March 10, 2012

Ode to Anis Plätzchen

There they are. The last three.

The bag of cookies has been with me for weeks now—at least a month. They’ve kept rather well, never losing their crisp exterior, never letting diminish their anise-oil scent. I served them to a friend over tea. I ate them in bed out of a little turquoise ramekin. I dunked them in my coffee at various times of the day. Once I even lost half a cookie to the bottom of my cup in this way.

They’re Anis Plätzchen. And I’m at the bottom of the bag.

I’m sure it seems a little strange to read an “ode” to these cookies, or to any cookies at all for that matter. But I can’t help it. If I were on the other side of that screen, I’d want to know about them. It seemed wrong to keep it a secret.

If you live in Germany, these are probably not a secret whatsoever. I imagine they might even be the kind of thing you’d find in every grocery store, on every corner; not a specialty item—ubiquitous and boring perhaps; the kind of cookie that you buy in a rush when you’ve no time to bake and your toddler is screaming. That sort of thing. They may even, for all I know, be some sort of junk food. They have all of the trappings—brightly colored, crackly, plastic exterior; corporate branding; ingredients’ lists in four languages. This is not your local, seasonal item. This one’s made in a factory.

But I love them.

And I suspect, if you’re anything like me, and you like delicate, crunchy, light cookies that can stand up to a swift dunk in your cup of tea, that you will, too.

I discovered them at this great restaurant, here in San Francisco. The place where I also learned about the delights of Nürnberger minis (a type of sausage), and where I mused over a lovely little box of chocolates covered with pictures of kittens (called, somewhat shockingly, Katzenzungen, or “cats’ tongues”). I’ve had great dinners with friends at this restaurant. It’s dark and moody, with wafting aromas of homemade sauerkraut and grilled meats, an exhaustive array of beers, and homemade Nussecken for dessert, if you can make it that far. They also carry several shelves worth of German food imports. I think of it as a lovely place to unwind and have a casual meal with friends; one that typically starts with the rapid consumption of a house-baked pretzel. Now, I also think of it as the place that once carried these cookies. I hope they keep them in stock. I’ll find out when I go back in a day or two.

I’ll finish the last three tonight after dinner. I don’t know if they’ll be easy to find again.

So here we are, faced with the last of something—I treasure them all the more because of it.

P.S. I’ll be back soon with something homemade, most likely with chocolate.

P.P.S. A pretzel recipe, for the brave.


  1. Older versions of the Joy of Cooking, like from the 1950s through the 1970s have a recipe for anizsplätchen, but in JOC they are called "Anise Cakes." The recipe is a bit finicky, though. My mother and my aunt always made them at Christmas, but they are both gone so I have lost the secret to having them rise up with the little "mushroom" caps. Finally, I called the America's Test Kitchen show and they were really helpful, suggesting that King Arthur flour might be too high in gluten and, given the era the recipe was published, the kind of flour it was tested on would be lower in gluten, something like Pillsbury or Gold Metal.

    Here's the recipe:

    1 cup sugar
    3 eggs
    1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
    1-1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1-3/4 tbs crushed anise seed (or anise extract)

    About 50 a 1/2 inch cakes

    These cookies are dried over night to form smooth little hats that rise up during baking. There are two tricks to making them work. First, you have to dry them at room temperature in a dry atmosphere. Secondly, you must use the right amount of flour. This is purely guess work—too little, and the cookies don’t rise up and come out sort of flat, too much and the hats crackle and break up during baking. Either way they taste good but are not so pretty. It is better to err with too little flour than too much. (America’s Test Kitchen says to use a lower gluten flour such as Pillsbury or Gold Metal.)

    Sift: sugar. Beat eggs until light. Gradually add the sugar to the eggs while beat. Beat until light, then add the vanilla. Sift flour before measuring. Resift with the baking powder. Add the crushed anise seed. Beat the batter well. Drop it from a teaspoon, well apart, on greased tins. Permit it to dry at room temperature for 12 hours. Bake the cakes in a moderate oven 350˚ until they begin to color.

    Note: My sister's edition of The Joy of Cooking adds a few details to this recipe. First, beat them for 5 minutes after the addition of the Anise Seed and the Flour. Second, let them dry for 18 hours, not 12. I am wondering if the added beating maybe takes some of the excess lift out of the baking powder so that they tops won’t crackle apart. We’ll see…

    1. Thank you so much, Jake, this is so helpful!! I'm thrilled that you've shared the recipe with us. I'll have to try them soon.

      All the best, Vera

  2. My father was a baker of German decent and these cookies are meshed in my memory with the aromas of Christmas baking. I believe that the secret to the crispy caps is in the whisking of the eggs. When I make them, I use my stand mixer and mix the whole eggs for 20 min at medium speed (No less). The sugar is incorporated early in the mixing process. I remember that my mom used an old fashioned egg beater and would beat the eggs over a double boiler until a she couldn't beat any longer.

    1. What a great story, Helen. Maybe this will be the year that I try to make these cookies from scratch. I wonder how long I will last beating eggs by hand...

  3. I have been making this cookie, for years, in my blender. I blend the sugar and eggs for 20 minutes, then add anise extract instead of seed. I then transfer the egg mix into a bowl, whereby I add the flour/baking powder and fold until flour disappears (30 second max). I move quickly, using a melon baller, because the dough is very warm and when it begins to cool it becomes unworkable. This is a great way to make it because there's no heavy mixing!

    1. Thank you for sharing this DJean102! Sounds like a great technique.