Italian anise cookies stand out on the cookie tray because of their glazed top and colorful sprinkles. But, when you take a bite, you will be surprised by the 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. But, 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 generation to generation. Each family seems to have its unique twist. Traditional Italian anise cookies are enjoyed at Easter, 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. Of course, we were happy to enjoy the extras well before the Christmas holiday.
Italian Christmas cookies stand out on the holiday cookie tray because of the white glazed top decorated with colorful rainbow sprinkles. When you take a bite, you will be surprised by the soft texture and unexpected savory licorice flavor of the anise. These cookies are not sweet like most cookies we have become accustomed to and pair 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 called angelonies, and 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 and anise extract. Anisette liqueur is a sweet liqueur made from anise seeds, so the taste is very similar.
Tips for Making Italian Anise Cookies
Italian anise cookies are a classic among Italian-American families, and for a good reason: they’re delicious! The glazed top and colorful sprinkles create an Italian sprinkle cookie that tastes like Christmas! Here are tips for making anise cookies:
Use Anise Extract
The classic licorice flavor comes from the anise extract in the cookie dough and icing. Anise is a flowering herb native to the eastern Mediterranean region and anise extract is a common ingredient in Italian baked goods such as breads, cakes, and cookies, including biscotti and pizzelles.
While anise flavoring is traditional for these cookies, you can substitute with lemon extract, almond extract, or vanilla extract if you don’t like licorice.
Let the Butter Warm to Room Temperature
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 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 confectioners’ sugar, but you will avoid refined sugar and cornstarch. Keep in mind that sugar may scratch some plastics.
Which Sprinkles to Use
Our family traditionally uses the classic tiny round rainbow-colored nonpareils, but you can use any decorative sprinkle such as jimmies and coarse sugar.
To freeze the cookies, after glazing, 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. The icing will get sticky and messy if left in the bag.
How to Make Italian Anise Cookies
You can find the full detailed recipe 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 an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then add the anise extract and 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. Using a small cookie scoop or measuring spoon, drop rounded tablespoons of dough 2-inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets.
Bake 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 a wire rack and let them cool completely.
Step 5: Decorate the Cookies
To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and 1/4 teaspoon anise extract in a small 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.
Arrange the cookies in a single layer on a cooling rack, and then place the entire rack on a cookie sheet to catch the extra drips and sprinkles.
Grab one cookie, dip the top into the glaze, put it back on the rack, and add the sprinkles right away before the icing begins to harden. Repeat with the remaining cookies, and then let the cookies sit until the glaze is hard.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to a month.
Italian Anise Cookies Recipe
Ingredients for the Italian Anise Cookies
- Preheat the 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 an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Beat in eggs one at a time, add 1 tablespoon of anise extract and 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 bottoms are golden brown and the cookie springs back when pressed with your finger.
- Remove the cookies from the baking sheets to a wire rack to cool.
- To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and 1/4 teaspoon anise extract in a small bowl until smooth.
- Place the cooling rack of cookies on the cookie sheet to catch drips and the extra sprinkles.
- Grab one cookie, dip the top into the glaze, put it back on the rack, and add the sprinkles right away before the icing begins to harden.
- Repeat with the remaining cookies, and then let the cookies sit until the glaze is hard.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. The recipe makes about 32 cookies.
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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10 Cookie Mix in a Jar Recipes eBook
Homemade gifts are always appreciated because they come from the heart. Even if you are not crafty, you can give DIY gifts to your family and friends with these easy recipes for making cookie mix in a reusable jar.