Italian Sesame Seed Cookies (Giuggiulena)

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies (Giugiuleni) by @browneyedbaker ::

Christmas is only a couple of days away, but if you’re inclined to do just a little bit more baking, I highly encourage you to give these traditional Italian sesame seed cookies a try. These were new to me up until a few years ago, when I started to eat them at my in-law’s house around the holidays. These are crunchy cookies with the consistency of a biscotti, they are infused with a mild anise flavor, and are rolled in sesame seeds before baking. The combination of anise with the toasted sesame seeds is unexpected and wonderful.

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies (Giugiuleni) by @browneyedbaker ::

A few weeks ago, I tried a couple of recipes online that I wasn’t totally thrilled with. The cookies didn’t seem to have the right consistency and were lacking in flavor. Then, my father-in-law shared with me his grandmother’s recipe, and I bounded into the kitchen to give it a try. Boom! As expected, they were perfect. Crunchy, just the right amount of anise, and those toasted sesame seeds put them over the top. My natural inclination is to dip these into coffee, but my Chief Culinary Consultant swears that they’re awesome dipped in milk. You can do either, both, or neither… you’ll be sure to enjoy the cookies however you decide to eat them!

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies (Giugiuleni) by @browneyedbaker ::

Be forewarned – this recipe makes a ton (par for the course when dealing with Italian grandmother recipes, I’ve found!). I have successfully scaled it down without an issue, so if you need a smaller amount, you shouldn’t have a problem dialing it back by thirds since the recipe calls for six eggs.

Happy last-minute holiday baking to you!

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies (Giugiuleni) by @browneyedbaker ::

One year ago: Reindeer Chow
Two years ago: Peppermint Whoopie Pies
Three years ago: Peanut Butter Fudge
Six years ago: Buckeyes and Peppermint Bark

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies (Giuggiulena)

Yield: About 6 dozen cookies

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Traditional Italian cookies infused with anise and coated with sesame seeds.


10 cups all-purpose flour
6 teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoon salt
16 ounces (about 2½ cups) vegetable shortening
2½ cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon anise oil
16 ounces sesame seeds


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Place the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

3. With an electric mixer, cream together the vegetable shortening and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla extract and anise oil, and beat until completely combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add all of the flour mixture until it is thoroughly combined.

4. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and break off a handful-size piece of dough and knead 5 to 10 times, or until smooth. Using your hands, gently roll the dough into a log about 1-inch in diameter. Cut the log into 3-inch pieces, roll in the sesame seeds, pressing them to adhere, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until you have used up all of the dough.

5. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Allow the cookies to sit on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

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25 Responses to “Italian Sesame Seed Cookies (Giuggiulena)”

  1. Laura (Tutti Dolci) on December 23, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I’ve never tried giuggiulena but they look wonderful – I love the toasted sesame seed topping!


  2. Belinda@themoonblushbaker on December 23, 2013 at 1:39 am

    I love these cookies! I never knew the name but my family friend would give them to us every year around this time. They are so crunchy and deliciously melting; coffee time is called for!


  3. sravana on December 23, 2013 at 2:22 am

    The recipe seems interesting. The sesame seeds makes it the perfect recipe for winter. In India, we use sesame seeds in many recipes during winter. Vitamin E source. A simple request, could you please indicate the temperature to bake. I am just about getting into baking.


    • LInda on December 23rd, 2013 at 3:52 am

      sravana, the recipe says to preheat the oven to 350 and that means the temperature you would bake them at.


      • sravana on December 23rd, 2013 at 11:54 am

        Thank you, Linda. Will bake these lovely Italian cookies tomorrow.


  4. Prachi on December 23, 2013 at 6:01 am

    I have never heard about this kind of cookies, but its looking divine and yummy. I love sesame seeds and so I might have to give it a try before Christmas. Thanks for the share.


  5. Taylor @ FoodFaithFitness on December 23, 2013 at 6:54 am

    I have never even heard of these, but the Italian name is super fun to say! However if its a cookie and it has anise in it, I am allllll over that puppy! These look deeelish.


  6. Ashley @ wishes and dishes on December 23, 2013 at 8:50 am

    My husband loves the Italian cookies that his grandma used to make. I’ll have to make these for him !


  7. angela@spinachtiger on December 23, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I love these cookies and if I had the energy, I’d bake up some right now for Christmas. I love ALL Italian cookies because they are not too sweet and are great for breakfast.


  8. DRTVrMoi on December 23, 2013 at 11:27 am

    My aunt would make these every holiday. She’s no longer with us, so I think I’ll make a small batch, put on some Christmas music and raise a cup of eggnog to her. Thank you for allowing me to reconnect to my roots.


  9. Cate @ Chez CateyLou on December 23, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    These cookies look just like the ones that I see in Italian bakeries! They are so pretty and a nice change from the traditional Christmas cookies that you always see! I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!


  10. Lorna on December 23, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    an Italian cookie staple in the Northeast-glad I have a recipe now, thanks!


  11. annie on December 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Another good cookie recipe to have in our repertoire. Michelle, I want to wish you and your family a very Happy Christmas filled with joy and good health and great food with family. This is special as it’s your first as a “MR & MRS.” All the best.


  12. Amy Cioffi on December 24, 2013 at 8:52 am

    When do you add the sesame seeds after they are rolled out? or right after they come out of the oven?


    • julie on December 25th, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      you have to roll them in sesame seeds before baking….the seed will stick to the raw dough. Some recipes have you rolling the dough fingers in milk and then seeds, but that wasn’t necessary with this recipe.


    • Michelle on December 25th, 2013 at 10:28 pm

      Hi Amy, See step #4 – you roll them in the sesame seeds after slicing them, before baking.


  13. julie akyol on December 25, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    This is a very good recipe! I have eaten these plenty of times but left it up to Italian friends and family to make them. I did make them yesterday and they are just like the Italian grandma I grew up next to would make….yum. I love the taste of anise, so I’ve made a note to myself to add a bit more next time. I have always spelled the name of these cookies “cucilani”…….I also love having the cucidata recipe, although I haven’t made them yet. I did buy the dates and they will be made in the new year….anytime is a good time for cookies!! Happy New Year!


  14. Rose on December 27, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Can I substitute butter for the vegetable shortening?


    • Michelle on December 27th, 2013 at 11:06 pm

      Hi Rose, Since this is an old family recipe, I have never deviated from it. If you make the substitution, I’m not sure what effect it will have, or if there will be any issues.


  15. Maria on December 27, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I was looking for this recipe for a long time! Thank you for sharing it with us!


  16. Annamaria @ Bakewell Junction on December 28, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    I love recipes from Grandmothers. Pinned.


  17. Cristin on December 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    My Italian great-grandmother used to make these cookies. I was given her recipe several years ago and I make these each year for my dad at Christmas. He looks forward to these as much as I look forward to his Bracciole. My recipe is slightly different; I don’t use shortening and I use almond extract, which truly gives the cookie the right taste.


  18. Elizabeth on January 8, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    These cookies have been a life-long favorite of mine. My neighbor’s grandmother made these when we were children and the recipe was closely held by her! These cookies brought back a lot of childhood memories! SUPERB! Thank you…


  19. Parker on September 17, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    These are fantastic! I made themf or the first time today and they were better than I expected….even better than myItalianfriend makes. he recipe makes a lot!!!!! Next time I’ll cut it in half.


  20. Audrey on February 14, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Have been dreaming about them since you posted the recipe one year ago. Just made them. They’re delicious.
    I’ve replaced shortening with butter and anis oil with seeds and they turned out perfect.


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