Hojarascas, The Mexican Cookie We All Love

Hojarascas, The Mexican Cookie We All Love

Hojarascas are the iconic cookies from the culinary region that I call “Texas Mexican” and that includes the states of Texas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. It’s a culturally cohesive region that shares the same history and food that is often called “Norteño” because it is north of the usual culinary spots of Oaxaca, Mexico City, etc. Our cuisine developed on this land, mi tierra, long before the Rio Grande became the international border that separates the US from Mexico.

Birds, seeds, clouds, rain, have no political boundaries and move and travel according to nature. That’s why I find it helpful to look at food recipes from the perspective of land, climate and environment. In a natural way, food gathers people together culturally. In every state that I mentioned above, you’ll find hojarascas as gifts at weddings, anniversaries and all kinds of family celebrations.

Chef Sylvia Cásares, Houston celebrity chef and restaurateur, draws her culinary inspiration from the region shown in this mural of  Texas and Northeastern Mexico. The mural greets you as you walk into one of her Houston restaurants, Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen. All the food on her menu comes from this cohesive, vibrant culinary region irrigated by The Rio Grande. So, let’s claim anew this little hojarasca cookie, a truly regional gem.

The origin of hojarascas dates back so many generations that it’s difficult to find the exact date of origin. It is certainly evidence of how we deployed wheat in creative ways once it arrived in Texas and Northeastern Mexico. It was in the 1600s that wheat cultivation intensified in Coahuila, and took on great economic importance as a crop. A delicious part of our economic and political history, I’ve always considered the hojarasca a Chicana, Chicano tradition.

Mural in Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen in Houston, Texas, shows the culinary region that is home to "Hojarascas"
Mural in Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen in Houston, Texas, shows the culinary region that is home to “Hojarascas”

My childhood is marked by these cookies that veritably crumble when you bite them, hence the name, hojarascas, referring to the hundreds of leaves cascading from trees in the fall.

Hojarascas were at every wedding and every special anniversary in my family.   But I could not find the recipe for the right proportions, and struggled to get that crackly crumble and subtle cinnamon taste. Gracias to my oldest sister, Nieves Ortega, who rummaged through boxes in her home and eventually found her own handwritten note with the recipe.  This is our gift to you this holiday season.

Holidays are a good time for these. The cinnamon is nice

Recipe For Hojarascas | Cinnamon Cookies

Ingredients  (makes 2 dozen)
2 cup all-purpose wheat flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup palm oil shortening that is certified, CSPO or other non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
–For the Sugar Coating:
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F.
1. In a wide-mouth bowl, mix the sugar coating ingredients and set aside.
2. In a food processor, pulse and mix all the dry ingredients well.
3. Add the palm oil shortening and egg and pulse until the ingredients form small granules, about 15 seconds.
4. Form 1/2 tablespoon-sized balls and place them 1 inch apart on a nongreased cookie sheet.
5. Lightly coat the bottom of a flat cup with sugar and press the balls down to 1/2-inch thickness.
6. Bake for 15 minutes, not too much longer. The cookies will look deceptively white and pale. That’s perfect.
7. While hot and just out of the oven, coat each cookie with the sugar cinnamon mixture. They are fragile so take care not to break them. As they cool they will harden and become less fragile.
The cookies will keep easily for 1 week, but they never survive that long.

For more holiday recipes, see the cookbook, “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”
published by Texas Tech University Press

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