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Arts and Culture

'Bread And Butter:' Twice-Baked Cookies

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Here’s a question for you—what’s your holiday cookie of choice? Is it the deep molasses and fragrant spice of traditional gingerbread? Or the decadent calorie blitz of a simple frosted sugar cookie? Maybe the pastel and light-as-air french macarons? Or a dollop of fruity, thickened jam with the crunch of a Linzer cookie?

At my house, we do it twice-baked. It’s a valued tradition from a family that has tended to skimp on food traditions generally. Growing up, my hard-working mom cooked mostly out of necessity, and preferred frozen lasagna to spending a single extra minute washing pans. But around the holidays she would stretch her culinary self with this recipe for twice-baked anise seed cookies. It required special ingredients and multiple steps, and chilling … CHILLING the dough. But she did it, and now I do it too.

The recipe comes from my mom’s Aunt Katie, who made it faithfully every December from her breezy California home. We thought these cookies were Norwegian in origin for a while. We don’t have Norwegian heritage, but it’s a culture we are especially fond of. And Norwegians do love their Christmas cookies. They have a term: syv slags kaker, which translates to “seven sorts of cookies,” that are to be prepared and served around the holidays. However, the number “seven” seems to be left to interpretation, as the correct number of cookies and breads many families make might be more around the twenty mark.

Christmas is special to Scandinavians, especially in Norway, which was historically the poorest of the Scandinavian countries. For those who weren’t upper class, cookies containing butter would have been a big deal. For most of the year, farmers sold their butter, and instead used lard in cooking to save on the expense. Except at Christmastime, when they’d splurge and create cookies that reflected the celebration.

I haven’t found particular mention of anise cookies in Norwegian cookie culture. But recipes for twice-baked cookies are often found in Italian cuisine and called biscotti. For me, the tradition isn’t so much about the cookies themselves, rather the memories and the love wrapped up in all that butter.

These crisp and slender treats are designed for dipping in coffee or hot chocolate, but are delicious on their own too. In this recipe, the sweet and subtle flavor of licorice lended by the anise is a great combination with the almond and butter.

It starts out as a fairly basic cookie base, to which you add anise seed and anise extract. The brandy gives the dough a high-note sweetness and complexity, almost like a dried fruit, so don’t leave it out if at all possible. The almonds you add whole, which is a bit unusual. But it works because of the way you bake and slice the dough. You first create long french-bread shaped logs that are baked just until the dough is set. Then you slice the cookies into long, thin wedges that you return to the oven until they are golden-brown and crisp.

I suggest serving these cookies with a good-quality hot chocolate, coffee, or a fruit, or mocha flavored ice cream. The flavor combination is unusual enough to be interesting even with competition, and the cookies are crisp enough to hold up under strenuous dunking. Because of their nature, twice-baked cookies can last up to a month when well sealed, but they are so good, that I doubt that they’ll last beyond five pipers piping at your house.

Twice-baked Anise Cookies of Unknown Origins

2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup brandy (or ½ teaspoon brandy extract)
1 ½ teaspoons anise extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup almonds
2 tablespoons anise seed

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine brandy, anise extract and vanilla in a small bowl or measuring cup. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately add dry ingredients and brandy mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the almonds and aniseed. Chill the dough for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Form dough by spoonfuls onto a tray, forming two 2-inch by 13-inch long strips on each sheet. Smooth dough into logs with moistened fingertips.

Bake about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch. Place cookie sheets on racks and cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

Cut cooled logs on the diagonal into 3/4-inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Place slices on cookie sheets.

Bake for about 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes, until dry and slightly brown. Remove to a rack and cool.