With crackled tops and chewy centers, these cookies just melt in your mouth with almond, vanilla, and anise flavors. The powdered sugar glaze adds a touch of sweetness.
Capture the essence of an Italian Christmas with these tender, anise-scented cookies glazed with powdered sugar and decorated with festive sprinkles.
These Italian Christmas Cookies will fill your kitchen with nostalgic aromas and are perfect for cookie exchanges, Christmas morning, or gifting to family and friends.
Their cute size makes them fun for Santa's plate too! Add a touch of your heritage to your holiday baking with this beloved Italian recipe.
Unsalted Butter: Using unsalted butter allows you to control the amount of salt in the recipe. Make sure it's softened for easy mixing.
Powdered Sugar: This fine sugar blends smoothly into the dough and glaze, providing sweetness without the graininess of regular sugar.
Granulated Sugar: Adds sweetness and helps to create a golden-brown finish on the cookies. The granules also incorporate air into the butter when creamed, giving the cookies a light texture.
Eggs: Eggs bind the ingredients together and add moisture, which is essential for the texture of the cookie. They also help in leavening, giving the cookies a slight rise.
All-Purpose Flour: All-purpose flour, is versatile and creates the perfect texture for these cookies—not too heavy, not too light.
Baking Powder: Make sure it's fresh for the best rise.
Salt: Enhances the flavors of the other ingredients and balances the sweetness.
Pure Vanilla Extract: Adds a warm, rich flavor and aroma.
Anise Extract: Provides a distinctive, licorice-like flavor that's traditional in Italian baking. It's a unique taste that makes these cookies stand out.
Whole Milk: Used in the glaze, it thins the powdered sugar to a perfect dipping consistency and adds a bit of richness.
Christmas Sprinkles: The fun part! Choose your favorite shapes and colors to personalize your cookies.
How to Make Italian Christmas Cookies
Prepare: Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees so it's ready to go when your cookies are. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper; this will prevent sticking and make cleanup a breeze.
Grab a small bowl and fill it with powdered sugar for later—you'll use this to give the cookies a nice shape.
Mix Dry Ingredients: In a medium bowl, whisk together your flour, salt, and baking powder. Set this bowl aside for now.
Cream Butter and Sugars: In a larger mixing bowl, start by beating together the softened butter, powdered sugar, and granulated sugar. You're aiming for a creamy and fluffy mixture here, which is the base of your cookie dough.
This process, called creaming, introduces air into the dough, helping your cookies to rise and be light in texture. You'll know when it's creamed when this mixture becomes lighter in color.
Add Eggs and Extracts: Now, add your eggs to the butter and sugar mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition. This gradual process helps to emulsify the mixture, which means it combines more smoothly.
Then beat in the vanilla and anise extracts for flavor.
Combine Wet and Dry: Slowly add your dry ingredients to the wet mixture, beating just until everything is mixed. Be careful not to overbeat at this stage, as too much mixing can lead to tough cookies.
Chill the Dough: Cover your dough with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for an hour. Chilling the dough makes it easier to handle and helps the cookies keep their shape when baked.
Shape and Sugar: Once chilled, roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place them on your prepared cookie sheets. Dip the bottom of a small glass into the powdered sugar you set aside earlier and gently press down on each dough ball to flatten it slightly. The sugar will keep the dough from sticking to the glass and give the cookies a nice surface.
Bake: Pop the cookie sheets in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes.
You're looking for a slight golden color—don't overbake, or the cookies will be dry.
After baking, let them cool completely; they'll be too soft to handle right out of the oven.
Make the Glaze: For the glaze, sift two cups of powdered sugar to remove any lumps, then whisk in the milk until smooth. This will be your cookie topping, so you want it lump-free and pourable.
Decorate: Dip each cooled cookie into the glaze, then place them back on the parchment paper.
Sprinkle with Christmas sprinkles while the glaze is still wet. This is your chance to get creative and make each cookie look festive.
Set the Glaze: Let the cookies sit until the glaze has set. This could take a little while, so be patient. Once the glaze is hard to the touch, your cookies are ready to serve or store.
More Christmas Cookie Recipes:
Tips for Making the Best Cookies
Here are some tips for making the best Italian Christmas Cookies:
- Use room temperature, high-quality butter. This ensures proper creaming with the sugar.
- Don't overbeat the dough after adding flour. Just until combined to avoid tough cookies.
- Chill dough for the full hour. This prevents spreading while baking.
- Roll dough into uniform balls so cookies bake evenly.
- Dip the bottom of the glass in powdered sugar before flattening balls. This creates the signature crackled top.
- Let cookies cool completely before glazing. Warm cookies will melt the glaze.
- Add milk slowly to the powdered sugar, whisking until smooth.
- Work quickly when glazing to prevent the glaze from setting up.
- Apply sprinkles immediately after glazing so they adhere.
- Allow glazed cookies to sit until set before serving or packaging.
- Store cookies in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment.
- Share cookies soon after baking for the best texture and flavor.
Leftovers and Storage
Storing leftover Italian Christmas Cookies properly will help maintain their freshness and flavor. Here's how to do it:
Cool Completely: Before storing, make sure the cookies have cooled to room temperature to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to sogginess.
Airtight Container: Place the cookies in an airtight container. If you have one with a tight-fitting lid, that's perfect. This keeps the cookies from drying out and protects them from absorbing other flavors or odors. You can also cover them with plastic wrap.
Separate Layers: If you're stacking the cookies, put a piece of parchment paper or wax paper between each layer. This prevents the cookies from sticking together and helps preserve the glaze and sprinkles.
Room Temperature: Store the container at room temperature in a cool, dry place. They should stay fresh for about a week.
Refrigeration: If your kitchen is warm or humid, you might consider refrigerating the cookies. Just be sure to bring them back to room temperature before serving for the best flavor and texture.
Freezing: For longer storage, you can freeze the cookies. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet to freeze, then transfer to a freezer bag or container, separating layers with parchment paper. They can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature when you're ready to enjoy them.
Remember, the glaze and sprinkles may change texture slightly after freezing and thawing, but the cookies will still be delicious.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to use anise extract?
Anise extract gives these cookies their classic flavor, but if you're not a fan, you can substitute it with vanilla extract or almond extract for a different but equally delicious taste.
Can I use margarine instead of butter for these cookies?
While you can use margarine, it's not recommended. Butter provides a richer flavor and better texture. Margarine can make the cookies spread too much and may affect the taste.
Why do I need to chill the dough?
Chilling the dough solidifies the fat in the cookies, which helps prevent them from spreading too much when they bake. It also makes the dough easier to handle and shape.
My cookies didn’t keep their shape after baking, what went wrong?
This can happen if the dough wasn't chilled long enough, or if the butter was too soft to begin with. Make sure to chill the dough for at least an hour, and don't over-soften your butter (it should give slightly when pressed, not be melty).
The glaze on my cookies is too thin/thick, how can I fix it?
If the glaze is too thin, add more powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. If it's too thick, add milk, a teaspoon at a time, until it's thin enough to dip or drizzle.
More Favorite Cookies
Italian Christmas Cookies
- ¾ cup unsalted butter softened
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon anise extract
- 2 cups powdered sugar for glaze
- 3 Tablespoons whole milk for glaze
- Christmas sprinkles for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Sift together 3 cups all-purpose flour, ¾ teaspoon baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside.
- Cream ¾ cup unsalted butter with ½ cup powdered sugar and ½ cup granulated sugar until fluffy.
- Beat in 3 large eggs, one at a time, then add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and ½ teaspoon anise extract.
- Gradually mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Chill dough for 1 hour.
- Roll dough into 1-inch balls, place on cookie sheet, and flatten slightly with a sugar-dipped glass.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden. Cool completely.
- For glaze, sift 2 cups powdered sugar and whisk with 3 tablespoons whole milk. Dip cookies and add sprinkles.
- Let set before serving.