Italian Anisette “S” Cookies
Old recipe for Italian Anisette Cookies, or “S” cookies, just like my husband’s grandma used to make. These have icing and sprinkles on them and will be a great addition to your holiday cookie trays.
My husband’s grandmother, who was the sweetest lady ever, passed away a couple of years ago. She was always known for her cooking and baking and she really was the best at it. She was especially famous for her Italian cookies (like her Almond Macaroons) and her lasagna.
We would traditionally always have her lasagna on holidays before the main meat course and we still carry on that tradition to this day. I am half Italian, but as of a couple of years ago I had never really made any Italian cookies or lasagna as I never had an Italian grandmother in my life to teach me until I met my husband. I had perfected my sauce and meatballs, but that was as far as it went.
A couple of nights before my husband’s grandmother died, she requested that I make her lasagna recipe for the family and bring it over to her apartment. I panicked a little (a LOT) because those were big shoes to fill and I tried to politely get out of it.
Long story short, I ended up sucking it up making the lasagna just to please her and she loved it. I think it made her happy to know that her famous lasagna would live on and continue to be enjoyed by the family.
Last Christmas, I decided to make one of Grandma’s famous Italian cookies: her Italian Ricotta Cookies I was so proud of myself because they did taste just like hers. I love carrying on traditions!
This year I decided to tackle her Italian Anisette Cookies, also known as “S” cookies. Sometimes she frosted them and sometimes she left them plain, but I decided I definitely wanted to go the frosting and sprinkles route.
I love to jazz up my cookies a little and make them as pretty looking as possible. We eat with our eyes, right?! The cookie dough itself is not overly sweet so the icing really is not overkill. These turned out perfect. These were moist, delicious and authentic Italian cookies with a nice anisette flavor.
These are hard core Italian, people. This cookie gets it’s flavoring from the anise extract. If you are not familiar with anise – the closest thing to compare its taste to is black licorice. It’s not a super strong black licorice flavor, but if you have an aversion to it you can use almond, vanilla, or lemon extract…all varieties will taste great.
I hope that these Italian Anisette Cookies brought back great childhood memories for my husband. These will be a great addition to your cookie trays this holiday and I will be making them every year from now on. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without this recipe or my Italian Lemon Drop Cookies!
- 1½ sticks of unsalted butter
- 1¼ cups granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs, room temp
- ½ cup milk, room temp
- 5 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 6 generous teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons anise extract (can use lemon or almond extract)
- 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
- ½ pound of confectioners’ sugar
- 6 tablespoons milk
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Mix in the anise. Add in the milk and flour, alternating portions of each until all combined.
- Turn dough onto a floured board and knead until dough is firm and not sticky, adding more flour if necessary.
- Break off a handful of dough at a time and roll into long pencil, cut into 5 or 6 inch pieces. Shape into ‘S’ shape on ungreased cookie sheet. These cookies will puff up. Bake approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove to cool on rack, then frost. Makes about 5 dozen depending on size of cookie.
- Frosting: In a large bowl, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add in ½ pound of confectioners’ sugar. Stir in milk, stirring to incorporate well, to a desired consistency for frosting the cookies. Brush on cookies or use a spoon, apply sprinkles right away and return to rack to set.
- Let cool completely and store in airtight containers.
Recipe source: adapted from savoringeverybite.com
These little S-shaped cookies remind me of Dutch Letters that my husband’s family adores. I love that you are using your grandmother’s recipes and have successfully recreated them. She would be so proud!
Oh, I love. Aren’t grandmothers’ recipes just the best?
What an honor that she asked you to make her lasagna just before she died. She must have known you were up to the task of carrying on the tradition. These cookies are so pretty!
These look so pretty and sound delicious. In the southwest we can make or buy anise tamales with raisins and other goodies in the masa. I’d love it if you shared these at Holiday Best with the Tumbleweed Contessa.
We had “S” cookies (as my sister and I called them) all the time growing up! I haven’t ever tried making them myself. Hmmm you have me thinking about adding them to my ever-growing baking list…
That was so sweet. I love that you’re carrying on the traditions, that’s what it’s all about. 🙂 I’ve never had these cookies, but I’ve heard of them. I adore anise-anything, so I’m going to try adding these to my holiday baking this year!
These cookies are wonderful.. they taste amazing..
I think that is the sweetest thing ever that you are working your way through making (and mastering) his grandma’s recipes. These cookies look great!
Awww – so sweet that you carry on your husband’s grandmothers recipes – even though she isn’t here – she is looking down at you so proud because, Ashley, these cookies look fantastic! They look so soft and you sure are right – I do eat with my eyes!
These are beautiful! My grandmother would always make them, she’d totally approve of these!
I love old family recipes and I’m sure you’re doing your husband’s grandmother very proud by recreating all of her recipes!! So special! 🙂
I’m a big believer in keeping family traditions and old recipe alive for succeeding generations! By continuing to make your husband’s grandmother’s recipes, you’re honoring her life. Wonderful!
My husbands step mom always makes italian cookies for Christmas too. I LOVE this adorable little shaped cookie 🙂
What a great food memory! I love that you are keeping her recipe alive!
I just love this recipe and the fact that it is a family recipe is just awesome. I love how you shaped these, they look delicious!
Italian Anisette Cookies are such a classic in any Italian household. I haven’t made mine yet this year.
Love family recipes! Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s anisette cookies, they are so pretty and festive!
These are one of my all-time favorite recipes. So beautiful and delicious too!
These are so pretty. I love cookies like this, they just scream “holiday”.
I just love the italian cookies at Christmas. I’ve never made them, I usually buy them at an Italian bakery down the street. I’ll definitely be giving these a try this year!
i noticed the ingredients list baking powder but this directions say baking soda. I wanted to try the cookies but want to make sure it is right
I’m sorry! It is baking powder that I used! I will fix that. Thanks for noticing.
Can you make the dough ahead and refrigerate?
Going To make them this morning. Thank you. Will use them for a cookie exchange
How can I make the the recipe for only 12cookies
Gosh what a touching post. I am moved. To continue a tradition and to honor the memory of someone—-wow that is wonderful.
mmmmmm these cookies def. look like home and Christmas to me! LOVE anise sugar cookies!
This is a great recipe for a very legit anisette cookie!
This by far, is the closest to my grandmother’s.
Sending a copy to my mom right now!
Thanks for posting!
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Both my husband and myself come from an Italian family and these cookies are so well loved, some of our southern friends are not too crazy about the anise flavor so i will do with lemon also.Will also do them in a figure 8 or twist and your recipe here is just like mine.
First time ever i have seen anyone else make these. Way to go girl and i know Grandmom would be so proud. Bless you and thank you for all the other yummy cookie recipes that i will be checking out, hugs.
Thank you so much, Mary!
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I am Italian/Polish, My Italian Grandmother also made the “S” cookies. Not iced, but the recipe was similar. She also made some with orange flavor for the ones who did not like the anise taste. I have decided to make only Italian cookies this year for our clubs cookie exchange. You have inspired me, thank you. About the Ricotta cookies,can that recipe be doubled, or is it best to make two separate batches. Thanks, Cathy
Yes you can definitely double it!
I am Italian/Polish also. Do you know any Polish recipes?
Yes Deb, I make pierogi, learned from my grand mother but refined by a recipe I found in a local paper in 1972. Used it every time I made them. Also learned to make golupki (stuffed cabbage) from my mother-in-law Ukranian style. Kruschikie (fried bow ties) from my grandmother. Refined the recipe from Martha Stewart’s Cook Book from the 70’s. If you have a special request let me know,. I also learned how to make poppy seed bread . Thanks for asking, Cathy
I am so excited to find this recipe and I will give it a try. My Italian grandma made fabulous S-shaped cookies. When I asked her for he recipe she said “a little of this, a little of that.” I have been searching for a good recipe for a long time.
Thanks! I have an “S” cookie recipe on my site as well! It’s from my husband’s Italian grandmother 🙂
Thank you! My grandmother-in-law (from Italy) made similar cookies but left out the extract. She would twist them. But, they are the same recipe minus the anise. I have literally never seen a recipe even close to that one until now.
My Ma (RIP), was also full blooded Italian, and as I read your blog it sounds like myself telling the story. She too was a cook and Baker and like you would ALWAYS have lasagna either the before or of holidays. She would get together with about five of her friends dubbed ” The Mafia Ladies” and a bottle of Amaretto and make Hundreds of Italians. When she came to visit Ma and my wife would take a day and make cookies and completed she would say, No go share witha you friends. Till this day I make cookies and Lasagna for Christmas. Thank you for sharing, Buona Natalie
Love the family story. Plan to make for a cookie exchange. Would it be okay to make the dough and refrigerate overnight? Then shape and bake the next day?
Can you use powdered anise or must it be liquid? Thanks Helena
I’m sure you can but I’m not sure how much I would add to equal the same amount!
I have my grandmother’s recipe, which call for anise oil. This has a stronger taste and can only be found at speciality markets. There are 5 people in our family that would be very upset if I don’t make these at Christmas!! They even count how many each takes home in a “cookie takeout bag.” !! I make an ‘S’ that’s tighter with icing but no sprinkles.
Loretta, I made these last year and I found them too soft and hard to work with. Your mention of tighter s’s sparked my curiosity. Can you send me your recipe and what kind of market would I find the oil you mention. Italian, Middle Eastern, whole foods. I have a lot of choices at my disposal. Or did you get it online? I love these cookies because my Nona used to make them, but unfortunately she did not write it down, it was in her head and I was too young to be interested in learning how to make them. I just loved eating them. Thanks, sweet regards, Cathy Di Cosmo Wanat
Hello, Our family uses anise oil too. You can find it any time of the year in the pharmacy. They keep it behind the counter so you have to ask the pharmachist for it. It makes life so much easier to get it in your drug store. We make these cookies all year long and are a favorite at all of our family birthdays and special occasions. We also make a tight S, my grandmother did not ice, my mother uses glaze and no sprinkles and I glaze and add grated lemon zest… YUM!
Delicious any time of the year.
I remember these cookies at my grandmothers house from when I was a child I’m glad I found your recipe
I was wondering just how far ahead of time the dough could be made refrigerated and kept before baking or is it possible that it may be made ahead of time and then frozen to taking out when ready to bake
I would make it as close as possible to when you’re actually going to bake them. Otherwise freeze the dough!
My Sicilian nonna made anise cookies for the holiday, as did my full-blooded Italian mom. As in a previous comment, the recipe was “a little of this, a little of that.” The only difference I can see, besides the precise amount of the ingredients, it that that used whole anise seed, rather than extract or oil. They were loved by all.
Thanks for posting this recipe!
Excellent cookie! Light and very tasty! Beware make them small because they do grow while baking. Thanks for sharing.
Perfect cookies for the holidays. These would disappear in less than 10 minutes in our house. 🙂
Can’t wait to try these, YUMMY
Love the S shape. These Italian cookies are always a hit.
These are the perfect addition to my holiday baking!
I love the texture of these cookies!
These are really cute! My kids really enjoyed these!
Growing up weddings always meant a large cookie table, these cookies were on those tables. I can’t wait to make these and relive those great flavors again.
I always bake these for the holidays- so pretty!
Going home to makes these today????
Just made these this morning. What a fantastic recipe for these cookies. The dough was awesome. And the cookies are delicious . Thank you so much. Ive been looking for something similar to my grandmothers . Well i found it. Thanks so much
These cookies originated in the southern part of Italy and called for olive oil instead of butter. Butter was not as common in the southern regions as it was in the north. I made them with the oil as both my grandmothers did and they are fantastic. I can’t wait to try your recipe using butter this time.
In the process of making these today for my new Italian son-in-law who loves anise and they are excellent!! The dough is a lovely, soft texture almost like bread dough. It took a bit of work to get it kneaded to the right consistency and I added nearly 1 cup more flour in the process but it’s definitely worth the effort. Made the S’s too big on the first batch since they do puff up as you said. Making smaller, tighter rolls works great. Would it work to refrigerate part of the dough and make more cookies on another day? I have S’s everywhere in the kitchen and still have half the dough left. Thank you for sharing this recipe!
My husbands Nonna always made these (slight variation on flavorings, depending what was on hand), and my kids and I were the only family members that asked for the recipe. His Aunt was so thrilled that someone was going to carry on the tradition because all the others kids and their spouses had no interest in it and I’m not even italian! I’m swiss german, and she made sure to tell the others that. Little bit of guilt never hurt i guess.
That is so awesome to hear! I love stories like that!
My grandmother used to make these every year i never got the recipe im happy i found yours however while making them last night and for some reason they taste very salty and metaly i used baking soda instead of powder do you think thats the problem? also i doubled your recipe to make double do you think i should put less baking powder when i re attempt to make them this weekend?
Yes, I would make them as directed next time!
Can we use real anisette instead of flavoring and if so how much of it
I had been looking for a recipe like my Italian grandmother used to make for years. She used vanilla in hers, but otherwise, this was it. My sister and I were close to tears. Thank you so much for posting.
Awww thank you so much! This made my day.
I love this! My grandma made a very similar cookie but called them Viscotti (not to be confused with biscotti) . This is the first time I have seen almost the same recipe! So excited to make these for Christmas!
NOT a baker but i try! Is it possible to use my stand mixer with the dough hook to knead the dough? Not lazy hands just getting old.
These look delicious! Is it possible to make them in a regular cookie shape by rolling balls of dough? Wasn’t sure if this dough was made to not spread out much because of the S shape