Gluten-Free Italian Christmas Cookies

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I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of cookies. Besides being a huge challenge for a gluten-free baker, they just aren’t as interesting as cakes or as chocolaty as brownies. But come every Christmas, there’s always one cookie that has my heart: I love Italian anise cookies. Growing up Italian-American, my relatives always bought these for me fresh from an Italian bakery. I love the sharp licorice flavor with a super sweet frosting. I couldn’t imagine Christmas without them, so this year I tried to adapt the recipe to be gluten-free. After 2 batches, I came out with the perfect, sinfully good Christmas cookies.

Gluten-Free Italian Christmas Cookies

Ingredients(Makes 20 cookies):

  • 2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup neutral flavored oil(not coconut oil and not butter)
  • 1 1/2 eggs, lightly beaten(see here how to measure this)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise extract

*If you’re making these with regular flour, use just 1 egg

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Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil, eggs, and extract.

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Combine the dough by mixing until it’s firm and the flour has been all absorbed. Put the dough in the refrigerator to chill 30-60 minutes.

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Preheat an oven to 350 degrees with the baking trays inside the oven to warm them up. When the oven is ready, take out the baking trays, line them with parchment paper, and roll the dough into 3/4-inch balls lining them up with enough room to spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the outside starts to turn slightly brown and the center is almost set. Take them out of the oven and let them set completely before moving them to another tray.

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These taste just like the cookies from the bakery: Soft and slightly cakey yet still sugary dense. The anise flavor is strong, so you’ll want to give these to a true lover. And the icing—oh, the icing. But that’s for another day.

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24 Responses to Gluten-Free Italian Christmas Cookies
  1. Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg
    December 6, 2010 | 2:45 pm


  2. Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga)
    December 6, 2010 | 3:02 pm

    this just isnt right: “I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of cookies”

    No, that’s heresy! kidding 🙂

    i love cookies but youre right, GF baking is hard AND combine that w/ vegan baking and it’s a beast. Espi on things like sugar-ish cookies. Jenna of ELR just made some vegan sugar cookies but theyre not vegan and yours are GF but not vegan. It’s sooo hard to get both vegan + GF but…worth trying…b/c i love cookies 🙂

    • Wannabe Chef
      December 6, 2010 | 3:06 pm

      The problem with baking gluten-free and vegan is that baking is dependent on protein structures. When you’re missing gluten, often egg whites is the easiest form of protein to substitute. Similarly, when you omit eggs, then the wheat becomes the essential binder in recipes. In order to cook Gluten-free/vegan, you need to base your recipe’s structure with starches instead of protein. It’s especially hard to do this with cookies because there’s no structure for the baked good to rely on like a cupcake tin or cake pan.

  3. Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga)
    December 6, 2010 | 3:12 pm

    Exactly…it all boils down to protein and structure. Egg proteins or the wheat gluten/protein/structure.

    Which is why most GF vegan baked goods are order to get them to “hold together” you have to cook them til they are very well done. Bordering on crumbly. Or underdone and are gooey/raw.

    That’s why muffins are always a lifesaver…the gooey factor is contained in the liner.

    There is a reason why my sister just got her PhD in food science. I could go Alton Brown on you all day. And so could she, but she has the education to back it up 🙂 Whereas i am edcuated in the kitchen school of hard knocks lol

  4. Holly
    December 6, 2010 | 5:14 pm

    simple cookies, simple flavor and simple icing. sometimes simple IS the best 🙂

    December 6, 2010 | 6:32 pm

    they look easy and tasty!!! 😀

  6. Amanda@bakingwithoutabox
    December 6, 2010 | 7:48 pm

    I love these cookies! I know people think cookies aren’t as exciting as their fancier dessert cousins, but they are so homey. Great job!

  7. Claire @ Un Bello Aperitivo
    December 6, 2010 | 10:26 pm

    Wow, these look beautiful! I used to loathe making cookies because they’d never turn out (I’m talking Nestle Tollhouse, here, haha), but now I love experimenting with vegan cookies, even if they don’t turn out. Ironic, right?

  8. The Candid RD
    December 7, 2010 | 9:50 am

    YES! Perfect recipe for the gluten-free individuals in my Italian family 🙂 Now I need a gluten free pizzelle (which are actually quite similar to the above recipe, I would think….they are just flat!).

    • Wannabe Chef
      December 7, 2010 | 1:26 pm

      Oh I’ll definitely try to come up with a GF pizzelle recipe when I’m back home. One of my Christmas gifts 2 years ago was a pizzelle press 🙂

  9. Charlie
    December 18, 2010 | 11:30 pm

    Just a quick question if anyone can answer. Do you need to add Xantham to these? Thanks for the help.

    • Wannabe Chef
      December 18, 2010 | 11:34 pm

      Nope! No need for xanthan gum.

      • Charlie
        December 18, 2010 | 11:40 pm

        Thanks so much for the quick response.

  10. Lara@ gluten free recipes
    December 22, 2010 | 6:37 am

    I’m glad these don’t use xanthan gum, I saw what it actually was on a documentary recently – yuk! These look like good cookies, I’ve never come across anise extract before, but I shall look out for it now :)Thanks for a great recipe

  11. Sherry Varano
    December 18, 2012 | 9:21 pm

    These look delicious. I hope they will be as good as my mom’s anisette pillows. I will be making these this week for christmas 12-18- 2012 Thanks for the recipe.

  12. Joyce Wise
    December 23, 2012 | 2:20 pm

    Thank you so much for your gluten free Italian cookies recipe. I have been making anice cookies for 40 years but now have to follow a gluten free diet. I can’t wait to try your recipe. What do you mean by a neutral flavored oil? Also I would love your icing recipe.

    Thank you so much and Merry Christmas.


    • Wannabe Chef
      December 23, 2012 | 2:40 pm

      Use something like vegetable or canola oil that doesn’t have a strong flavor to it.
      For the icing i used a recipe similar to this one

      • Tricia
        November 12, 2014 | 4:20 pm

        Do you put the anise extract into the icing as well?
        Also, can you use grape seed oil?
        Have you ever tried shaping them into candy canes? Would that bake well?
        Thanks for adding this recipe! Italians who are gluten free/dairy free/nut free are not always happy dessert eaters.

        • Wannabe Chef
          November 12, 2014 | 10:55 pm

          I usually add a little flavor to the icing to make it more flavorful. Any oil that’s liquid at room temperature is fine. I’ve never tried shaping them but I think it’d spread out too much.

  13. Laura
    December 15, 2013 | 9:36 am

    Is the recipe supposed to be very dry? I am having a hard time getting it to form into a soft ball. It is very crumbly.
    Thank you

    • Wannabe Chef
      December 15, 2013 | 7:22 pm

      Hi, Laura. It definitely shouldnt be too crumbly that you can’t make it into balls. It’s probably because the gluten-free flour mix has a lot of starch or gums in it. Add water by the teaspoon until the dough is soft enough to be rolled into balls.

  14. gluten free diet and weight loss
    January 6, 2014 | 1:38 pm

    Great article. awesome content I look forward to reading your other posts.


  15. Tricia
    December 23, 2014 | 8:17 pm

    Just wanted to thank you again for this recipe. I have made these cookies 3 times since November and everyone has loved them! I even changed out the anise extract for lemon to try it for a different crowd and it worked! My guess is the extract can be anything you like, as this cookie is so versatile! Thank you again!