Anise cookies | Soft Italian cookies

butter, 1/2 cup
sugar, 1/2 cup
eggs, large, 3
anise extract, 2-2 1/2 teaspoons (I really like anise)
all-purpose flour, 2 1/2 cups
baking powder, 1 tablespoon
whole milk, 2-3 tablespoons

confectionary sugar, a lot (okay, about 2 cups)
single cream or half-and-half, some
anise extract, 1/4 teaspoon or to taste
gel food coloring, preferably red

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. For cookies, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. 
3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. 
4. Add anise extract.
5. Blend flour and baking powder. 
6. Start by adding one-third of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar in your mixer, then add one tablespoon of milk. 
7. Add another third of the flour and another tablespoon of milk. 
8. Finally, mix in enough of the remaining flour until your dough is slightly thicker than brownie batter (it should be softer than a drop cookie dough).
9.  With floured hands, scoop about a tablespoon of dough and roll into a ball. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets, about two inches apart. (If you can easily roll them without extra flour, they are probably too dry. You can mostly remedy this by coating your hands with water instead.)
10.  Bake cookies 10-12 minutes (they won't be brown on top and slightly browned on bottom but the insides will be soft and cake-like).
11. For the icing, mix sugar, milk and anise extract to make a glaze. It often takes me several tries to get the right balance. It should be thin enough that it will spread to form a smooth layer but thick enough that it was coat the cookie top evenly (i.e. it won't all drip off and pool around the cookie). Here's another hint from one of my many relations: "When I make the icing, I make it thick but then I microwave it for 10 seconds so it is thin enough for dipping." I prefer to use white icing and decorate with red bonbon-style swirls, but you can also color your food coloring in accordance with the season (as my grandmother and great-aunt traditionally did). 
12. Hold cookie in your hand and turn upside down so you can dip the top half in the glaze; turn over and place back on parchment. 
13. If using sprinkles, immediately top with sprinkles so they will stick. Otherwise, allow icing to harden for approximately 30 minutes.
14. While icing is hardening, mix a smaller batch and add a teaspoon of red gel food coloring (must be gel to achieve a truly vivid color). Pour icing into a pastry bag with only a tiny nick (about 1-2 mm) in the top. 
15. Decorate with swirls (see picture above) or as you please.
16.  Freeze in a single layer for ~2 hours, then stack for easy storage, or place in an airtight container until ready to eat.

40 cookies

the story
These cookies, ubiquitous at holiday gatherings and decorated seasonally, are my absolute favorite. Anise extract is basically the best thing in the world, and the amounts of anise extract should be adjusted to fit your tastes. (In their later years, occasionally, a relative would slip with the extract bottle...a little sinus-clearing but I still loved them). Naturally, they were the first cookie I let my son try, when he was about nine months old. 

The red swirl decoration came from my admiration for beautiful petit-fours in my favorite bakery when I was living in Copenhagen. The Christmas after I moved back to the States, I made boxes of cookies and sweets to send to my friends. I set four anise cookies in a tiny jewelry box, each with a different design: a red swirl, a blue star, a yellow cross, and a green dot. Only the red swirl stuck. 

Where did all my cookie go? December 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment