These classic Italian anise cookies are tender, easy, and covered in a glaze with sprinkles. Enjoy these cookies as part of a holiday cookie tray or year-round!
So much of what I love about the holiday season is tied to food (because, obviously), and family favorite recipes dominate my holiday menu each year. Can you relate to that? I try out a few new cookies or side dishes or whatnot each year, but by and large it wouldn’t be Christmas, let’s say, without baked clam dip and struffoli and Panettone french toast.
I already have my clams, honey, and Panettone ready to go. 🙂
Besides struffoli, one of the Italian recipes my mom has made every year since before I can even remember are Italian anise cookies. These tender, licorice-flavored cookies are topped with glaze and festive sprinkles to add a special touch to any holiday cookie tray. I know the licorice flavor can be polarizing like cilantro, but for those who don’t mind or like it – these Italian anise cookies will be just your speed.
In our family recipe we always use anise, though I know others use vanilla, almond, or citrus extracts in place of it. The quantities of anise extract as written in the recipe card below (in my opinion) are just enough – you can certainly taste it, but it’s not in-your-face and overpowering.
When it comes to the flour, you’ll notice I mention to start with three cups. Once all of the cookie ingredients are mixed together, poke the dough and see how it is. Likely it’ll be pretty sticky, so work in additional flour one tablespoon at a time until the stickiness has reduced. You’ll want the dough to be able to roll between your hands with very minimal sticking. I added an extra 1/4-cup during this process, but you may need more or less depending on how your dough is behaving.
Oh! And something else about the flour. My procedure for measuring flour is to first stir/whisk the flour in its canister to fluff it up. Then I spoon it into my measuring cup, taking care not to pack it down. Once the measuring cup is overflowing, I use the straight edge of my spoon to level off the measuring cup. I’ll do that step over top of the flour canister so the excess goes right back in. This way of measuring prevents extra flour from being added to the recipe, which can cause baked goods to be dry. It’s the way I measure flour for all my recipes.
MAKE-AHEAD TIP: These Italian anise cookies can be made several days ahead of time. If doing so, I suggest baking the cookies and then NOT glazing them until the day you would like to serve them. Reason being is that the next day and the days beyond, the colors of the rainbow nonpareils bleed onto the white glaze and don’t look quite as picture perfect as they day they were glazed and decorated. Of course if you don’t really care about that feel free to glaze ’em up right away, or you can omit the sprinkles or use white nonpareils instead.
Italian Anise Cookies
For the dough:
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk (I used 2%, use your preferred)
- 2 tsp anise extract
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, start at 3 [see instructions]
- 1 tbsp baking powder
For the glaze:
- 2 cups confectioners' sugar
- 3 tbsp water
- 1/4 tsp anise extract
- Nonpareils for decoration
For the cookies:
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl for a few minutes until smooth and creamy.
- Add the eggs and beat well using a hand or stand mixer, until the mixture is light and looks frothy.
- Add milk, anise extract, and vanilla extract and mix until combined.
- Add 3 cups of flour and baking powder to a separate bowl and whisk until evenly combined.
- In 2-3 increments, add flour mixture to the bowl with the wet ingredients, mixing in until just combined.
- Add additional flour as needed, 1 tbsp at a time, until you can roll a cookie's worth of dough between your palms with minimal sticking. I added 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) during this time, bringing the total flour used to 3 1/4 cup. The amount of flour you need may vary.
- Using a 1 1/2-tbsp cookie scoop, scoop balls of dough and roll between your palms to form spheres. Some of the dough will stick inside the scoop but that's okay. Place dough balls equally-spaced on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between one another.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are very lightly brown on the bottom. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
For the glaze:
- Once cookies have cooled completely, whisk together 2 cups confectioners' sugar, 3 tbsp water, and 1/4 tsp anise extract. Dip the tops of each anise cookie into the glaze, and then sprinkle nonpareils over top. Let glaze harden completely before storing.