Nonna’s Italian Anise Seed Cookies

Family traditions are the best, especially around the holidays.


 My Great Grandmother made these.   My Grandmother still makes these. And now, because I love their subtle licorice-y taste, I make them too.

These cookies are not for everyone. Tim for example states that they are not real Christmas cookies. Why not? Probably because they aren’t slathered with thick butter cream frosting and doused in sprinkles, which is basically his prerequisite for any holiday cookie. But I say, who died and made him Buddy the Elf?

These little cuties are not overly sweet. They are not overly buttery or crisp. They are not overly anything really. They have a mellow and subtlely licorice flavor. They are almost a cross between a cookie and a biscuit and make a great accompaniment for coffee or tea.

One batch makes a lot, but they freeze like a dream! These are as fun to make, as they are to eat. They are perfect for making with kids or at a party.  Who doesn’t love a cookie where playing with the dough is part of the process?   Twisty ropes, knots, spirals, braids, etc… You choose!

The original recipe calls for lard (no, thanks). My Grandmother sometimes substitutes shortening, which will work just fine, but I just can’t bring myself to add something so processed to the mix. So, I use good old butter. Butter makes everything better, anyhow.

Here are the details:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 tbl. Baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 3 tsp. anise seeds
  • Water (enough to form a workable dough)

Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

Mix butter and sugar with stand mixer.   Slowly add dry ingredients to mixer.

With a potato masher or something similar, mix in the beaten egg.

Then slowly mix in enough water to form cohesive and workable dough. Knead the dough until is it elastic. You may need to add some sprinklings of flour during this process.

Keep your flour handy. You may need it while twisting and tying the dough into little shapes.

Bake for around 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the cookies are baked and cooled, dip the tops in a simple icing made of powdered sugar, milk, and a dash of vanilla extract. I don’t use an exact formula for this because the humidity in the air seems to affect the ratios quite a bit. I just add a tiny bit of milk and vanilla to about ¾ cup of powdered sugar and mix it all together. You can always add more milk or powdered sugar to get the right consistency.

Make a hot cup of tea, coffee, cocoa, or cider and cozy up on the couch to enjoy these little Italian cookies.


2 thoughts on “Nonna’s Italian Anise Seed Cookies

  1. I can’t wait to try these! I make anise christmas cookies every year but they’re like a cake cookie with anise flavoring in the dough and frosting. We love them!


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