Thursday, December 1, 2011

German Anise Molasses Cookies

Each Thanksgiving, I make German Anise Molasses Cookies for Christmas. I am told that the longer the cookies sit, the better they get...  hence, you make them at Thanksgiving for Christmas.  The recipe is pretty outrageous and I love to tell my coworkers all about my cookie baking adventures the week after Thanksgiving.  I am under impression these cookies might be called "Lebkuchen" (translates to Life Cookie)in German, but when I was taught how to make these cookies, I was given the American name... so in our house, these are Anise Molasses Cookies.

The cookies are quite a bit of work.  I make them for my husband because, until he gets these cookies, he says it's just not Christmas.  I think these cookies are especially good with a hot cup of coffee.  Some years I have been stupid crazy enough to make two batches of this dough. What was I thinking?  That's a TON of cookies. You know a recipe makes a lot of cookies when one batch starts with five... count them... 5 cups of flour!

These cookies do contain oil of anise which has a black licorice flavor. Anise (or black licorice) seems to be one of those flavors that people really like or really do NOT like. When I offer these cookies to friends, I always ask first if they like black licorice.  If they say "NO!," I caution them.  In my opinion, these cookies are too much work to waste on someone who won't appreciate or enjoy them. 

Citron is just one of the unusual ingredients in this recipe.  It can be found in the grocery store (I find it a Safeway) this time of year in the produce section in small round plastic tubs, alongside the candied fruits (for fruit cakes) and crystallized ginger. 

Grandma Fluck's Anise Molasses Cookies
(As taught to me by my mother-in-law Maryellen)!

Dry Ingredients:
5 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Things to grind in food processor:
2 ounces citron
1/2 cup pecans

Wet Ingredients:
2 cups light/mild molasses (I use Grandma's Molasses)
1/3 cup whiskey (I used Jack Daniels)
1/2 teaspoon oil of anise or 1 teaspoon anise extract
1/4 melted salted butter
zest from 1/4 lemon
juice and pulp from 1/2 lemon

Icing/Nut Topper:
sifted powered sugar
lemon extract
yellow food coloring
pecan halves

  1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Stir with a whisk to combine and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the citron and the pecans together until the ingredients are ground into very small, similar sized bits.  You can also use an old fashioned meat grinder for this (when my mother-in-law taught me how to makes these cookies, she brought her heavy metal meat grinder all the way from Iowa to Colorado... it's the kind of meat grinder that clamps onto the kitchen counter top).   Caution:  If you try to process just the citron by itself, it will be a gummy mess; be sure to process the citron and pecans TOGETHER.  If you do not have a food processor, you can use one of those food chopper gadgets (like the kind from Pampered Chef or the chopper called "Slap Chop" as seen on TV might work as well) to finely mince the pecans and citron (that's what I did before I got a food processor). 
  3. Empty the ground citron and ground pecans from the food processor into a medium sized bowl and add in the remaining wet ingredients. Stir to combine.
  4. Dump the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients all at once.  Stir with a spoon by hand until all ingredients are incorporated.  The dough will be sticky; don't worry.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.
  5. Dust a tea towel or pastry cloth with flour.  Roll dough with a rolling pin (you are aiming for thickness of about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch).  Cut dough into rectangles.  I use a pizza cutter and a knife to accomplish this.  Place cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. The cookies don't rise much and they don't spread out when baking so they can be placed pretty close together.
  6. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 17 to 18 minutes.  Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheets for a few minutes and then transfer the baked cookies to the counter top (I just slide the parchment paper and cookies right onto the counter top to cool).
  7. After the cookies have cooled to room temperature (or sat out overnight), prepare the icing.  Combine sifted powdered sugar, about 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract, 1 drop yellow food coloring, and half-n-half until you get a nice glaze.  The glaze should be applied in thin layer with a knife.  It should not be so thin that if runs off of the cookies.  Top each glazed cookie with a pecan half.
  8. Allow glaze to harden a bit before storing the cookies in air tight containers. I put layers of wax paper between the layers of cookies in my storage containers.  It is recommended to let them sit for a few weeks as they get better as they "age".  If you give these cookies a try, I'd love to hear about it.
This is one of those old recipes where the ingredients are not precise.  When it's passed down from one generation to another, as it was in my case, you learn from some one else and you just get feel for it.  The recipe, according to Maryellen, called for "1/2 a juice glass of whiskey".  I am accustomed to baking being much more precise than that. I had my Maryellen show me how much 1/2 a juice glass is and then I measured it in my Pyrex measuring cup.  That's me... I need more information!

The icing, you will notice, also doesn't have exact measurements. Frustrating, but after all these years, I just have a feel for it.  I make up a small amount, ice a few dozen cookies, and then make up some more icing, until I am done. 

1 comment:

affectioknit said...

Those are so pretty - we love molasses cookies around here...and they look super easy to veganize...

Have a lovely day!