James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Italian Anise-Orange Cookies

Christmas cookies with anise and orange.

These are tender, puffy-looking cookies that are not too sweet, with a pleasing anise and orange flavor. They are typically made at Christmas, but they are welcome at any time of the year. 

Can lard be used in place of olive oil?

Catherine Cavallaro Goodmen, a second-generation Italian American, learned to make them from her Aunt Annie, one of many aunt who taught her how to cook.  Aunt Annie said the recipe originally came from Gramma Cavallaro, who brought them from Pizzo Calabria, Italy.  She added that the original fat for the cookies was melted animal lard or olive oil squeezed fresh from green olives off the trees.  These cookies really are best the day after they are made.

Italian Anise-Orange Cookies

Servings 36 cookies



  • cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 orange zest, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • teaspoons pure anise extract


  • 1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
  • 5-6 teaspoons whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon pure anise extract
  • colored sprinkles


To make the dough

  • In a medium bowl whisk together 2½ cups flour, the baking powder, and salt.
  • In another bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1 minute, or until frothy.
  • Gradually add the sugar and beat until the eggs thicken slightly and become pale in color, 2 or 3 minutes.
  • While beating, slowly add the olive oil.
  • On low speed, beat in the milk, orange zest, orange juice, and anise extract.
  • With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture in 2 installments. The dough will be soft and slightly sticky. If it is too sticky, stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons more flour a tablespoon at a time, but don't add too much.
  • Cover the bowl loosely with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two heavy 17 x 14-inch cookie sheets with silicone baking pan liners or cooking parchment.

To shape the cookies

  • Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough between your palms into smooth balls measuring a scant 1 inch in diameter. (The oil in the dough will keep the dough from sticking to your hands.)
  • Set the balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets, 18 cookies to a sheet.


  • Bake one sheet at a time until the bottoms of the cookies are lightly browned and their tops have cracks and are barely colored, 10 to 12 minutes; they will almost double in size during baking. Do not overbake-the cookies should be tender, not dry.
  • Cool the cookies on the cookie sheets for 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer them with a wide metal spatula to wire cooling racks to cool completely.

To make the icing

  • In a small bowl combine the confectioners' sugar, butter, orange juice, 4 teaspoons of the milk, and the anise extract and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and thick.
  • Beat in 1 to 2 teaspoons of milk, until the icing is the consistency of heavy cream.

Icing the cookies

  • Set the racks of cookies over waxed paper.
  • One at a time, dip the tops of 5 or 6 cookies in the icing, then set them upright on the cooling rack and dust them immediately with colored sprinkles.
  • Repeat with the remaining cookies. (Reuse any sprinkles that fall onto the paper.)

Serving and Storing

  • Although you can serve the cookies once the icing has set, they really are best if made a day ahead.
  • The cookies keep well at room temperature for several days stored airtight.
  • To freeze, place them on baking sheets and freeze until solid, then transfer to a heavy-duty resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to 2 weeks.
  • Thaw the cookies completely in their wrapping.

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