These scone-like breads are a specialty of a small town called Bustamante, in Nuevo León, Mexico. Many recipes for these breads abound, but all of them are flavored with canela, aniseed, and piloncillo, which gives them a deep molasses-like taste and a delicious but subtle spice finish.
Semitas, not to be confused with cemitas (a bread and a sandwich from Puebla), have a long history in Nuevo León, and they have become a beloved sweet bread for Norteños. Many bakeries sell these treats and people seek out specific brands because they rely on that old-fashioned flavor.
This is my interpretation of the recipe, and I have decided to add pecans, not only because they give it a more sophisticated look, but they are delicious to boot. You can add raisins to the dough, if you like, or leave them plain using only piloncillo.
Piloncillo is used all over Latin America and depending where it is made, it will come in different shapes and have different names, but it is raw unprocessed sugar cane syrup that is boiled down to become piloncillo. In Mexico, it is always shaped like a cone. The hardest thing about making this recipe is grating the piloncillo, as it tends to harden just like brown sugar.
If your piloncillo cone is very hard, warm it up for short bursts in the microwave, making sure you don’t melt it. Once it has softened, it will be easier to grate. Another way to break it down is to place smaller pieces between sheets of parchment and then wrap the parchment in a linen napkin, then whack with a hammer to break it down to small pieces. Not very lady-like, but effective nonetheless.
When you have a craving for something sweet, make a batch of semitas. They make a perfect pairing for that afternoon cafecito.