These Holiday Cookies Taste Just Like the Ones My Great-grandma Used To Make

An unexpected flavor transports me back to my childhood this time each year.

powdered anise cookies on a platter
Photo: Getty Images

At the holidays I always think of my great-grandmother's hands rolling pasta and baking unique cookies: anise crescents. The cookies looked like an Italian wedding cookie in snowy powdered sugar but with a secret: licorice-y anise extract. I've found versions in bakeries and packaged shelf-stable options but they aren't quite right; they're missing the hands rolling them, family history, and love-infused nostalgic flavor.

Our family-favorite ginger cookie recipe is a go-to from Allrecipes, so I made one last search and found this Italian Cookies with Anise recipe that is the perfect stand-in for our missing family recipe.

My great grandmother's anise cookies were my dad's favorite (he also loves licorice jellybeans.) I've imagined the recipe coming with my ancestors through Ellis Island in the 1920s, before it was lost decades ago. I had no idea as a child what anise was, but now I equate it with my heritage as much as Sunday sauce or meatballs. With that nostalgia in mind, I've added Allrecipes contributor AliciaVR6's recipe to my holiday baking line-up.

In the spirit of family, I adopted her Aunt Nin's version and felt transported to my childhood in an hour. The main ingredients are familiar: butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, flour, milk, confectioner's sugar, and baking powder. The magic is in the proportions of this short cookie enhanced with anise's licorice magic. This recipe finds a perfect balance of vanilla against the darker anise. The memories flow when I feel the dough in my adult hands, a light anise scent lingering as I make dough balls and then crescents. A 4-ingredient glaze, infused with the same anise extract, ensures the cookies have anise-flavor through and through. I'm not the only one with a soft spot for this recipe; the comment section is full of nostalgia, too.

Angela Goldberg

I have been looking for this recipe for years. My grandmother made them round and small. She was from Italy and the greatest! THANK YOU SO MUCH

—Angela Goldberg

I did vary from the suggested figure-8 form and made the crescent moons I remember. In the spirit of new traditions, I switched from powdered sugar to the suggested anise icing and sprinkles for a little extra holiday sparkle. The Allrecipes anise cookie recipe doesn't just top the cookies with sprinkles, it sprinkles familiar flavors, family, and memories into my holidays and recipe box.

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