Reader’s Recipes: Italian Christmas Cookies ~ these classic holiday cookies have a soft texture, a buttery flavor, and lots of festive frosting on top!
Welcome to my Reader’s Recipes series of holiday cookies. I’m going to be sharing YOUR family recipes here every Saturday from now until the New Year. Thanks to all of you who’ve sent in recipes for me to try!
This recipe was sent in by Susan, who lives in southern Maine. According to Susan, her aunt brought these festive Italian anise cookies to Christmas every year and the tradition took hold. Her mother in law also made them, but preferred a lemon flavor. Susan’s aunt was actually Scottish, or Irish, depending on who you talked to, and while her mother-in-law claimed to be Italian, she had a Polish maiden name…so…like with so many family recipes, the origins of this one are little vague. But, more to the point, these cookies are classic holiday treats, the kind that make everybody’s eyes light up!
Traditionally these Italian Christmas cookies are made with anise extract. It comes from the seeds of a Mediterranean plant, and has a mild licorice flavor. It gives these cookies an old world flavor, and Italian anise, or anisette cookies are a staple of so many people’s holidays, whether they claim Italian heritage or not. Over the years Susan’s family came to prefer a lemon flavor, and I actually chose to use almond extract in both the cookie and the frosting because I love it, and didn’t have any anise around. Both lemon and almond are also traditional, so you’re good with whatever you prefer.
These cookies come together easily in one bowl. They’re a little unusual because they’re made with oil rather than butter or shortening.. Eggs and lots of baking powder give them a light cakey texture. They come out of the oven in perfect mounds ready for decorating.
So I have to confess, even bloggers misread recipes sometimes, and I misread the frosting portion of Susan’s instructions. I didn’t notice that it was supposed to be a ‘drizzle’ of frosting. Could have been a Freudian slip, as I do love frosting. As you can see, I made extra and loaded it on. Now that I think about it, the drizzle would be really pretty, and more authentic — an excuse to make another batch, I guess!
These cookies are soft, with a nice, pillowy texture. The flavoring, whichever one you choose, comes through nice and clear, and the sprinkles or colored sugar adds a final touch of crunch to every bite. They are wonderful, and I highly recommend them.
Thanks Susan for sending us the recipe!
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup canola oil
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp lemon or anise extract
- 4 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 4 cups flour
- 3 Tbsp butter, melted and cooled
- 2 tsp vanilla
- approximately 1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
- milk as needed
- colored sprinkles and or colored sugar
- Set oven to 350F
- Beat together the eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla, and lemon or anise extract.
- Mix in the baking powder, salt, and flour until well combined.
- Roll dough into 1" balls and place about 2 inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets.
- Bake 9 - 11 minutes (cookies should not brown).
- Place on wire rack to cool. Then frost and decorate as described below.
- To make the frosting, whisk together the butter and vanilla and then whisk in enough confectioners sugar to make a frosting. Add about a tablespoon of milk at a time until you get a drizzling consistency.
- Liberally drizzle over cookies and immediately sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles. Leave until frosting sets.
- I suggest making the cookies as Susan says, with a drizzle of frosting. But if you want to make them like I did, you’ll need at least a double batch of the frosting recipe, and just add enough milk to make a spreadable consistency.
- If you’d like to make these ahead, freeze the plain baked cookies and frost them when ready to serve.
- If you want to make the authentic Italian cookie, you can find anise extract HERE.
Don’t forget to pin these Italian Christmas Cookies!