Thursday, December 20, 2012

Elaine's Anise Cookies


You can amaze your family and friends with these tasty (if you're a licorice fan) Christmas cookies, brought to you courtesy of my dear friend Elaine Winter, who shared her treasured family recipe.  

Everyone will ask, How did you get those caps on the cookies?  It can be our secret: they simply create themselves during the baking process.  

These are easy, albeit time-consuming cookies -- after they're formed on the cookie sheet, they must rest there for eight hours before baking which, incidentally, takes but 10 minutes. 

Elaine's mother Ruth and Gramma Millie (born in the U.S., but of German extraction) started their Christmas cookie baking (eight to 10 varieties!) right after Thanksgiving. They'd bake every night after the dishes had been washed.  "Such a delicious time of year," recalls Elaine who, even after she moved to Rome, would still receive huge boxes of cookies in the mail from her mother and grandmother.  She says there was some not-too-subtle competition about the anise cookies caps, whose were better...."Batches without caps my brother and I could eat right away -- they were deemed not good enough to save," she said.

Please, won't you try your hand at these unusual and delicious cookies?  The first step is to grind some anise seeds (though if you're too busy, you can dispense with the anise seeds -- the cookies get their real flavor from the anise extract in the batter).


Let three eggs come to room temperature.


Mix up the batter. You will definitely want to use a standing mixer for this, unless you have way more patience than me.


Although the recipe calls for dropping the batter by teaspoon onto the baking sheet, I found it more efficient to pipe them using a pastry bag and round tip.  The batter is a bit thin.  I sprinkled the cookie sheets with the crushed anise shortly before baking.




18 comments:

  1. Although not a huge fan of licorice, I do have a weakness for anise cookies. I once worked with a woman who made the most amazing anise cookies. Her cookies convinced me that not all things licorice were bad. Are these crunchy, dip in coffee kind of cookies or are they on the softer side?

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    1. Dawn -- These are really, really good. And the first day, they were on the softer side, but after that they were crunchy -- perfect for coffee dipping! Do let me know if you make them.

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  2. Hello, Made these tonight. I will wait the 8 hrs to bake, but was wondering if it's really ok to leave out for that length of time since the recipe has "eggs" in it.

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    1. Dolce -- It's perfectly fine. I often don't refrigerate eggs and have never had a problem. Plus, we know that both Elaine's mother and grandmother made these for years and years, with not one reported incident caused by the recipe. I also found similar recipes on the internet that called for leaving the cookies out for 12 hours! My only word of caution is not to overbake, as it will cause the caps to crack, so it looks like the filling is breaking through. That happened to my first batch. Good luck and do report back.

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  4. Susan, these were really yummy & worth the wait!
    Thank you Elaine for sharing & Susan for bringing them to life!

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    1. Wonderful news, Dolce! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  5. Hello, I'm baking cookies like these in the Netherlands, my mother came from Germany. If you're not to keen on the anis, they're also made with a little vanilla extract. Equally delicious!
    About the waiting time: the top has to dry sufficiently for the caps to appear. This may take longer in warm, humid weather and shorter in cold, dry weather. Also, a couple of hours extra are ok. So my advice would be to dry them for a minimum of 8 hours, but especially in more humid weather you could wait for up to 16 hours. And on a very crisp winter day I might try them at 6 hours.

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    1. Apologies for the delayed response, Sophie, but I do appreciate you writing with that very helpful information. Mine took forever to form the caps and looking back, it was probably due to the humidity.

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  6. Just to mention that the cookies will work best in the winter when it's dry. A rainy day is the worst day to make them, they won't develop the frosted cap. Also if they are dry on the second day then toss a slice of apple in with the cookies to bring back the moisture (skin side down or you may get a few soggy cookies). ---- My grandmother made these when I was a kid. Her recipe was from around 1890. She often made them without the anise and with a half blanched almond on top. FYI: They also taste great just plain without the Anise. Take care, Frederick

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    1. Thanks for that important information, Frederick! I've had many baked goods fail (meringue comes to mind) when the humidity has been to high. Love that your grandmother's recipe was from 1890!

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  7. I lost my recipe for these, so I was thrilled to find this. My mom, who was from Brooklyn, made these every year. I am so excited to make these again! Thank you!

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  8. I had a college roommate in the 70's at Ohio University who used to get a box of these every so often from home. We called them springelie, but they weren't, actually. I believe this is the same recipe because we used to wonder about the icing/topping. I am making them today; could become a New Year's tradition! Can't wait to see if they are as good as I remember.

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    1. Good luck! Hope they are as good as you remember. BTW, Elaine grew up in northeast Ohio, so yet another Ohio connection.

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    2. I now live in SW Florida where it is always humid. They were good, but I didn't get the crusty top that I remember. I will try again soon and leave them out longer when cool weather rolls in. They freeze well.

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    3. I tried again, but I'm not getting the crusty top. What am I not doing? In the first step do I need to beat the eggs longer before adding the sugar? I'm using an electric hand mixer with 2 blades. Then I add the sugar slowly and mix on medium/ almost high for 10 minutes. I used a piping bag and made small cookies. I left them out almost 20 hours before baking. I still like the cookies but would love to get a cookie like the one pictured on this page. Any suggestions?

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    4. How frustrating! I wish I could tell you why the tops aren't forming, because it seems you're doing everything right. Humidity plays a big factor. And I recall beating the eggs a really long time (which it sounds like you're doing, though I used a very powerful stand mixer). You might be able to google the answer somewhere else; perhaps one of those cooking scientists like Harold McGee may have written something about it. I wish I could be more helpful because I've been there (not with this recipe, but with many others). Good luck!

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