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It’s almost that time of the year for bunnies, carrots, baskets full of goodies, colorful hidden eggs and COOKIES! In my case, more specifically, it is time for Italian Anise Cookies or as Italian’s call them, “Angelonies”.
Angelonies are a tradition for most Sicilian families around the holidays. As far back as I can remember my Aunt would make the most delectable Italian treats for the holidays. Sadly, I would only see her a couple of times a year. So my favorite anise treats would have to wait until the next holiday arrived. Ever since I was a child I had a thing for black licorice. So, naturally these cookies were my favorite. They combined the best of everything I loved as a child. A cake like texture, hints of black licorice and lemon, with a light frosting and sprinkles on the top.
As I grew older, I would get cravings for these delicacies in between holidays. Not having the recipe, I searched high and low for any and all bakeries that would resemble my Aunt’s Italian baking skills. It wasn’t until I met my current boyfriend that I discovered Mara’s Italian Bakery in North Beach, San Francisco. Mara’s doesn’t make Angelonies, however, the style, textures and tastes of her baking are the closest I have found to my Aunt’s Italian style of baking. The cookies, the biscotti, the CANNOLI!! Oh, the cannoli!!! I have never had cannoli as mouth watering as Mara’s cannoli!
Although Mara’s is to this day, my one and only favorite Italian bakery, my Angelonies are still a craving to be satiated. This last Christmas was the first Christmas Eve I spent without my Italian side of the family. Since I knew I would be missing out on my favorite treats, I decided to give these precious “Angelonies” a go in my very own kitchen. Baking is something I love to do, but I must admit that I stick with the basics. So this adventure was a little out of my comfort zone to say the least. However, if I was going to go ahead with this, I was committed to making them perfect.
After searching for anise extract (the most important ingredient) at Target, Lucky’s, Whole Foods and a baking store to no avail I thought my baking adventure was coming to an end before they ever began. All my pretty, brand new ingredients sat on the counter top in my kitchen staring at me in defeat. However, as I left for Safeway to pick up dinner, lo and behold, anise extract appeared in my basket. Little did I know, the most important ingredient would be in the most obvious location. Isn’t it always like that? Anyway, as I returned home, I dusted off my apron and dove in!
To my surprise, these cookies were actually pretty easy to make, and the process was incredibly enjoyable. The smells, the textures, the SPRINKLES! Who knew that I could love making them even more than I enjoyed eating them? As I whipped up the batter, rolled the dough into small evenly shaped balls onto cookie sheets, watched the dough rise giddily in the oven, dipped them in frosting while they were still extremely hot and sprinkled them hectically, I realized the hour was slipping away. It was as if no time had passed at all. Then as I dipped the last cookie in anise-flavored frosting and sprinkled the last of the sprinkles on top, I let them cool and looked at them in admiration. As I took the first bite, I was taken back to my childhood and reminded of that first bite into the cookie my Aunt baked. It was like nothing had changed. The aroma, texture and taste were exactly as how I remembered them. For a moment it was nice to rekindle the memory of how I felt every time I saw my aunt and her wonderful mountain of Italian treats.
Now that I know how to make them, every holiday I get to bring out the anise extract and the sprinkles and bring back that memory. Heck, even on really bad days, I must admit that I’ve broken out these ingredients more than a few times since Christmas! Even though it’s just a cookie, it never fails to bring a little light to my day.