is native to the Americas and well, why not?). I found a modern recipe that met this requirements and was scaled down for the home cook looking to feed a modest family of four. 

I further modified and updated the recipe to fit what I had available in my kitchen (no trips to the grocery store!) and modern dietary trends. I’ve named it Chocolate Bizcocho de Tallahassee.

Chocolate Bizcocho de Tallahassee (by Tanya Peres)

Ingredients:

  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter (soften to room temp) (coconut oil would work well, too)
  • ¾ cup sugar 
  • 2 eggs (fresh from our backyard!)
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk
  • ¼ tsp almond extract
  • ¼ tsp orange extract
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (could use a gluten-free mix)
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (use a good one – it is the star of the recipe!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (sweetened with Stevia)
(Image: Ingredients include sugar, almond meal, cocoa powser, baking powder, soy milk, eggs, dark chocolate baking chips, and butter. All-purpose flour and spices not pictured.)
Directions:
 - Preheat oven to 350F.
 - Mix the softened butter and sugar until creamy.
 - Add the eggs. Mix well,
 - Add the milk, stir until combined.
 - Stir in the cocoa powder and baking powder (use a low speed or you will have cocoa powder everywhere).
 - Stir in the flours (also using a low speed).
 - Stir in the chocolate chips.
 - Spray a ceramic loaf pan with cooking/baking spray (or grease with butter).
 - Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well in between.
 - Add the milk and stir until combined.
 - Add the orange and almond extracts.
 - Stir in the cocoa powder and baking powder (use a low speed or you will have cocoa powder everywhere).
 - Add in the cinnamon, stirring to just combined.
 - Slowly stir in the flours (also using a low speed) until combined.
 - Stir in the chocolate chips.
 - Pour the batter into the pan, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula.
 - Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes. Mine took 55 minutes in a thick ceramic loaf pan. I recommend that you start checking at 35 minutes. It really does depend on the individual oven and the choice of pan (thin aluminum, glass, ceramic).
 - Check doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf. If it is comes out clean, the loaf is done cooking.
 - Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then invert on a wire rack to cool completely. 
- When completely cooled, slice into ½” thick slices. Check doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf. If it is comes out clean, the loaf is done cooking.

The resulting loaf was dense, flavorful, and not overly sweet. I got distracted with kids and overcooked it a smidge and we still really liked it.

This is something I would serve to guests at brunch (if we could have guests right now). My youngest child really liked it, the older one liked it but thought it was not sweet enough, though it can’t be terrible – there is very little left (24 hours after making it). I will continue to experiment with this recipe (maybe double it for a bundt pan or completely veganize it) and I will for sure try out the bizcochitos recipe from New Mexico. I might even try to convince my husband to build a traditional horno in the backyard! Either way – the bizcocho recipe, originally published in 1775 (though likely was around as part of a cook’s mental recipe book for a lot longer), let’s us taste history, which is what the Great Rare Books Bake-Off is all about.  Happy Baking Season 2020!

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