Crisp, light anise-flavored cookies just get better as they age… if they last that long. Perfect for mailing! This is a conventional cookie recipe, meaning it’s made from white (wheat) flour, and includes butter, eggs, and sugar. I only have one to taste each year… but it’s just not Christmas without them! See below for a gluten-free version of this anise cookie.
This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Elsie Koch, and my mom, Dorothy Koch Weaver. I think of both of them when I bake these, and I still send some to my mom every year, as she isn’t up for making them anymore. She used to make them early and store them in a huge metal Charles Chips tin (readers from Cleveland, Ohio will know what I’m talking about). The five of us kids would sneak into the tin, over and over again, and often they’d be half gone when she went pulled them out for Christmas!
Mom had translucent red plastic cookie cutters that made patterns on top of the cookie, so it wasn’t just a solid shape, but had a design pressed into it. I started making stars years ago when I bought this set of German cookie cutters.
You’ll need a specialty leavening agent to make these properly: ammonium carbonate (also known as ammonium bicarbonate or hartshorn). You can order it here, or check a local baking shop or compounding pharmacy. Just make sure you are buying food grade ammonium carbonate. You only need a tiny amount, and it must be stored in a glass bottle, so if you can buy a small amount, do so. Do not breathe in the fumes or get it on your skin, as it is an irritant. It is only used in thin cookies or crackers, not in moist baked goods like bread (as the ammonia cannot escape). During baking it breaks down into water and “gaseous elements” which dissipate, leaving a light, airy cookie. Now that I have some in the cupboard I tested it to see how it works with gluten-free flours. It made a delicious gluten-free version of these cookies (below). I’ll be trying crackers next. A baking breakthrough!
German Anise Christmas Cookies
Makes 13 dozen 2-1/2″ cookies
8 oz. (227 g) butter or stick margarine
2-1/3 C. (460 g) granulated sugar
3 eggs, separated
4-1/2 C. (300 g) unbleached white flour
1 T. (5 g) anise seed
1/2 t. (1 g) ammonium carbonate (or 4 t. (8 g) baking powder)
This is a two-day baking process. Day one (30 minutes):
Put the butter or margarine and eggs out to warm to room temperature.
Sift the flour before measuring it, then sift it into a medium bowl with the ammonium carbonate or baking powder. Be careful not to breathe it, as it’s really strong. The smell will completely disappear during baking.
Crush the anise seed using a mortar and pestle, rolling pin, or kitchen mallet. Set aside.
Separate the eggs, putting the yolks into a small bowl and the whites into a large batter or mixing bowl.
Measure out the sugar.
Beat the egg whites and set aside in a medium bowl. Using the same large mixing bowl that you whipped the egg whites in, cream the butter or margarine, then add the sugar and egg yolks and cream some more until fluffy and light yellow. Fold in the egg whites and crushed anise. Mix in the flour just until blended completely.
Let dough sit out on the counter overnight, covered. (Not in the refrigerator.)
Day two (2 hours):
Preheat the oven to 450F/ 210C/ gas mark 7. Put fresh parchment paper on your cookie sheets, and set out your wire racks, along with a thin metal spatula.
Beat one egg in a bowl with a fork and set aside with a pastry brush. Place this near your workspace along with a thin offset spatula, rolling pin, and flour scoop or spoon.
These work best rolled out on a wooden board. You can use a large wooden cutting board if you don’t have a butcher block counter top.
Flour your work surface, your hands, and the rolling pin. Take a handful of dough and add enough flour as you roll it out so that it’s not sticky. It shouldn’t stick to your hands, the bowl, or your rolling pin.
Roll out to a thickness of 1/8″-1/4″ (0.4-0.6 cm) as evenly as possible. Use only one cookie cutter shape per sheet, so that they bake evenly.
Place them on the cookie sheets with about 1/2″ (1 cm) between them. They don’t spread very much. Brush the tops with the beaten egg. If you are really picky, strain the beaten egg to remove the membrane.
Bake until golden brown, about 4 minutes for dark-colored baking sheets, and 6 minutes for light-colored baking sheets. They burn easily, so set a timer and check after 4 minutes.
I have four sheets going, so that I can be working on one, one is in the oven, and two are cooling. It’s best not to put cookies onto hot (or warm) baking sheets; you can put them outside (after removing the cookies) to cool them down quickly.