Her-Noni’s Italian Anise Cookies

My batch of Italian Anise Cookies from this  Thanksgiving.
My batch of Italian Anise Cookies from Thanksgiving 2015
You will find recipes all over for these cookies. Heck, you might find this exact recipe (my great-grandmother couldn’t have been the only one to bake them this way). But lately I keep seeing the same variation of this recipe that includes using butter, salt, and (oh dear God, no) Crisco and finally I had to put the family recipe out there for posterity. 
My mother doesn’t often allow me to share family recipes but this one is relatively common so we’re good to go. 
I give you, Her-Noni’s Italian Anise Cookies (The original recipe of my great-grandmother Carmela.) 
6 cups of flour 
1 1/2 cups of sugar 
6 teaspoons of baking powder 
1 one ounce bottle of Anise extract 3/4 cup oil 6 brown eggs (extra large) 
Confectioners sugar 
Imitation vanilla
Rainbow sprinkles (I prefer the sprinkles in dot form not the jimmies but whatever floats your boat) 
The amounts of the ingredients for the frosting are non-specific because it’s basically by feel. The recipe will give guidelines. 
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Depending on the size of your cookies, this recipe makes anywhere between 80 and 120 cookies.

In a mixer (I use the Kitchen Aid Classic mixer but any good, electric mixer with a bowl will work) add the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder). Mix them together and the create a small well in the middle of them. Add the wet ingredients into the well (the entire one-ounce bottle of Anise, the oil, and the eggs) and mix it all together. (This is something my great grandmother, my grandfather and for years my mother all did by hand. You can mix it by hand if you want but it’s more work than you need to do and it also tends to make the cookies a little gritty.) 

What the dough should look like
What the dough should look like
Once mixed, the dough should be easy to take and roll into cookie balls. It should be soft but not that sticky. If the dough is too sticky (and you’ll know this because it will be very difficult to get off  your fingers) add a little more flour (just a few pinches) to the dough. 
Roll the dough into small balls and place on a cookie sheet (I usually put an ungreased piece of parchment paper over the sheet before I start placing the cookies). Using your index finger and thumb and grabbing some dough should get you the right amount for each cookie. You don’t want the cookies to be tiny but you don’t want them to be huge either. Too big and you run the risk of the cookies not cooking all the way through. Too small and they burn easily. Roll the dough between your palms to make a ball. There is no need to flatten the cookie at all. Place it on your cookie sheet as it’s rolled.  
Small balls
Small balls
If you know your oven well, you’ll have a better feel for how long the cookies should bake. My Noni’s original recipe called to let them cook for ten minutes but I find with my stove that is much too long. Eight minutes usually does the trick. Sometimes I have to keep them in a little longer, sometimes a little less time is needed. It’s best to keep an eye on the clock and the oven. As each batch of cookies is finished, I put them in a large bowl and wait until all the cookies are done before I begin the frosting process. (Don’t frost the cookies while they’re still hot.) You’ll know the cookies are properly baked by the color of the bottom of them. The bottom of the cookies should be brown, but not a dark brown. Although even if they get a little dark, you haven’t ruined the cookies!
Cookies with brown bottoms
Cookies with brown bottoms
If you get a darker brown bottom there’s an easy trick to salvage the cookies. Baking them a few minutes over doesn’t usually ruin the overall taste but no one wants a cookie that looks like the bottom is burned. Take hold of the cookie and run it over a cheese grater for a few seconds, grating off the dark colored part of the bottom of the cookie. Grate away the dark and you have a perfectly good cookie! 
When I’m making the frosting I usually start with two cups of confectioners sugar, a half a cup of milk and a two tablespoons of vanilla. Using a spoon, mix the ingredients together to texture. You don’t want the frosting to be too thin so go lightly with the milk. Add the confectioners sugar until you have what you consider the right texture for the frosting. The vanilla should give the frosting a bit of an antique tinge – a light, beige-look. (Although there are many times my frosting comes out white and that’s okay too. You’re going for the frosting to be noticeable. If it is clear, it isn’t thick enough and you need more confectioners sugar.) Taste the frosting to make sure it is sweet enough (and that you can taste the vanilla – it shouldn’t be overpowering but still strong enough to taste). 
When I’m frosting, I usually cover the area I’m using in aluminum foil. It makes for a quick and easy clean up when it’s all over. Dip the top of the cookie into the frosting and place it on the foil. The frosting dries relatively quickly so you want to shake on the sprinkles as soon as possible. Which means it’s best to frost the cookies one at a time instead of frosting a lot of cookies and then adding the sprinkles. 
This cookie won me first price at my company's  holiday bake-off last year
This cookie won me first prize at my company’s holiday bake-off in 2014!
Once the cookies are all frosted and sprinkled, let them sit for about ten minutes before placing them on the cookie plates (this gives the frosting a little time to harden so all the cookies don’t stick together on the plate). 
No shortening, no salt, no butter. Just really ridiculously good cookies. 
(I am my own worst critic when it comes to my cookies. I probably eat two or three out of every batch I bake before I frost them to make sure they taste all right. I was concerned this batch wouldn’t come out as good as I hoped. I made roughly 110 cookies on a Wednesday night and as of Sunday night there were only 5 cookies left. They were a big hit.)

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