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Anisette Cookies: The Taste of Italian Anise

Anisette Cookies: The Taste of Italian Anise

Traditional, liquorice-flavoured cookies are the perfect treat for anyone wishing to get a taste of Italian cuisine. The main ingredient of Anisette cookies is, as the name implies, Anise.

Today’s topic will be about the Italian Anisette cookies. Anise seeds are used for flavouring baked goods and making Anisette liquor. The Italians usually combine Anisette cookies with the Anise liquor as it complements the cookies rather well. Since Anise seeds are the cookies’ main ingredient, we will be taking a look at their health benefits and their uses. We will also talk about the Anisette liquor. In the end, we will give you a simple recipe, so you can try and create your own Anisette cookies! 

If you love Italian cuisine, we also recommend Italian Cantuccini Biscuits Perfectly Match With Wine the one we wrote about in our Biscuit Type column.

Star Anise in Anisette cookies

Figure 1 - Star Anise

Health Benefits of the Anise Seeds

The Anise plant (pronounced /ˈanɪs/) or Pimpinella anisum in Latin, is a flowering plant native to the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia. The Anise plant is a member of the Apiaceae family of plants and shares some similarities with spices such as Fennel or Liquorice. It is primarily cultivated and used in Mediterranean countries to flavour food and liquor.

Anise seeds have a very luscious and aromatic taste and have therefore been used in various Italian dishes and recipes, such as the Anisette cookies, for example. The tradition of using Anise seeds to flavour meals and desserts dates back to the time of the ancient Romans. It is said that the Romans would serve large cakes flavoured with Anise at the end of their feasts in order to enhance their digestion. It could very well be that the tradition of serving cake at celebrations or festivals came from this Roman custom.

There are several important health benefits of the Anise plant. It is used both to aid digestion and strengthen the immune system. The plant has been used for these purposes by the various Mediterranean cultures and civilizations since the Ancient Age. As has already been said, the plant is used to enhance digestion. Therefore, it is referred to as a “carminative” herb, which means that it eases the release of gas or prevents it from even forming in the gastrointestinal tract. A healthy digestion usually helps the body to regulate some of its other issues. That is why the Anise plants aids the organism in multiple ways. For some historical reference, the Anise plant was also referred to by Pliny the Elder. He, amongst many others, used Anise as a sleeping aid by chewing the plant with a small amount of honey. In more recent times, Maude Grieve referred to the seeds in her A Modern Herbal as a “pectoral” which support the lungs during a cough.

The only part of the Anise plant used in the production of different medicines and for flavouring food and liquor is its seed. It has a great deal of active constituents, such as two to three percent of essential oils, essential fatty acids, fiber and protein.

The Cultivation and Production of the Anise Plant

As was mentioned in the previous parts of the article, the Anise is a plant native to the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia. It was first cultivated over four thousand years ago, in ancient Egypt. After some time, the European civilizations recognized the plant for its medicinal value and brought the plant to the western parts of the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean climate is perfectly suited for the cultivation of Anise plants. They grow best in light, well-drained and fertile soils, with a lot of sunshine. The best time of the year to plant Anise seeds is during spring, as soon as the ground warms up after a long and cold winter. The Anise plants also have a taproot, which means that it is beneficial to plan ahead before planting them. The seeds should be planted in their final location or transplanted while the seedlings are still small. Transporting the plants in their later growth stages could seriously damage them.

The word Anise is used to refer to both the plant and the liquorice flavour it has. The liquorice-like flavour is due to the composition of the plant. As we have mentioned, essential oils constitute about two to three percent of the plant, and eighty percent of these essential oils are made up of anethole. It is this essential oil that gives the plant its distinct flavour, and the oil can also be found in a similar Chinese plant called Star Anise. This similar type of plant is much cheaper to produce; therefore, the regular Anise plant has largely been replaced by its Chinese counterpart. The world production of Anise oils has dropped to about eight tons per year, which is much less compared to Star Anise (about four hundred tons).

The Composition and the Uses of the Anise Plants

The composition of the Anise plants varies with the place of origin and the methods used to cultivate them. The constituents that make up the plant are moisture, protein, fatty oils, essential oils, starch, n-free extract and crude fibre.

However, the most important of these are essential oils. They are what give the Anise seeds its characteristic flavour, with Anethole being the primary constituent. The oils can be obtained from the plant’s fruits by distilling them or using supercritical carbon dioxide. The amount of gained oil depends on the extraction process and its growing conditions. Out of the two mentioned ways to obtain Anise oils, the supercritical carbon dioxide method is more efficient.

After the essential oils have been extracted, they are then used in the numerous dishes of the Mediterranean and Western European cuisines. The seeds of the Anise plants are used to flavour the Anisette cookies and in the production of the Anise liquor. Different countries use Anise to flavour their national liquors; these include: the Greek ouzo, Italian sambuca, Bulgarian Mastika, French absinthe, anisette, pastis and others.

Anisette Liquor: A Good Combination with Anisette Cookies

Anisette (or Anise) is, as the name suggests, is an anise-flavoured liquor that is produced in the majority of Mediterranean countries, such as Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Portugal, Turkey, Israel and others. It is produced by distilling the fruits of the Anise plant. There are different variations of Anisette liquors, and Sambuca is the most popular Italian version. It requires a minimum of three hundred and fifty grams of sugar per litre to be produced and is very sweet. Anisette liquor is colourless and is usually not taken straight, due to its high levels of sugar and alcohol. Rather, it is mixed with water where it produces a milky white consistency. This consistency, if it is largely white, indicates that a very good Anisette has been used. Anisette cookies are often served along with Anisette drinks, as the sweet liquor and biscuits complement each other greatly. They are both also liquorice-flavoured, hence the good chemistry between them.

Anisette Cookies: A Traditional Recipe

The Anisette cookies are a traditional Italian cookies. They are tender and covered in a glaze and are a delight for children and people of all ages, especially at Christmas celebrations or other festivities. But the Anisette cookies are not just a seasonal treat. They can be made and enjoyed all-year-long! Since one of the main ingredients of the Anisette cookies are Anise seeds, these cookies are also quite healthy. Anise seeds are full of beneficial constituents which aid digestion and overall health. That is why they are a convenient treat after festive dinners full of hard meals and dishes, as they are sweet and can prevent gas from forming in the gastrointestinal tract.

The cookies are liquorice-flavoured since they use the seeds of the Anise plant, and are topped with a glaze and festive sprinkles, which really adds to their look, both as holiday and year-round cookies. Some people might be off-set by the liquorice flavour of these treats, but for those who like it, the Anisette cookies represent the pinnacle of liquorice-based cookies one can enjoy.

If you simply cannot fathom the taste of Anise, other substitutes can be used in place of it. For example, some people like to use vanilla or citrus extracts. Experiment to see what lies good with your diet and taste!

Before we begin baking Anisette cookies, a little tip for you; you do not have to glaze the cookies on the same day that you baked them. The cookies can be baked a couple of days before and stored until you feel like glazing them. This way, the cookies will look freshly made.

When baking Anisette cookies, it is important not to use too much flour, as excess flour could dry-up your cookies. Also, the dough you will use for baking is probably going to be sticky. This can hamper your baking when you are trying to shape the dough into bite-sized cookies. In order to get rid of this stickiness, add additional tablespoons of flour until its easy to roll between your hands.

Using this recipe, you can bake a batch of up to twenty-five cookies, with a caloric value of one hundred and forty-seven calories.

For the dough, you will need the following ingredients: half a cup of unsalted, softened butter, three eggs, two tablespoons of anise extract (or, as we have explained earlier, you may use vanilla or citrus extracts or something similar to Anise), three quarter cups of flour, half a cup of sugar, one quarter cup of milk (full-fat milk preferably), half a tablespoon of vanilla extract and finally, one tablespoon of baking powder.

For the glaze part of recipe, you will need the following: two entire cups of powdered sugar, one quarter tablespoon of anise extract (once again, you may use other extracts if you dislike the distinct taste of Anise), three tablespoons of water and festive sprinkles for decoration.

After you have gathered all the necessary ingredients, we can start preparing the dough for the Anisette cookies. Get a large mixing bowl, add the half a cup of butter and the half a cup of sugar into it. Mix it for a few minutes until the mixture is both creamy and smooth. While you are doing it that, set the oven to one hundred and eighty degrees Celsius, line up two large baking sheets with parchment paper and put the aside for when the cookie dough is done. Next up, add three eggs to the mixing bowl and mix it with a hand mixer, or, if you have a stand mixer, use that instead. Mix the ingredients until the mix is light. After that add the one quarter cup of full-fat milk, the two tablespoons of Anise extract or some other kind and mix everything up together until it combines. Now, take another bowl and the three cups of flour and the one tablespoon of baking powder. Mix the ingredients until they are evenly combined. Now, add the contents of the second bowl to the first one, and mix it all together until it combines nicely. The dough is now ready to be shaped into cookies. If you find that the dough is too sticky to be properly rolled, you can add additional cups of flour until the stickiness is gone. Using your tablespoon, you can scoop up balls of dough and roll them between your hands in order to form little spheres. Place the spheres on the baking sheets, with enough space between them and place them in the oven to bake for ten to twelve minutes.

As for the glaze, it is really simple to make. Just mix together two cups of powdered sugar, one quarter tablespoon of Anise extract and three tablespoons of water. Place the glaze over the freshly baked cookies, add festive sprinkles and voila! Your Anisette cookies are good to go!

Anisette Cookies: A Delightful Festive or Year-round Treat with Sprinkles!

Anise spice in anisette cookies

Figure 2 - Anise

We hope that we got you interested in these delicious and sweet looking Anise-flavoured cookies. Not only are they tasty and a delight for holiday festivities, they are also profoundly beneficial for your health, as its main ingredient aids digestion, so it is good for your overall health. We wish you luck and success with baking your own batch of Anisette cookies and we hope you have a good time. Cheers!

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