I’ve been making this holiday cookie recipe off and on since I left my parents’ home for college. My mother gave it to me. She got it from her great aunt on the Italian side (I think). I do remember being very young and going to this ancient relative’s home around Christmas. She had a huge warm kitchen that was always completely covered with flour and confectioner’s sugar. The powdery stuff was on everything and floating through the air, too! But it was the smell that I recall so vividly. Anise, which smells like licorice, hit your nostrils as soon as you entered her home and intensified delightfully as we followed our noses to the work area. This double great aunt baked the cookies like I do here but she also had some made-to-order tiny cookie “waffle” irons that she used to press and simultaneously cook the dough into wafers that she dusted with powdered sugar. I simply adored seeing her at work and nibbling while my mother visited.
Unfortunately, Hegui doesn’t really care for anise flavoring. Perhaps it is an acquired taste. My mother and I are the only two in my family that I know of that really make these holiday cookies that often any more. Mom freezes them and has a few with tea for the first few months of the New Year. I bring them to holiday parties. You can thaw and ice them just before you go and you can be sure that nobody else will bring these light, delicate, almost heavenly treats. I have cracked under pressure in the past and made them with vanilla extract or almond flavoring. They’re still really good. But I prefer the classic and the wonderful memories that they evoke in me this time of year. Happy Holidays!
Scrumptious Italian Christmas Cookies
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. anise flavoring
31/2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ cup milk (I used soy)
1 tsp. milk
1 tsp. confectioner’s sugar
1/8 tsp. anise flavoring (optional)
Multi-colored nonpareil sprinkles
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs, sugar and anise flavoring together. Sift flour, salt and baking powder together. Gradually pour sifted dry ingredients into egg mixture about a third at a time alternating with some milk. Mix thoroughly after each addition. Flour counter and rolling pin. Pour batter onto counter and knead about a minute or two to ensure even consistency of dough. Roll flat to about ½ inch thickness.
Using cookie cutters, cut dough into desired shapes. I usually make circles and gingerbread men. I’ve lost my star-shaped cookie cutter but that looked nice too. Place on flour-dusted baking sheet. Bake about 6 minutes. Quantity of cookies and baking time varies with size of cookie cutters. I made about eight dozen. Remove from trays and let cool completely.
When ready to serve, mix milk, powdered sugar and anise flavoring together in shallow bowl. Dip tops of cookies in mix. Place on holiday tray or dish and sprinkle with nonpareils.