One Christmas, I sent a loved one a box of Italian Egg Biscuits, made from an old recipe that belonged to a long-departed friend of the family, Mrs. Concetta Gallo. My uncle knew what was in the package before he even opened it. Although the element of surprise was lost, the familiar old-world anise scent that foreshadowed the gift found its purpose, and the season for nostalgia was off and running.
While there are many things that trigger a sentimental longing for Christmases past, the aromas that once floated from the holiday kitchens of our most beloved bakers, especially those that are gone, are among the most powerful. With its strong “licorice” flavor, an identifiable component of distinctive liqueurs such as, Anisette, Ouzo, Pernod and others, the taste of anise is a favorite of many, as is other festive treats that contain it, such as pizzelles and cannolis.
Typically, most recipes for anise-flavored cookies and other sweets specify the use of alcohol-based anise extract. But, for a bright and pure anise taste, highly concentrated anise oil is far more effective and in the long run, economical. Because the oil is three to four times stronger than extract, you’ll need just a quarter teaspoon of oil for every teaspoon of extract.
Missing those that are no longer with us is particularly hard this time of the year. If they’ve left behind a beloved heirloom recipe, bring it to life in the kitchen. Share it at the table with those you love and enjoy it for the gift it is.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.