My mother used to make these delicious anise-flavored cookies every Christmas when I was very little. The cookies were shaped like tiny mushrooms with a crunchy puffy cap that sat atop a cookie base. I remember that they had to sit out overnight before she baked them the next day. I think the recipe was from her old Joy of Cooking book– or that’s where she had written it down. That book is long gone and I have tried to locate the recipe over the years. One day I found it– I’m not sure where because I hastily typed in the ingredients into the “Notes” app on my iPhone. I’ve been waiting for Christmas to make them!
The ingredients are basically eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder and flavorings– lemon zest, anise seed and vanilla. I asked my mother on how to assemble the batter and she said I needed to first whip the eggs for 20 minutes, then add the sugar and whip another 10 minutes, then add the dry ingredients and flavorings and beat another 10 minutes. No wonder she only made these at Christmas– she certainly did NOT have a stand mixer and did all this beating with a puny hand mixer! I was worried about making these cookies since it was overcast, and humidity is a death knoll for anything that relies on whipped egg whites. The stuff never sets, or dries out the way you want. (I also tried to make a batch of Italian nougat, torrone, and am still waiting to gauge the final result).
Yet I decided to proceed. I didn’t get the cute mushroom-shaped cookies; mine were large and definitely not puffed. However, the flavor and texture were fantastic. The cookie is aromatic and the licorice flavoring is just what I remembered, as was the crunchy top leading to a soft, chewy middle. My mom also tried them and said that they were excellent and that the shape would be better if I made them again when it was clear, sunny and cold. I do think I needed more flour; the dough didn’t seem stiff enough, so I will increase the flour to 2 cups next time. If it’s humid, I’ll probably also increase the baking powder from 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons. If you like the flavor of anise, you will love these.
My Anise (Un-)Puffs
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 1 c sugar
- 1 1/2 c flour (I’m definitely going with 2 c from now on, regardless of humidity level)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3 TB anise seeds, crushed (I used a mortar and pestle)
- 1 TB vanilla
- 3 TB lemon zest
- 1/2 tsp salt
Prepare four cookies sheets with parchment paper. Place the eggs in the bowl of your stand mixer. Beat them on the highest speed for 20 minutes; they should be thick and voluminous. Add the sugar and beat another 10 minutes. The batter should fall off the whisk back into the bowl in thick ribbons.
While the mixer is running, mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl. Crush the anise seeds. Mix the lemon zest, vanilla and salt in a small bowl.
When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, add the dry ingredients, anise seed, and lemon zest mixture.
Beat another 10 minutes. The final batter is very thick. (In retrospect, I think mine was too thin and I will add more flour).
Drop by teaspoonfuls on the baking sheets, and let sit out overnight (at least 8 hours). When the batter spread so quickly, I knew that it was too thin, or that the humidity was affecting their shape:
Nevertheless, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees the next morning and baked them for 9 minutes til they were light brown– MUSHROOM BROWN.
Let them rest for a few minutes on the sheet, then remove to a cookie rack to completely cool.
I’m going to make some more of these because I know several family members will love the taste of this old-fashioned holiday treat!