My Mom's Italian Cookies have a soft texture, thanks to a secret ingredient! Flavor them with vanilla or use anise to make anisette cookies.
Behold, my favorite cookies of all time. I can almost smell their aroma through the screen!
The scent is vanilla, by the way, because that's my preference. But if you're a fan of the black-licorice taste of anise, you can make anise cookies. I've included both variations in the recipe.
Just about every Italian family has its own version of these cookies, known as "biscotti." (That simply means "cookies" in Italian.)
I'm sharing an adaptation of Mom's recipe, based on how she used to make them when I was a child. The result is fluffy, tender cookies with a cake-like texture, thanks to the half and half in the dough.
I like to think of them as Italian sugar cookies!
Making the dough
- Softened Butter
- Vanilla or Anise
- Baking Powder
- Half & half
You'll cream the butter and sugar with a mixer, then beat in the eggs and flavoring. You'll toss the dry ingredients with a fork and add some to the batter, followed by the half and half.
You'll gradually beat in the remaining flour mixture until a soft dough forms.
Tips for working with the soft cookie dough
- Chill the dough for 30 minutes before working with it.
- Use floured hands to place 2-inch balls of dough on a greased or lined baking sheet. (You can use a scoop before you roll.)
- Refrigerate the remaining dough while some of the cookies are baking.
Tips for baking the cookies
- Place the cookies two inches apart on your pan.
- This recipe yields 53-55 cookies. If you need to reuse your sheet pans as you go, make sure they're cool first, so the cookies don't spread. You can rinse the pans in cold water and line them with fresh parchment paper before reusing them.
Making the glaze
Instead of the typical cookie glaze, Mom uses a cooked one made with light corn syrup, so the cookies have a glossy, smooth finish.
You'll start by whisking granulated sugar, water and corn syrup in a pan (ideally a stainless steel one, so you can use a hand mixer in it later). You'll heat the pan and stir until the mixture comes to a boil.
Off the heat, you'll stir in vanilla and let the mixture cool for five minutes. Then, you'll use a hand mixer to beat in powdered sugar.
Tips for glazing and adding sprinkles
After trial and error, I've found the best method is:
- Wait until the cookies are cooled off.
- With one hand, hold a cookie top down in the glaze and twist.
- Use the index finger from your other hand to spread the glaze on the cookie's surface.
- Immediately sprinkle on nonpareils (affiliate link), before the glaze starts to dry. (Once the glaze dries, the sprinkles won't adhere.)
- Place the wet cookies on a baking rack (affiliate link), over a sheet pan lined with parchment or wax paper. The glaze will drip onto the paper below.
- Allow the glaze to dry for four hours before storing the cookies.
- The cookies can stay covered at room temperature for up to a week.
- It's best to place them on a tray and cover them loosely with plastic wrap. (The cookies will become very moist if you place them in a plastic container.)
- Any leftover glaze can be kept at room temperature for three days, then refrigerated for a week. You also could freeze the glaze.
Frequently asked questions
You can store unglazed cookies in the freezer for up to three months. Thaw and glaze them when you're ready.
I don't recommend freezing the cookies once they've been glazed and sprinkled, because the nonpareil colors will bleed.
More Italian dessert recipes
(Recipe Source: Adapted from my Mom. Originally published on December 15, 2014. Updated now with new photos and text.)
Italian Cookies (Vanilla or Anisette)
- 12 ounces salted butter (softened; 3 sticks)
- 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 5 eggs
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract (or 1 tablespoon anise)
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 1/2 ounces half and half (or whole milk)
- extra flour to dust your hands while rolling
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or anise)
- 1 ounce nonpareils in festive colors
- Set out 3 sticks of butter to soften at room temperature. In a large bowl, use a mixer to blend the softened butter with the 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; mix.
- In a separate medium bowl, use a fork to toss together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add some of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing well. Add the half and half and mix. Gradually add the rest of the flour mixture in, beating well after each addition. You will end up with a sticky dough.
- Cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. During that time, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan (stainless steel if you have one), whisk the granulated sugar, water and corn syrup together. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the mixture just comes to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let the mixture cool for five minutes.
- After five minutes, use a mixer on low speed to gradually blend in the confectioners sugar until smooth. (If you used a stainless steel pan, you can do this right in your pan. Otherwise, transfer the glaze to a mixing bowl first.)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two (four, if you have them) sheet pans with parchment paper (or lightly grease the pans with cooking spray).
- Place a few tablespoons of flour in a small bowl (for dusting your hands). When the dough is chilled, use two teaspoons or a scoop to measure out some dough. With floured hands, roll the dough into a 2-inch ball and place it on the baking sheet. Continue scooping and rolling, dusting your hands each time. Place the cookies two inches apart on the pan. Refrigerate the dough whenever it gets too soft to work with.
- Bake the cookies at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes, until the tops are set, and the bottoms are lightly browned. (Mine took 13 minutes.) Let the cookies rest for a couple of minutes before placing them on a cooling rack.
- When the cookies are completely cooled, you can glaze them. One at a time, dip the cookie in the glaze, top down, and give it a twist. Use your finger to spread the glaze around the surface of the cookie. Immediately sprinkle it with nonpareils.
- Place the glazed cookies on a cooling rack and set it over a parchment-lined or wax-paper-lined pan to catch the drips. It will take about 4 hours for the glaze to fully dry, so wait to store or package the cookies.
- Once the glaze has dried, store the cookies covered at room temperature for up to a week. Note that if you use a plastic container, the cookies will become very moist. I like to keep mine on a tray loosely covered with plastic wrap. Any leftover glaze can be kept at room temperature for three days, then refrigerated for a week. You also could freeze the glaze. You can freeze unglazed cookies for up to three months, then thaw completely and glaze them.