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.
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.