Friday, December 23, 2011

Italian Knot Cookies

I wanted to share with you one of my favorite cookies in the whole wide world.

Yaya Vittles, my paternal grandmother, always has these at the holidays.  Either she makes them herself, or her friends do and bring them over.

However, trying to get the correct recipe out of my grandmother proved to be quite a task.

Years ago, I asked her for it, and she somehow ended up writing half the correct amount of sugar, and forgot the oven temperature.  Needless to say, they came out awful, and I ended up losing the recipe anyway.

Then a few years later, I asked her for it again, and that attempt left out the baking time and the eggs.  

Ummm... yeah.  Not so helpful.  

So then I ended up getting a much more reliable recipe from my mom's side - supposedly this one came from my great-grandmother's family, who was from Italy.  

my great-grandmother (who I called 'Gigi')

(But these days you can find similar recipes all over the internet - it's very popular with Italian Americans.  My brother-in-law's girlfriend Kristen was making them too today, with her family's recipe.)

In any case, they're similar to the ricotta cookies Mr. Vittles loves, but these have anise extract in them. 

Wait, though, before I completely lose you here - let me tell you that I do not typically like anise.  Or licorice, or anything like it.

But in this case, it gives these cookies a subtle, anisette-like flavor that (I think) is awesome.

I know it's kind of an acquired taste though, so I'll usually put half anise & half vanilla extract.  Feel free to do that if you're unsure.  

You can also use all lemon extract, if you like?

Personally, I think they're best with anise, but then again that's how I grew up with them :)  Totally up to you!

Italian Knot Cookies

  • 3 C. flour
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1/2 C. (1 stick) butter
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 t. pure anise extract 
  • 1 1/2 C. powdered sugar
  • 4-5 T. milk (first try 4, then add a little at a time if necessary)
  • 1/2 t. anise extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with nonstick foil or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  Set aside.

In large bowl of a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, eggs, and anise on medium speed until combined (it's ok to have chunks of butter floating in the egg).  

With mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, scraping sides as necessary.  Increase speed to medium low, and beat until dough forms.

Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon (for uniformity), scoop balls of dough and roll them into fat ropes.  Holding one end in each hand, place on end over the other and press to adhere, forming crescent, knot-like shapes.  (Alternatively, you can just roll them into balls).  

Place on prepared baking sheet, and bake 8-10 minutes until puffed and bottoms are golden.  Leave 1 minute on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.  

Once cookies are completely cooled, whisk powdered sugar with milk and anise until smooth.  Icing should be somewhat runny.  Dip tops of cookies into icing, and then decorate with colored nonpareils if desired.  Put back on rack to let icing dry.  Store cookies in airtight container.  Makes about 3 dozen

Family Recipe


  1. Wow - this sounds delicious! I'm glad you mentioned that you're not an Anise fan - I'm not either, but if you're recommending...I may have to give it a try!

    1. you can skip the anise in the cookie and add lemon, almond or anise to the icing! I have been doing this for years. Just tint the icing with food coloring (yellow - lemon, pink - anise, blue (or green) - almond) so people know which flavor is which.

  2. These look beautiful. Very holiday and festive! I don't use Anise for anything but a few cookies during this time of year. I always heard when you have a great recipe when you give it out you should always change one ingredient so the true recipe never gets out. Maybe that is what your grandmother was doing?

  3. These sound amazing, and, they look so beautiful!

  4. I really like the idea of tiny cookie knots! Anise and vanilla are a great combination -- anise and lemon are even better! Thanks for sharing this recipe. :)

  5. These are gahdorable :) I'm glad you were finally able to run down a proper recipe!


    And Merry Christmas :)

  6. Beautiful post!!! Love your photos! Have a Happy Holidays!!!

  7. These look like my Italian mom's Italian lemon egg biscuits. Except instead of knots, we just make round cookies. Of course, you could make them with anise flavor too which I adore, but we usually reserve the anise for pizzelle. Here's her egg biscuit recipe if you're interested:

  8. We love this cookie, My AUNT JOSEPHINE use to make these and we looked forward to her visit cause she always brought a dish. So we always called them Aunt JOSEPHINE COOKIES. YUM

  9. The cookies sound so wonderful. The addition of anise extract is very interesting. Bookmarked

  10. My Great Grandmother passed us down a recipe for these, they are delicious and a staple at our family gatherings.

  11. I just made these, and I found them very dry. I didn't really notice the anise flavor either. Any recommendations? I followed the recipe exactly as stated. Thanks!

  12. One of our favorite family Christmas cookies. I couldn't use my grandmother's recipe either. It made way to many cookies. lol But, I eventually got a scaled down recipe which I have been using for 25 years.

  13. I'm Italian and so happy to find these cookies. I think I will go light on anise, but yes, they need it. thanks for the recipe.

  14. Made these this morning. I never made them before and never worked with dough that is rolled in the hands and twisted. I was nervous. I was surprised they baked up so light and airy, and in not more than 10 minutes. They did not flatten at all--exactly as they were shaped by my hands, they baked the same way! I expected them to "melt" and flatten some. What a nice surprise that I will remember for next time and perhaps be a bit more artistic with my knotting. THESE WERE DELICIOUS. Thanks so much for posting the recipe. Oh, and I halved it (we are just 2 people) and did 2 eggs instead of 1 and a 1/2 as would have been required by halving, and I also added a quick shake of salt.

    1. I'm so glad you liked these! Thanks for sharing your thoughts & Merry Christmas! :)

    2. Maggie, I'm embarassed to admit that I MADE THEM AGAIN yesterday. I halved the recipe again and what I had to do differently is in the icing use 1/2 anise and 1/2 lemon extract because I ran out of the anise. The only reason I had anise was to, at some point in life, make these cookies. Would you believe extract when opened (and I guess not tightly sealed) evaporates? Either that or my hubby has been hitting the! Again, these were delicious with the 1/2-1/2 icing. So easy and fast to blend up, so quick to bake. I cannot believe that in a half hour I've got these delicious cookies ready to eat. I am going to have to put myself on restriction tho and not make them again until Easter or I'm going to gain 50 pounds! Thanks again for the super has made me and my hubby happy! Never again will I have to wait for someone's grandma to bake some up and gift me. :)

    3. Hahaha that is awesome!!! Next time you will have to make a full batch ;)

  15. Your Italian knot cookies look so yummy! We would love to have you share them at our Strut Your Stuff Saturday link party at or share this delicious recipe at our sister blog Have a great day. -The Six Sisters

  16. Made these over Thanksgiving. Destined to become a favorite. Easy to mix, bake, glaze - and pretty fast too. I added a full tsp of Anise extract to the glaze. Thanks for posting. Love the recipe.

  17. I use a whole bottle of anise in the cookie and we love them. Have been making these for yrs.

  18. I made these tonight with Bob's Red Mill gluten free biscuit and baking mix - rice/chick pea blend - and they turned out great. This year, I stopped eating gluten. Its great to know these worked out. I matched cup for cup the flour. So good. Thanks again.

  19. I just baked them and I don't like them. They're came out fluffy and dense, but they taste more like cake, a unsweetened cake. Anyways, thanks for sharing your recipe! XD


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