Italian Sesame Seed Cookies (Giuggiulena)
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.
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!
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!
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)
- 10 cups (1.25 kg) all-purpose flour
- 6 teaspoons baking powder
- ⅛ teaspoon (0.13 teaspoon) salt
- 16 ounces (453.59 g) vegetable shortening, (about 2½ cups )
- 2½ cups (500 g) granulated sugar
- 6 eggs
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) anise oil
- 16 ounces (453.59 g) sesame seeds
- 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.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Did you make this recipe?
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My Grandparents came to America from Sicily. My Grandmother would make these. No recipe was ever found for them. I absolutely love them. Thank you for sharing this.
Vegetable Shortening? Seriously? Is anyone still baking with vegetable shortening? Have you been asleep for the past decade? Have you never heard of trans fats? Are you not aware that vegetable shortening is nothing but pure trans fat? Please, please, please do not use vegetable shortening. Especially do not feed it to your children.
I’m not a food freak. I eat almost anything. But trans fats truly are poisons.
Made some yesterday with an old “family recipe”. They were horrible. Found this recipe, made them this morning. OMG! Perfect. Thanks.
Can you substitute butter for vegetable shortening as i’m unable to buy it in my country?
Hi Cathy, I’ve not done so, but it should work, though the texture will be a little different. Enjoy!
Hello, I like your recipees, ,waiting to share more for the holydays.
Best regards from Miriam,from Venezuela.
Can I freeze the dough prior to making the cookies?
These look delicious!! I’m definitely going to try this recipe. I have a question, do you happen to have a recipe for Italian Savoiardi cookies (often called ladyfingers)? They are the kind you get in an Italian bakery. The version I’m looking for are soft on the inside and wider than the ones used in Tiramisu. They also have a crunchy top. There are so many recipes posted for the savoiardi used in Tiramisu, but none for the version I’m looking for. I would be forever grateful if you could post the recipe, if you happen to have it. Thanks!
For the person who likes the sound of the word Giugiulena,” you might be interested to know that the word is Arabic for sesame. Just another thing that the Arabs gave us when they ruled Sicily–along with the sweet tooth that all Sicilians have.
So I started reducing this recipe by a third but it’s impossible to do even by Hal unless you’re a mathematician. If you want people to try your recipe you should at least provide calculations for reducing the recipe as this recipe is fiddly to make and VERY time consuming. Tips on how to roll the dough would also be appreciated. I found a smaller and easier recipe elsewhere.
our family recipe does not include eggs. I don’t think they’re necessary
A friend’s brother used to make cookies similar to this but he made a log of the dough and rolled it in the sesame seeds. He chilled the dough and then sliced the cookies and baked. Are these ever made that way?
Also, I am not a fan of anise–I think I am super-sensitive because even 1/2 teaspoon in a large recipe tastes to me as if the entire bottle was poured in. Can these be made substituting lemon oil instead of the anise, or even by adding a little more vanilla?
Hi Suze, There might be a version shaped in a log! As for the anise, you could substitute lemon (if you’re a big lemon fan), and yes, even extra vanilla. Enjoy!
I’ve seen over recipes that call for toasted sesame seeds, but this one does not specify. Can I use regular sesame seeds, or should I toast them first, or does it not matter since they get baked in the oven anyway? I’ve never attempted these kind of cookies before, but I’m very excited to make them this Christmas.
Hi Karen, I used regular sesame seeds, but I think you could toast them too if you’d prefer. Enjoy!!
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.
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.
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…
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.
I love recipes from Grandmothers. Pinned.
I was looking for this recipe for a long time! Thank you for sharing it with us!
Can I substitute butter for the vegetable shortening?
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.
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!
When do you add the sesame seeds after they are rolled out? or right after they come out of the oven?
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.
Hi Amy, See step #4 – you roll them in the sesame seeds after slicing them, before baking.
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.
an Italian cookie staple in the Northeast-glad I have a recipe now, thanks!
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!
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.
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.
My husband loves the Italian cookies that his grandma used to make. I’ll have to make these for him !
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.
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.
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.
sravana, the recipe says to preheat the oven to 350 and that means the temperature you would bake them at.
Thank you, Linda. Will bake these lovely Italian cookies tomorrow.
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!
I’ve never tried giuggiulena but they look wonderful – I love the toasted sesame seed topping!