Authentic Italian cookies flavored with sweet anise, accented with tangy orange zest, and cloaked in a creamy citrus glaze.
I don’t know about you, but I love recipes that come with a good story. This is one such recipe. So break out the popcorn, and settle in for a little story time. (Okay, maybe skip the popcorn because I know you will be making these cookies as soon as you finish reading this post!)
This recipe was sought after by my lovely mother-in-law, Paige, for nearly 30 years! You heard me right, 30 years! With that much persistence it has to be amazing, right? Right.
It all started with Mrs. Montanari. Mrs. Montanari was the mother of one of my father-in-laws aunts. She was an older Sicilian woman; gruff yet bearing the qualities of a traditional Italian “mama”.
My mother-in-law would see her at family gatherings where she would bring her famous licorice flavored cookies. Paige would always ask her for the recipe but to no avail.
Mrs. Montanari would inevitably reply, with a giant smirk on her face, “I don’t know. A handful of this, a handful of that.”
She refused to divulge her secret recipe and wound up taking it with her to her grave.
Paige could not stop thinking about these dreamy cookies! Over the years, she frequently would ask people if they knew what the cookies were called.
Finally, last month, she struck gold. An elderly woman at church (in her 70’s) shared her Sicilian mother’s personal recipe! It doesn’t get any more authentic than that folks.
This is that recipe. Of course I tinkered with it a bit, including adding some zest (literally, I added orange zest); but, the recipe is the real deal. Handwritten with vague instructions. Gotta love handed-down family recipes!
I know what some of you are thinking. Anise cookies are usually for Christmas and special events. I for one am all about breaking down foodie barriers and I was not about to wait to share this gem! Plus, the freshness of the orange, coupled with the vibrant white icing make these cookies perfect for anytime of year! If you have kids, add sprinkles for a fun touch!
Also, any citrus fruit goes well with Anise so don’t limit yourself just to oranges. Personally, it is my favorite pairing which is why I went with oranges.
Here are the answers to some questions you may be having about now…
What is Anise?
Anise is a spice that’s flavor bears a strong resemblance to black licorice.
Where can I find Anise extract?
Anise extract is surprisingly easy to find as McCormick makes it. You can also purchase it online.
Can I substitute another extract for the Anise?
No, nothing else has that distinctive licorice flavor. The only thing you could use is actual anise seeds (found in your grocer’s spice aisle) but the flavor will be different.
What other variations would you recommend for these cookies?
-Adding citrus extract (for an extra punch)
-Dipping in dark chocolate (or any kind of chocolate)
-Adding coconut (um, yum)
-Adding sprinkles (because sprinkles make everything better)
Now back to the cookies.
This recipe is super simple, requires very little prep time, and yields amazing results. One of the unique things about this recipe is that it calls for the butter to be “cut in”. I used a food processor to do so because you don’t want large butter chunks in the cookies. Doing it by hand would be a bit tedious as you need to get the dough to a grainy consistency. Other than that these cookies are much like a standard roll-out cookie!
These cookies are absolutely divine with a cup of good coffee or espresso. According to my mother-in-law they taste just like Mrs. Montanari’s.
*Yields about 40 cookies
2 1/2 cups (312.5g) all-purpose flour (adding more as needed, up to 6 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Dash of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1/8 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons anise extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 cups (250 g) powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons milk (more if needed)
Orange zest for garnishing (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a food processor, process flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Cut butter into chunks and add to mixture, pulsing until it looks sandy.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs well. Add sugar, milk, vanilla, and anise; mixing until fully incorporated.
4. Add flour mixture to liquid mixture; adding more flour (if necessary) until dough reaches right consistency (will be softer than drop cookie dough, but workable). Toss in orange zest and mix until evenly distributed. Chill dough for an hour.
5. Roll dough out on lightly floured work surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 2-inch circles, place in freezer for 5 minutes, then bake for 9-11 minutes (or until firm). Bottoms will be only slightly browned.
6. Let cool for 5 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together glaze ingredients until smooth. If necessary, add more milk until desired consistency is achieved.
8. Dip tops of cookies in glaze, garnish with orange zest, and allow glaze to harden.