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Auntie’s Italian Anise Cookies

Italian anise cookies stand out on the cookie tray because of its glazed top and colorful sprinkles. When you take a bite, you will be surprised by its soft interior and unexpected savory licorice-like flavor of the anise.

The unique flavor of these Italian anise cookies at Christmas is a comforting treat of family traditions and warm memories for many of us raised in Italian families. Even if you are not Italian, these cookies are a delicious addition to your holiday cookie tray.

Italian anise cookies are a classic among Italian-American families. There are many different recipes passed down from generations to generations. Each family seems to have their own unique twist. Traditional Italian anise cookies are enjoyed at Easter, Italian weddings, and Christmas.

When we were little, we knew Christmas was coming from the arrival of the toy catalogs in the mail and the tins of cookies that Aunt Mary brought to us. Each year, Auntie baked lots of cookies so they could be delivered and mailed to friends and family scattered across the country. We were more than happy to enjoy the extras well before the Christmas holiday.

Italian anise cookies stand out on the cookie tray because of its glazed top and colorful sprinkles. When you take a bite, you will be surprised by its soft interior and unexpected savory licorice-like flavor of the anise. These cookies are not sweet like most cookies we have become accustomed to. This Italian anise cookie pairs well with coffee or tea, or as an after dinner digestive aid.

These Italian cookies are made with pure anise extract and crushed anise seeds. I have heard them referred to as angelonies, angelettis, but we simply called them Italian sprinkle cookies. A close cousin is the anisette cookie, where anisette liqueur is used instead of anise seeds an anise extract. Anisette liqueur is a sweet liqueur made from anise seeds, so the flavor is very similar.

Tips for Making Italian Anise Cookies

  • Use Room Temperature Butter: Creaming butter and sugar together creates air pockets in the batter. These pockets expand when heated to make cookies light and airy. Chilled butter is too hard to blend, and melted butter doesn’t hold air and may even dissolve the sugar. Let the butter warm on the counter for about an hour before making your cookies.
  • How to Make Powdered Sugar: You can make your own powdered sugar by blending one cup of pure cane sugar in a blender or food processor for a few minutes. It won’t be the bright white you are used to with conventional powdered sugar, but you will avoid the refined sugar and cornstarch. Keep in mind that sugar may scratch some plastics.
  • Make Ahead Tip: To freeze the Italian anise cookies, place the cooling racks in the freezer until the cookies are frozen, then add the frozen cookies to a zipper freezer bag or freezer container. To thaw, remove the frozen cookies from the bag and let thaw at room temperature. If using a zipper bag, be sure to remove the cookies from the bag while they are still frozen because the icing will get sticky and messy if left in the bag.

How to Make Italian Anise Cookies

The full detailed recipe can be found at the bottom of this article, but here are the steps to making Italian anise cookies:

Step 1: Combine the Dry Ingredients

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a medium sized mixing bowl and set aside.

Step 2: Mix the Wet Ingredients

In a large bowl, beat butter and room temperature sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then add the anise extract, optional anise seeds, and continue mixing until well blended.

Step 3: Make the Cookie Dough

Add the flour mixture a little at a time, and mix until combined. The dough will be soft and sticky.

Step 4: Bake the Italian Anise Cookies

Preheat your oven and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets.

Bake just until the edges are set and the cookie springs back when pressed with your finger. The cookies will still be pale in color. Remove the cookies from the baking sheets to cooling racks and let them cool completely.

Step 5: Decorate the Cookies

To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and anise extract in a medium bowl until smooth.

Be sure the cookies are completely cool before glazing or it will just melt off instead of forming a solid glaze. Decorate one cookie at a time to get the sprinkles to stick.

Place the cooling rack of cookies on a cookie sheet to catch the extra drips and sprinkles. Dip the top of the cookie into the glaze, place it back on the rack, and add the sprinkles right away before the glaze begins to harden. Let the cookies set until the glaze is hard.

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to a month.

Auntie’s Italian Anise Cookies

a plate of Italian Anise Cookies on a table

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Italian Anise Cookies Recipe

A bite of these Italian anise cookies will bring back any Italian-American’s memories of childhood Christmases with family. Even if you are not Italian, these cookies are a delicious addition to your holiday cookie tray.

Keyword Italian anise cookies

Ingredients

Ingredients for the Italian Anise Cookies

Ingredients for the Icing

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. 
  • Add flour and baking powder to a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  • Beat in eggs one at a time, add anise extract, optional anise seeds, and mix until well blended.
  • Add the flour mixture a little at a time, and mix until well blended. The dough will be soft and sticky.
  • Drop rounded tablespoons of dough 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets.
  • Bake 5 to 7 minutes until the bottoms are golden and the cookie springs back when pressed with your finger.
  • Remove the cookies from the baking sheets to cooling racks to cool.
  • To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and anise extract in a medium bowl until smooth.
  • Place the cooling rack of cookies on the cookie sheet to catch the extra sprinkles.
  • Dip the tops of cookies into the glaze, return to cooling rack, and sprinkle tops with candy sprinkles right away while the glaze is still wet. Let the cookies set until the glaze hardens. 
  • Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to a month (see note below). Yield: 32 cookies.

Notes

To freeze the Italian anise cookies, place the cooling racks in the freezer until the cookies are frozen, then add the frozen cookies to a zipper freezer bag or freezer container. To thaw, remove the frozen cookies from the bag and let thaw at room temperature. If using a zipper bag, be sure to remove the cookies from the bag while they are still frozen because the icing will get sticky and messy if left in the bag.

Nutrition

Calories: 70kcal

A bite of these Italian anise cookies will bring back any Italian-American’s memories of childhood Christmases with family. Does your family have traditions centered on food and meals? What family traditions do you carry on?

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white plate filled with Italian Anise Cookies on a table

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