Whew, Crisis Averted. Our dough was sticky beyond belief, and after being put into the oven, the first batches of our precious Anise Cookies were puffing up and then sinking back down into unrecognizable blobs.
I felt tensions heighten in the kitchen. As a 5th generation Anise Cookie connoisseur, I felt the pressure to help figure this out, though it would be hard to tell where we went wrong; this capricious recipe came down to an exact science. It required impeccably exact steps with hours of specific preparation days in advance. I thought we might not salvage these 4 batches. However, after the oven reached homeostasis, after more flour was kneaded in, and after the finicky ingredients calmed down, the dough was recovered after our first few failed baking attempts.
The ingredients present in Anise Cookies are what make most normal cookies delicious: butter, milk, flour, eggs, and sugar. However, drams of anise oil are what give our anise cookies their strong, pungent flavor. (Yes, our old, tattered recipe in typewriter font really does call for drams.)
Not to mention, the recipe calls for chemicals- specifically ammonium carbonate, an ingredient used in many traditional German recipes as a leavening agent. Ammonium Carbonate, also know as Baker’s Ammonia, Hartshorn, or Hirschhorn Salz (German), precedes baking soda and baking powder, and gives the cookies their light, airy thickness. The disadvantages of using ammonium carbonate are that it’s hard to find, and it’s rather undesirable to become lightheaded and pass out while baking; it has a very stong, chemical smell (I wouldn’t recommend taking a whiff out of the bottle up close).
The ammounium carbonate powder is dissolved in warm milk, and eventually its sharp smell is overpowered by the Anise oil, which gives the cookies their stimulating smell and treasured taste and sends surges of nostalgia through the hearts and mouths of my family members.
Once we’re in the zone, we operate together smoother than a well oiled machine. Several hands roll out a ball of dough with rolling pins, cut shapes with traditional metal cookie-cutters, roll the extra back into a ball, and repeat until we are left with very few scraps. This year, the trays were popped into one of three ovens, which must be watched carefully; as my Uncle Dave said, there’s about a 30 second window from undercooked to burnt.
The assembly line continues with the icing brigade who frosts the cooled cookies with pastel colored icing and tops them off with an array of sprinkles, red hots, and chocolate bits. At my aunt and uncles house, we had space to lay the cookies out on a long table; however, older family members recall my great Aunt Lois, the Anise Cookie guru, lining every millimeter of free space in her tiny house with drying cookies.
After this years full day extravaganza, this year we ended up with about 700 cookies, which are shipped to other family members and, of course, eaten quickly by all of us.
The depressing part is, we hand-make all these beautiful cookies with an abundance of love and… nobody else likes them! These strong Anise cookies have a flavor similar to black licorice which makes most people cringe when they try them and throw the rest of the cookie away, politely. That’s ok, more for us!
Year after year, I enjoy my family’s company while we work together to create this once a year delicacy. I enjoy these scrumptious anise morsels from the tin until every last crumb is gone. This has been such a special bonding event for the family, especially this year, since all the aunts, uncles, cousins, sibilings, and grandparents were gathered together. I know I will continue to take part in this beautiful tradition of making these beautiful little cookies.