These colorful Italian anise cookies have a buttery, tender texture that melts in your mouth! Coated in a lemon glaze and colorful sprinkles for a festive treat to share.
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Are you looking to add something different to your holiday cookie tray? This Italian anise cookie recipe is crisp, with a cakey and crumbly center. The combination of tangy citrus and light licorice flavor is a refreshing treat.
Jason’s Italian family calls them Angeletti (or anisette cookies). They are often served at celebrations like weddings and holidays, but you can enjoy them year around with a cup of coffee or tea. These domed cookies are dipped in a lemony glaze and topped with rainbow sprinkles. You can switch up the color to match the seasons for fun and a festive cookie.
Mix the dry ingredients
The cookie’s base combines granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. The moderate protein level helps the cookies remain thick, with a texture similar to a scone but drier. The sugar adds a hint of sweetness, complementing the tangy glaze.
To add lift to the cookies so they aren’t too dense, baking powder is used as an effective leveling agent. Salt balances the sweetness and enhances anise flavoring and lemon zest.
Mix the butter and shortening
Two types of chilled fats are added to the flour mixture; unsalted butter and vegetable shortening. The butter adds a sweet cream taste, while the shortening makes the exteriors crisp because it doesn’t contain water. It has a higher melting point, which prevents spread, keeping the cookies tall and domed-shaped. The fats are broken into the dry ingredients using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
This is similar to making pie crusts or biscuits. Using cold fats ensures that the cookies stay round, with a crumbly texture. Add the eggs, mixing until a dough forms. The fat from the yolks provides richness, while the whites help to emulsify and bind the ingredients together. The moisture from the eggs gives the cookies a cakier consistency in the centers.
Flavor the cookie dough
Anise extract gives anisette cookies their unique flavor. If you’ve never had it, it’s extracted from the spice star anise using the leaves and anise seeds. It has a strong licorice flavor and aroma from a compound called anethole or anise camphor. You only need 1 teaspoon in the dough.
A little goes a long way! Lemon zest lightly flavors the dough with citrus oils to complement the anise. If you don’t like the taste of licorice, use vanilla or almond extract instead in the cookie and glaze.
Portion and shape
Italian cookies with anise are meant to be enjoyed in a few bites. Portion them into 1-tablespoon sizes, then roll them into a ball. They will puff slightly as they bake. Space them about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake the cookies
Bake them at 375ºF (191ºC). They are ready when you see the surface crackle and bottoms lightly brown. This is from the steam being released from the moisture in the dough and from the baking soda reacting to create bubbles. Cool on the warm pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Glaze and garnish
The cookies taste delicious, like little scone bites. However, a lemon and anise glaze really makes the flavor pop. It’s a simple combination of powdered sugar, lemon juice, and ¼ teaspoon of anise extract. I use this same combination to make my sugar cookie icing.
I also like adding light corn syrup to the glaze for a shinier and smoother finish. Dip the cookies less than halfway. The glaze will drip down a little, and it dries quickly. Immediately add the round sprinkles on top. It takes about 30 minutes to set fully, so factor in that time before serving.
More molded cookies
- Mexican wedding cookies
- Peanut butter kiss cookie
- Thumbprint cookies
- Chocolate crinkle cookies
- Snickerdoodle cookies
Frequently asked questions
They are traditional Italian cookies, often made for special occasions. They are like tiny biscuits with a crisp exterior, dipped in a glaze and topped with colorful sprinkles. They are also called Italian wedding cookies, Italian Christmas cookies, anisette cookies, and Angeletti.
They have a distinct licorice flavor and sweet aroma. It’s very strong, so do not add too much to the dough, or it will overwhelm the cookie taste.
Use almond or vanilla extract for a sweeter taste. If you like the taste of peppermint, add in ½ teaspoon for a cooling and minty note.
How to make a smoother icing
Adding 2 teaspoons of light corn syrup makes the glaze shinier and less grainy as it dries. This is due to the inverted sugar preventing the sucrose’s crystallization in the confectioner’s sugar. Optional but worth adding if you have some in your pantry.
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Italian Anise Cookies
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced ½" thick, chilled
- 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, sliced ½" thick, chilled
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon anise extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon anise extract
- 1 tablespoon rainbow nonpareil sprinkles
- Preheat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat to 375ºF (191ºC). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Mix the Dry Ingredients – In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt until combined, about 30 seconds.
- Mix in the Fats – Scatter the butter and shortening on the flour mixer. Mix on low speed (setting 2) until they break into very small pieces and look sandy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the Wet Ingredients – Add the eggs, 1 teaspoon of anise extract, vanilla, and lemon zest. Mix on low speed (setting 2) until a dough forms, about 30 to 40 seconds.
- Portion the Dough – Portion the cookie dough into 1 tablespoon-sized balls. Place them 2 inches apart, about 14 per tray.
- Bake – Bake both trays at the same time for 7 minutes. Switch and rotate the pan positions. Bake until the cookies are puffed up, cracks form on the surface, and bottoms are lightly golden brown, about 7 to 9 minutes. Cool on the sheet pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cook completely.
- Make the Glaze – In a stand mixer or medium bowl, whisk the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and ¼ teaspoon anise extract. It should have a glue-like consistency. If needed, thin with a ¼ teaspoon of water at a time.Working one cookie at a time, dip a little less than halfway into the glaze, shaking off the excess. Immediately add sprinkles before the glaze sets. Let them dry before serving for at least 30 minutes.
- Shinier and Smoother Glaze: Add 2 teaspoons of light corn syrup. If needed, thin with a ¼ teaspoon of water at a time.
- Storing: Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 5 days.
- Freezing: Store in resealable plastic bags for up to 1 month. Transfer to a plate to defrost.
- Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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