Toasted Corn Flour Cookies
I was walking through the crowded marketplace at Juchitán, the capital of the Isthmus, when I nearly stumbled over María Ruíz sitting daintily on the ground with two small children in the shade of an arch, next to a basket lined with a snowy embroidered cloth. I was already attuned enough to the region to think that this pretty young woman did not look quite like the flamboyant juchitecas around her, and sure enough I learned that she was from the town of Tehuantepec some twenty miles distant, where they specialize in making totopos dulces, sweet crackers of fine corn flour and dried coconut. I could not replicate María's totopos, which require a tandoorlike sunken clay oven, but she gave me her recipe for these little cousins that can be made like cookies in a regular oven.
To grate the sugar, use the fine side of a standard straight-sided grater. The recipe requires a starchy type of corn.
One 1- 1 1/2-inch piece canela
4 cups dried dent or flour corn kernels
1/2 cup grated Mexican brown loaf sugar (panela or piloncillo; see page 000), packed before measuring, or 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Grind the canela in an electric coffee or spice grinder. Set aside.
Spread the corn on a large baking sheet and bake until the kernels are bright yellow, about 40 minutes. Remove and let cool completely while keeping the oven set to 375°F.
The corn must now be ground to a fine powdery flour. I prefer to do this in an electric coffee or spice grinder, about 3/4 cup at a time. (You can also grind the kernels in several batches in a food processor, but the flour will not be as finely or evenly ground. 4 cups whole kernels should yield about 2 1/2 cups flour.) Mix well with the ground canela.
In a large bowl, cream the butter well and beat in the sugar; continue to beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add the toasted corn flour mixture, beating well after each addition. It will form a somewhat stiff dough.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board to about 1/2-inch thickness. With a cookie cutter, cut into 1-inch rounds. Reroll leftover scraps of dough for cutting until all is used. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 10 - 12 minutes.
Yield: About 3 dozen 1-inch cookies