Monday, December 27, 2010

Memories of Anise Seed

My husband and I both have memories of anise seed cookies at the holidays and throughout winter, but I had never baked them myself.  I must admit that I didn't like the flavor of anise as a kid, but now I think it is a nice change of pace.  I found a recipe from my great-aunt, but it seemed to be missing a few steps and it required wooden cookie molds which I do not have.  I decided to try a recipe from Maida Heatter instead.  Plus, it gave me a reason to use my new mortar and pestle!

Anise seed is a spice with a licorice flavor.  You should be able to find it in the baking aisle of your grocery store.  The seeds are oval shaped and gray-brown in color.  It is a very aromatic spice and will make your kitchen smell lovely.  I really like these cookies with coffee.

Anise Seed Cookies
Makes about 45 cookies
Modified from Maida Heatter's New Book of Great Desserts

1/2 cup blanched whole almonds
1 tsp anise seeds (not ground)
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg white
sprinkle of granulated sugar for cookie tops

If your almonds aren't already blanched, it is easy to do yourself.  Just put the whole almonds in boiling water for no more than a minute, drain well, and rinse with cold water.

Once they are cool enough to handle you can easily slip off the skins.  Pat dry.

Put the skinned almonds on a rimmed cookie sheet and put them in a preheated 250 degree oven.  Shake or stir occasionally until the nuts are slightly colored.

Crush the anise seeds in a mortar and pestle.  They do not have to be finely ground or strained.  Set aside.

Beat the butter until soft and smooth.  

Add the vanilla and sugar and then beat until well mixed.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated.

Add the anise seeds, and on low speed, gradually add the flour, scraping the bowl and beating only until mixed.

The dough will be quite soft and sticky.  Transfer to plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour or until it is firm enough to be rolled.  Resting the cookie dough in the refrigerator evens out the moisture level, relaxes gluten, and firms the fat, which produces neater edges to your cookies.

Adjust the racks of the oven to split the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two cookie sheets with foil.

Work with half the dough at a time, leaving the rest in the refrigerator.  On a floured surface and with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough until about 1/2-inch thick.

Using a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter, cut rounds of dough and place them about an inch apart on the cookie sheets.

Press the scraps of dough together, rechill, and re-roll.

There should be enough almonds to place one on each cookie, or if you want to leave some without nuts (as I did for my mother-in-law), you can use more than one almond on a cookie.

Beat the egg white until foamy.  With a pastry brush, brush the egg white over the tops of the cookies.  Sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, switching the place of the cookie sheets to ensure even browning.  The cookies will be slightly colored and will feel semi-firm to the touch.  Try not to overbake or they will get too hard.

Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.  They can be frozen, but they keep very well in an airtight container for several days.


  1. for my mother in laws christmas we were all asked to contribute a dish or dessert from another country. I made speculaas, which are a Dutch spice cookie and are typically made with a wooden cookie mold. I have one from when we lived in Holland, so it was fun to actually put it to use. It was not very user friendly, or I just didnt know the tricks. But the cookies came out tasty. :) Thought it was funny that you mentioned the wooden cookie mold.

  2. What makes it even funnier is I was thinking of the wooden cookie molds your parents gave to my parents as I wrote this! Speculaas are so yummy! You will have to share your recipe with me.