Monday, March 22, 2010

Fennel Seed Traditions

Last week my younger sister, Megan, visited Nathanael and I for spring break. While she was here my Mom sent us a package which included my belated birthday present as well as our Saint Patrick’s Day present: a big batch of green frosted fennel seed cookies. Mom used to make these cookies for us all of the time, partially since they are Italian breakfast cookies and are fantastically delicious without being too sweet. Also because she got the recipe from her grandmother who came to the US as a young woman and, rumor has it, a fantastic cook.
I own at least 6 recipe cards with this recipe on it, but I call my Mom to ask her for it at least twice a year because I am either cooking at someone else’s house or can’t remember any of the 6 locations where the recipes are stored.
During highschool my older sister, Melissa, and I would bake cookies most Saturday evenings, but this was one recipe that we just couldn’t master. The first time it was because I forgot to add the butter, but after that there was no excuse for why they didn’t turn out like Mom’s, we just couldn’t figure it out. During college I attempted to make them a few times and they got better, but still were not right. Then during Megan’s freshman year she made them for a class project and frosted them to tell the creation story (crazy I know), and hers were spectacular. I talked to my Mom on the phone afterward and tried to figure out what she and Megan had that Melissa and I didn’t, but looking at her recipe card she didn’t see any differences. Finally, when I called her for the recipe during graduate school she told me she had figured it out. After all of the ingredients are mixed into a ball of dough you need to let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Mom and Megan apparently multitask during cooking just a bit more than Melissa and I do. After she told me that my cookies have turned out perfectly, and I hope that even if you are not a brave baker you will try these cookies. Have a taste of Europe, and a cookie that packs some protein. Stock up on eggs though; if you make a double batch you will use a whole dozen eggs. For an extra wonderful dessert, ice these cookies with almond frosting.
If you do they will also maintain their perfect moisture and store nearly indefinitely…really; I sent a Christmas package of these to someone once and it was lost in the mail for about a month and a half and she said they were still fabulous when they arrived.

The secret recipe:

Italian Fennel Seed Cookies
1 1/2c sugar
6 large eggs
1 c butter (2 sticks)
5 c flour
1 ½ tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
2 Tbs crushed fennel seeds (or anise seeds for a whole new flavor)

1. Wisk together eggs and sugar.

2. Add softened butter.

3. Sift together dry ingredients, and crush the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestal.

4. Add ground seeds and dry ingredients to the wet mixture.

5. Stir until combined (or mix with your hands if necessary) and then let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

6. After the dough rests, atempt to knead it, and knead for about 5 minutes, if necessary knead in ½ to 1 cup of flour so that dough can be rolled smoothly into a 3/8 inch sheet for cookie cutters.

7. Alternately, the dough may be rolled into 1 inch balls.

8. Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.

Confectioner's Sugar Frosting
2 cups powdered sugar (sifted if possible)
1/2 tsp pure almond extract (or vanilla if you must, but almond is better)
10 tsp milk (2% or whole)

Place sugar in a bowl and add flavoring. Measure the first 5 tsp of milk into the bowl and then stir the mixture into a paste (this reduces lumps). Slowly add the remaining milk, one teaspoon at a time, stirring after each addition. You will probably use all 10 tsp, but it may depend upon your sugar. The frosting should be thin enough to dip the cookies into, but thick enough to stick in a thin white layer with only a little dripping. Dunk the cookies completely and place on a wire rack over a cookie sheet until frosting is completely hardened. Store in an airtight container, or just eat them.


  1. The squirrel cookie cutter! Glad to see you're putting him to good use.

  2. My St Patrick's Day fennel seed cookies were made with light cream, small amount of milk, almond extract, and confectioner's sugar. The frosting takes a little more time to dry completely.
    Glad you enjoyed the cookies!

  3. Sarah! I packed up all the ingredients and brought them over to James' house to bake these cookies but completely forgot the recipe! Thank goodness for harmless color :) -Abi

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