Sunday, December 16, 2012

Anise Drop Cookies

Anise Drop Cookies with Holly in Background

Spice Up Your Holiday Cookie Platter with this Traditional German Recipe

When I was growing up, December was always cookie month. My mother baked a batch of cookies almost every day to prepare for the Christmas festivities. Although she always changed the mix of cookies that went into the rotation — adding some, dropping others — one always appeared without fail: these great Anise Drop Cookies. Her recipe was handed down from her grandmother, and in turn handed down to me. And I gave it to Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, who is the cookie baker in our household.

The anise flavor is pronounced in these cookies, but not overwhelming. Anise is somewhat reminiscent of licorice — though even people who don’t like licorice (or black jelly beans) will probably like these cookies. (I hated black jelly beans when I was a kid, and they’re still the last jelly bean standing at Easter; but I always liked this cookie.) And of course, anyone who does like licorice will adore this cookie.

Anise is used in some Italian cookies and biscotti, and features in several of Germany’s best known holiday cookies, including Pfeffernüsse and Springerle. In fact, these cookies taste somewhat like Springerle, but are less labor intensive to make.

If you have an electric stand mixer, making Anise Drop Cookies is fairly simple. But it does take a bit of time — for the best results, you want to let them sit out overnight before baking.

If you insist on baking them right after mixing, you’ll still get a good cookie. But waiting overnight may be a good thing around Christmastime. After all, it lets you practice resisting the temptation to sneak a peek at all those gifts that have your name on them. You haven’t been peeking already, have you?


Anise Drop Cookies on Black Acrylic


Recipe:  Anise Drop Cookies

These cookies originated in northern Europe, where winters can be seriously chilly.  And the weather does affect how these cookies look when they’re baked (though not how they taste, fortunately).  If you’re baking them anyplace where the temperature is warmer (and the humidity higher), the cookies will look very much like those in the pictures accompanying this post. 

But if you mix these and let them sit overnight under ideal weather conditions before baking, the cookies will form little “pillow tops” or “self frosting.”  “Ideal” in this case means very low humidity.  So for most of us, the best time to make these cookies is when the weather is cold and the furnace (sans humidifier) is working hard, drying out the house.  More on this in the Notes.

Baking these cookies used to drive my mother nuts when I was young, by the way — she always wanted the little pillow tops to form!  But her success rate was probably under 50 percent.  I always thought my parents could do anything when I was a kid, but not even my mom could control the weather. 

This recipe was one my great-grandmother used, and it’s pretty standard.  In fact, almost all the recipes for Anise Drop Cookies that you’ll see in cookbooks look more or less like this one.  It takes about 45 minutes to mix the cookies and drop them onto cookie sheets.  Then another 8 hours (at least) for them to sit before baking (you can extend this up to two days).  You’ll probably need at least two cookie sheets when baking these (so all the cookies have room to sit overnight).  Baking takes 10 minutes or so. 

This recipe yields a bit more than 4 dozen cookies.  The baked cookies will store well in airtight containers for a week or so (if they get hard, just dunk them in your favorite beverage).

Ingredients
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature (seriously consider using pasteurized eggs for this recipe; see Notes)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (for preparing baking sheets)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 heaping tablespoon anise seed (preferably pounded fine with a mortar & pestle)

Procedure
  1. Set out eggs to warm the night before you plan to make these, or at least 3 hours ahead of time (see Notes).
  2. When ready to mix the cookie dough, prepare the baking sheets.  Either grease them liberally with butter or use silicone baking mats (and butter those).
  3. Break eggs into the bowl of an electric stand mixer (you can beat them by hand, but be warned:  you need to beat them a lot).
  4. Beat the eggs on medium until light and frothy — then keep beating for another 15 minutes.
  5. Gradually beat in the sugar.  Keep beating!  You want to beat for at least 20 minutes all together (see Notes).
  6. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and anise seed.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, and beat for another 2 minutes.  The texture and consistency of the cookie “dough” will resemble cake batter.
  8. Using a half teaspoon, drop rounded measures of cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets.  Space about an inch apart (or maybe a bit more).  The “drops” may look a bit sloppy and uneven, but as the cookies sit they will form smooth ovals.
  9. Let the cookies stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours, or preferably overnight.  (You can actually bake these right away, but the flavor won’t be as good.  You can let them sit for 2 nights without worries; see Notes.)  Cover with brown paper or aluminum foil to prevent dust or other foreign matter from landing on the cookies.  You don’t want the covering to touch the top of the cookies, so it’s best to prop it up with something (I generally use a few shot glasses).
  10. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  11. Bake cookies for 10 minutes, or until done (they’ll be baked through, and will turn a golden color).  Cool on baking rack before serving.
Anise Drop Cookies with Napkin

Notes
  • Letting (egg-laden) cookie dough sit at room temperature for hours creates ideal conditions for salmonella to breed.  Although the risk of salmonella in eggs is slight, it’s very real.  So I urge you to use pasteurized eggs in this recipe (or any cookie recipe, really).  Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk?  Especially since most of us can’t make cookies without tasting the raw dough! 
  • You can easily identify pasteurized eggs because they usually have a red “P” stamped on them.
  • This recipe suggests leaving the eggs out overnight because they beat better when they’re at room temperature.  (They won’t spoil; remember, chickens lay their eggs at room temperature, and in many parts of the world eggs are sold unrefrigerated.)  But if you’re squeamish about this, putting them out for 3 hours should be enough.  And if you forget to put them out, no worries — it’ll just take a bit longer to beat them.
  • You want to beat the eggs for a long time — at least 20 minutes or so.  Why?  Well, a couple of reasons, or so I’m told.  First, you beat in a lot of air, which helps fluff up the dough.  But perhaps more importantly, beating “denatures” the eggs (i.e., it causes the strands of protein to stretch), which makes for a lighter texture.
  • When you let the cookies sit overnight before baking, two things happen.  One, the anise seed thoroughly permeates the dough, resulting in a more flavorful cookie.  Second, the cookie dough dries out somewhat, allowing some of the egg white and sugar to rise to the surface.  When the weather conditions are right, this “bloom” can form a visible white layer on the cookies’ surface (that’s what creates the pillow top or frosting effect).  The bloom is visible on the cookies before you put them in the oven, and is very obvious when they’re baked.
  • Without low humidity, however, the bloom effect will be minimal.  If your humidity is higher than 50 percent, letting the cookies sit out two nights may improve your chances of getting the pillow top effect.
  • But not always, alas.  The cookies pictured directly above the Notes section sat out one night before baking (with humidity at about 75 percent).  They have zero pillow top, as you can see.  The top and bottom pictures in this post are from the same batch, but these were allowed to sit out for two nights before baking.  You may be able to discern some minor blooming (but no pillow top effect).  They still taste great, though — and I think they look good even without the “self frosting.”
  • Baking powder adds a slight leavening effect to the cookie dough, but as far as I know it doesn’t affect the egg-white bloom (if someone knows differently, I’d be grateful for an education on this).
  • Always use fresh baking powder.  It does become weaker over time (and most baking powder tins have an expiration date).  So replace your baking powder when necessary.  I usually replace mine once a year, when daylight savings time ends (so I remember to do it).
  • It’s a good idea to shake your baking powder before using it to make sure all the components are well mixed.  Baking powder consists of baking soda; an additional acidic ingredient (which reacts with the baking soda to produce leavening); and a neutral substance (usually corn starch) to provide bulk. 
Anise Drop Cookies with Holly in Background

Darn the Humidity, Great Taste Ahead!

Mrs. Kitchen Riffs was mumbling as she paged through a stack of cookbooks, a plate of Anise Drop Cookies in front of her.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, grabbing a cookie.

“Oh, I left these out to rest overnight, and they haven’t bloomed the way I’d like them to.  I baked half of them just to make sure, and no pillow top.  I’m trying to figure out if there’s something I can do differently.”

“These cookies would drive my mother crazy sometimes too,” I said.  “She’d always worry whether they’d turn out, and if she got the pillow tops she was always so excited.  It’s all the weather — no amount of cookie research can change that.  Although I’m always all in favor of researching more cookies!”

“I guess you’re right,” she sighed.  “Still, they taste good, don’t they?”

“They’re excellent,” I said helping myself to several more.  “You could always let the other cookie sheet sit for another night.  I remember my mom would often do that — usually when she didn’t get the bloom after leaving them out the first night.”

“Did that help?” she asked, sampling a cookie.

“Usually not,” I admitted.  “But it made her feel like she was doing something.”

“We’re having unseasonably warm weather for December, and it’s way more humid than usual,” nodded Mrs K R.  “I blame global warming!”

We both eyed the last cookie on the plate.  Finally, Mrs K R picked it up, broke it in two, and offered me half.

That’s my Mrs K R!  You have to love someone a lot to share the last of these little beauties.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Pfeffernusse Cookies
Almond Sugar Cookies
Christmas Stollen
Coconut Kisses
Chocolate Drop Cookies
Cherry Winks Cookies
Chocolate Pepper Cookies
Peanut Butter Cookies
Ultimate Chocolate Brownie
Easy Peach Cobbler
Bread Pudding
Zabaglione
Root Beer Floats
Grape Flaugnarde
Walnut Apple Crisp
Homemade Meringues
Eggnog

66 comments:

  1. Oh these look perfect and your decorations with the cookies make them look even better. A very festive cookie and I'm quite certain they're delicious!

    Happy Holidays!

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    1. Hi Vicki, these really are delish! And quite festive, as you say. Happy Holidays to you, and thanks for the comment.

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  2. I love that photo at the top - so clean with the Christmas accent. There are certainly a lot of Christmas cookie recipes about now to choose from. I am doing some baking for gifts next weekend so am on the look out for something different. Not too sure about the waiting overnight though. I would have to be super organised for that.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, you can actually bake these cookies right away, but really the flavor is better if you leave them overnight (not a huge difference, but a difference nevertheless). Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  3. Just the other day I was thinking about the anise flavored cookies we had in Italy -- they were everywhere and I enjoyed them very much. Though your cookies are different in shape, I'll bet the flavor is reminiscent and yummy. Thanks for the recipe. :)

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    1. Hi Judy, the flavor would be somewhat similar, I'm sure. Although many of the Italian cookies are quite hard; these are much softer, so there may be a texture difference. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. I made a cookie recipe of my grandmother's yesterday...nothing better than family favorites passed down through the generations. This may actually be an anise flavored cookie I'd enjoy...most scare me off before I even try them, but a subtle flavor sounds nice.

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    1. Hi Lizzy, aren't family recipes the best? Even when they're not, well, they are! The flavor of these is nice. You'll definitely notice the anise, but it's far from over-the-top. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. I love black jelly beans and the taste of this cookie! They look beautiful and perfect with the ribbon around them. My mom and grandmother made these years ago and I really miss them. Your recipe sounds incredible and flavorful!

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    1. Hi Judy, if you like black jelly beans you'll like this cookie! It's not nearly as intensely flavored as the jelly beans, but quite pleasant. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. I love anise anything so I'm sure these cookies would be a huge hit :)
    They look perfect!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Uru, if you like anise, this cookie has your name on it! Of course most cookies seem to have your name on them - odd, isn't it? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  7. I love recipes like this that are handed down from generation to generation! Nice sharing on the cookie - that is love :)

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    1. Hi Alyssa, heirloom recipes are so cool, aren't they? And I truly do enjoy sharing them - no reason why I should be the only one eating these! Thanks for the comment.

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  8. What cute little pillow top cookies! I can't tell you how much I appreciate this recipe! Here in NM Biscochitos are the state cookie. There are made with anise and LOTS of butter, but normally shortening. I mean LOTS - like 1 to 2 cups! I've never made them and I always feel guilty when I eat them. So now you know - Your cookies has very little butter by comparison and still has the anise. This make me very, very happy! I can feel the cookie monster surfacing. :) Thanks!!

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    1. Hi MJ, these are actually reasonably light cookies, although of course the sugar and flour do add plenty of calories. And the flavor is great! Best of all, these are pretty easy to make - even someone who rarely bakes cookies would find these pretty straightforward to make. ;-) Glad to see the cookie monster surfacing. And thanks for the comment.

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  9. Something really different, I never tried anise on cookies yet but a lot with rice cakes.

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    1. Hi Raymund, if you like anise, these cookies are definitely worth a try. Very refreshing flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  10. These look so good and very Christmassy. I really wish we could purchase pasteurized eggs here in Australia but I'm afraid I've never seen them before :( So sad because there are plenty of things I'd like to make with them, e.g. royal icing! It's also difficult to buy powdered egg whites here too :(

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    1. Hi Christine, if you have a reliable supplier of fresh eggs, they should be fine. I've used regular eggs in lots of things and have never had a problem. But in the US, at least, the way eggs are produced these days, I've become reluctant to use regular eggs for some things when pasteurized ones are readily available. Bummer, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

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  11. What a sweet post with nice clicks and a great recipe!!! Its absolutely true that you have to love someone a lot to share that you like.

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    1. Hi Shibi, thanks for your kind words, and for taking time to comment.

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  12. I am very fond of anise cookies and yours look amazing! Here in Switzerland, we also make a similar confection.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, my impression is anise cookies like these are much more common in Europe than in the US. Someday I should go to Europe in the winter so I can taste all the seasonal baked goods! Thanks for the comment.

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  13. I smell anise and immediately think of Christmas. Anise biscotti were a holiday treat for the adults. We kids enjoyed walnut biscotti with out milk. This recipe is such an easy one, John, that I just may break with tradition and make them in place of the biscotti. A little more variety on the cookie tray would be nice. :)

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    1. Hi John, this really is a good recipe, and you won't be sorry if you try it. Still, it's hard to beat a good biscotti! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. Ooh, I have never heard of anise before, but it sounds like it would be very good in cookies, yum!

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    1. Hi Cathleen, it's a great flavor! And definitely worth trying, IMO. Hope you enjoy! Thanks for the comment.

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  15. Beautiful picture! Good looking cookie. And I think that anise is a good refresher after a heavy meal. But to many may add to MY pillow top! Well I guess my daughter calls it a muffin top!

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    1. Hi Abbe, I find the flavor of anise quite refreshing also. But I know what you mean about these little beauties adding to our bulk if we eat too many . . . ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  16. I've never cooked with anise so this looks like a great recipe so that I can try it out. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Natalie, it's really tasty! I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for your comment.

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  17. Haven't tried anise biscotti before but I'm sure it tastes wonderful. This should be perfect coffee or tea snack after all of the Christmas holiday feasts. Thank you, John. :)

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    1. Hi ray, this is perfect with coffee or tea - great for dunking too! Thanks for the comment.

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  18. What a lovely,festive picture! These Anis Drop Cookies are going to be one of the stars at my Christmas coffe table :)

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    1. Hi Daniela, they're a great cookie! I hope you enjoy making and eating them. Thanks for the comment.

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  19. I can almost smell the fragrance of these cookies. Anise always makes me think of the holidays at this time of year. ;)

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    1. Hi Carolyn, I always associate anise with the holidays too. And this cookie is made for the holidays! Thanks for the comment.

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  20. Beautiful cookies, beautiful presentation! My husband and I are travelling to Germany for the holidays-hope they have tons of these there :) I love them with a hot latte in the afternoons.

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    1. Hi Kristi, have a great time in Germany! Wonderful way to spend the holidays. Have some of these, and some stollen too. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  21. Oh, how swell! I'm pretty sure I'm the first generation in my family to have ever touched an oven, so we don't have the same recipe pass-down for baked goods--but I love that we can step into your kitchen and have that experience nevertheless. Thanks for a fun read!

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    1. Hi Ala, always happy to be your surrogate family, baking-wise. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  22. i hate black jelly beans but i love the fragrance and flavoring of anise. pretty odd... right? heheh
    i can already tell these cookies would be a winner for me ;)

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    1. Hi cakewhiz, it is odd - and I'm the same way (although now I tolerate black jelly beans much better than I used to). And I'll bet these cookies would be a winner for you! Thanks for the comment.

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  23. These cookies look great...the interesting thing is that when I was little I did not care for anise, and now I love it...this cookies will be perfect for sharing.
    Have a great week!

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    1. Hi Juliana, I think anise is one of those flavors that grown ups tend to prefer more than children. Certainly I like it much more now than when I was younger. Thanks for the comment.

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  24. These cookies look wonderful and very festive!

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    1. Hi Ali, thanks for your kind words, and comment.

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  25. Okay that's just it. I'm coming over for cookies and a photography lesson right this minute. You're like a cooking/photography wizard.

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    1. Hi Kim, I'll leave the light on for you. ;-) Thanks for the very kind words, and the comment.

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  26. Wow your mom made cookies every day in December! She is a super mom! I love your anise cookies. My sister every year makes Springerle cookies and she has a special press. I love the chewy cookie and the anise flavor a beautiful cookie. Will have to give your version a try. Take care, BAM

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    1. Hi Bam, my mom did indeed make a lot of cookies. Some years not as many, but usually tons and tons. I have my mom's old Springerle rolling pin (the barrel has cookie shapes carved on it, so as you roll it across the dough you also stamp a shape on the dough, and cut out the cookies), and will probably post that recipe next year. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. I have a friend who adores licorice. These will be right up her alley. I'll be sure and share this with her. Happy holidays!

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    1. Hi Kristi, these will appeal to anyone who is a licorice lover. Happy holidays, and thanks for commenting.

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  28. There is something strange going on in the virtual world: I know I was here, I know I posted a comment, and I guess it disappeared again into the virtual void... Oh, well...
    I remember that I said that those cookies smell like home to me... And all photos are so beautiful, really set me in a holiday mood... :)

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    1. Hi Marina, weird that your comment disappeared, although that sometimes happens to me on other blogs, too. Although all the blogging software is pretty good, they all seem to have a few bugs. Anyway, glad these cookies remind you of home! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  29. I love making cookie recipes for Christmas that have been passed down from generation to generation. I am all about tradition.

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    1. Hi Dawn, I like tradition, too, particularly when it comes to great cookies! Thanks for the comment.

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  30. Wow these cookies look amazing! Love the idea of anise :)

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    1. Hi Ilan, they're really an excellent cookie. And if you like anise, you'll definitely like these. Thanks for the comment.

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  31. Weird, I thought I had commented on this post last week? Apologies if I'm accidentally double commenting! Interesting note on the pasteurized eggs. I buy my eggs from an Amish farmer around here and apparently they just leave their eggs out for a month or more at room temp. Or they told me that if you rub this mineral oil on the outside of the egg it'll stay good for years? Great photo and recipe - my grandmother used to make these and they were delicious!

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    1. Hi Food Jaunts, that is weird - maybe it's a Blogger problem. Anyway, truly fresh eggs last for quite a while. I've heard about the mineral oil thing, but haven't had any reason to try it - interesting info, though. Thanks for the comment.

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  32. haha, yes to work in low humidity is essential, no doubt! The other day I was craving anis cookies, which are traditionally made in my home, so I decided to make some but with fennel seeds instead(similar liquorice aroma)but then I realized it couldn't work out because of the humidity and annoying insects.
    Yours look phenomenal, great job!!

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    1. Hi Helene, I like the idea of substituting fennel seeds. Our humidity is nowhere near what you must experience, so I can see how these cookies are no-go for you. Thanks for the comment.

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  33. I can imagine most of cookies flavor but I have no idea how these would taste with anise seeds in it! It would be such a joy to find out. What a beautiful cookie shot. I LOVE the first photo~~!

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    1. Hi Nami, anise works really well in cookies - worth trying sometime. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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