Ever since I was a child I have loved the taste and smell of anise and fennel in all forms, sweet and savory. In fact, I love these flavors so much that when invited to present dinner at The James Beard House for the first time I based my entire menu on fennel.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy anise is cookies, and of all the different anise cookies out there, there is none more quintessential than Italian anisette cookies. Anisette cookies are an absolute must on any Italian Christmas cookie tray!
When made correctly, Italian anisette cookies have a pillowy soft, light, cake-like texture, coated in a sweet anise flavored icing. They melt in your mouth and are just sweet enough with a strong black licorice flavor that keeps me going back for more. When made incorrectly they can be dry and crumbly.
I find that with anise, fennel and black licorice flavors there is no middle ground, you either love it or you don’t like it at all. So…..when making these cookies why skip on the anise flavor since the only people eating them will be the people that love it!
This recipe was a year round favorite in my bakeries and we often made them lemon flavored as well. I love this recipe because it is simple to put together and the resulting cookie is perfect if you follow the recipe as written.
You will notice that the cookies crack slightly while baking. This is normal, and as long as you don’t over-bake them, the cracks will settle and get smaller as they cool. The reason they crack is that the outsides set before they have finished rising but this is also what helps give this cookie its great texture. I’m sure that by lowering the oven temperature you could get them to bake without cracks but they would dry out and not be as awesome as they can be.
I highly recommend having and oven thermometer in your oven to make sure that it is baking at the correct temperature. Knowing your true oven temperature is important for all baking but especially for cookies which have such a short baking time.
- 2 pounds confectioners sugar (1 lg. bag)
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/2 tsp anise oil
For The Cookies:
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and line three cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats
Whisk together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy with a pale yellow color, using a stand mixer, hand mixer or whisk.
Slowly add the oil, vanilla and anise oil, whisking the entire time to incorporate.
In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients and add to the egg mixture. Mix until just combined, do not over mix
Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let the dough rest for 20 min.
Using a small cookie scoop, or tablespoon measure, scoop the cookies and roll into balls.
Place approx. 1 1/2 inches apart on a parchment or silat lines baking sheet.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 6 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for 6 min more. The cookies should have almost no color on top and be just slightly browned on the bottom.
Remove from the oven and move to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.
Mix icing ingredients together in a medium size bowl until smooth and lump free.
Dip each cookie into the icing and place on a cooling rack set above a cookie sheet to catch the excess icing drips. Frost about six cookies at a time and then go back and add your sprinkles. If you sprinkle to soon they will slide off and the colors will run, if you sprinkle too late the sprinkles will bounce and not stick to your cookies.
Once dry, store in a single layer in airtight containers at room temperature for up to a week.
These cookies can be frozen- after baking but before icing- for up to a month. When ready to use take them out, defrost and then ice them according to the directions.
Use lemon extract in place of the anise oil in the cookie dough. Replace half of the water in the icing with fresh lemon juice and omit the anise oil.