A little bit of patience and a lot of sprinkles will get you the most memorable Christmas experience when you whip up a batch of my Nana’s Anise Pierniki!
This is the one folks. The recipe I’ve been most excited to share with you this week.
These are my absolute very favorite Christmas cookies of all time. They’re so simple, and they’re nothing too fancy to look at, but they hold so much meaning to me that even as a food blogger (who has to fancy things up to keep her OCD in check,) I couldn’t bear to present them any other way than how I made them with my Nana.
I may have taken some liberties with my sprinkle ratio, however (she tended to be a little less heavy-handed.)
If you love traditional Christmas cookies, and you enjoy a bit of anise (some would describe it as a mild licorice flavor – think a mild Ouzo or Sambuca,) then please bake up a batch of these for your family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and mailman and Santa.
They’ll first see the beauty of a cutout cookie, then be surprised at the crispy texture and delicate flavors of this Polish classic.
After some research, I couldn’t really find the technical name for these, nor did I find any recipe exactly like it (there are actually 2 recipes for pierniki in the cookbook that are nothing like this.) All I know is that they’re “Stella’s” Christmas Cookies, and every year come holiday time, I helped Nana bake and decorate them.
Whoever Stella was, I’m grateful that she passed this recipe along.
My Nana was an incredible woman. She went from 20-something wife, mother, and homemaker to factory worker during World War II to make ends meet. In her 70s, I came along and she did it again – raising me solo from baby to 21 on her Social Security check and credit cards.
Much different time, the 80s-90s were, but still.
Her favorite place was in the kitchen, cooking meals and surprising the family with her cookies and cakes – many of which are found in her cookbook that is now a regular part of my kitchen adventures.
This year marks my third Christmas as a blogger, and I’ve meant to share these every.single.year.
Why did it take me this long? No idea. I make them annually and have had plenty of chances to shoot them.
They’re cookies I share with everyone I know – I always make a double or triple-batch just to have enough to spread Nana’s spirit through as many people as I can.
So why have I held out on sharing the Christmas cookie recipe with you, my favorite faceless internet friends?
Not that it matters, because they’re here, and now anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of trying one can make a whole batch to
eat all by themselves by the light of their twinkling Christmas lights share with the ones they love.
I guess I’m now passing Nana’s spirit on to a much bigger audience – the world – through a very special Christmas cookies recipe.
I think she’d love that.
Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. I love you guys.
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Nana’s Anise Pierniki (Polish Christmas Cookies)
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour plus more for rolling
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 3 Tablespoons milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon anise extract or oil
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- ¼ cup unsalted butter softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 3-4 Tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Assorted sprinkles
- In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, ~3 minutes. Add anise, egg yolk, and milk, beating to combine. In a separate bowl, sift baking powder and salt into flour, then add to wet ingredients, mixing until incorporated. Dough will be sticky but thick.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-24 hours.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon liners. Set up a station with flour, rolling pin, cookie cutters, and prepared baking sheets.
- Flour your workstation moderately, as well as your hands. Take half of the dough and dust it with flour, knead it into a ball, then roll it out as thinly as possible (or as desired,) dusting with flour sparingly but as needed to prevent sticking. Cut into desired shapes. Transfer to baking sheets, leaving a bit of space between each cookie (they don’t spread much at all.)
- Bake for 7-10 minutes, until edges are barely golden (these are very pale finished cookies.*) Remove from oven and cool on pans for 3-4 minutes, then remove to cooling rack with a metal spatula.
- Return scraps to bowl and repeat the steps with the remaining cold ball of dough. Repeat a third time with scraps from first two rounds, being sure not to overwork the dough or add too much flour to it as you work.**
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Combine ingredients in a small bowl and beat until a fluffy buttercream consistency is reached, adding milk or sugar as necessary (I like my frosting fluffy, but you may prefer it thinner.)
- Gently spread frosting on each cookie and decorate with sprinkles as desired. This is a fun project for little ones to help with! Allow cookies to dry overnight before packaging and storing.
** It is important not to use too much flour on your work space, or to overwork the dough. It’s very sensitive, and can lead to altered taste if abused.
FOR THIS RECIPE, I RECOMMEND…
DAY ONE | German Chocolate Cookie Cups
DAY TWO | Bakery Style Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies
DAY THREE | Salted Caramel Coconut Biscotti
DAY FOUR | Chocolate Cheesecake Cookies
DAY FIVE | Nana’s Anise Pierniki (Polish Christmas Cookies)
Danielle S says
If you are a lover of anise, anise cookies are better with both anise extract and anise seeds!
I’m sure they are! In the case of these, the seeds would detract from the simplicity of the cookie, though!
These are like my 91 year old momma’s except her cookies are made with half butter and half lard combination. The lard really tastes great. I became Jewish so lard is a no no for me. I will happily use your recipe. We put anise in the icing too.
Tracy Pudlewski says
My polish grandmother added anise to the frosting, as well as the cookie dough. No vanilla required.
I would personally love that, and will have to try it next year! I stick with vanilla when sharing with my not-so-Polish friends, though. 😉
Roseanna Boyce says
I have this same recipe handed down from Poland-Germany region where my ancestors came from. This is a cherished recipe and I understand how hard it was to share, I feel the same…yet it is so important to let the world know what wonderful ancestors we had. I thank God for these recipes and those who share with us. This recipe is perfect and as you say do not over flour!
There’s nothing like the first taste of these when they’re just cool enough to bite! It’s everything good about Christmas and family and memories all at once! I LOVE that we have the same recipe – it really makes me feel connected with my heritage even more.
I tried making these, followed the recipe and cooking instructions exactly but when cooking the they just completely flattened out. Suggestions on what I did wrong?
Oh no! How long did you refrigerate them for, Tony? I had this happen once where I was in a rush and didn’t chill the dough long enough. Honestly, that’s the only thing I could think of that would cause the flattening. I’m so sorry you had trouble! I hope they still tasted great. <3
This was my third time making this recipe. It’s a nice small batch recipe for us smaller families. It’s just like my Polish grandma’s cookies. She wasn’t able to make them for my first child, so this recipe gave me something that can’t really be put into words.
I made this recipe for Easter and baked them as little egg shapes (12 min long in oven) and then coated them in pastel frosting. They were so cute I hope everyone who reads this makes them at least once using this recipe!
Thank you thank you thank you.
Ashley, you are so very welcome! This is exactly the kind of comment that makes blogging worth it. When I started this site, I knew it would be a fantastic way to hang on to all of the delicious recipes Abe and I created for our family; but when I decided to start sharing my Nana’s recipes, I never could have imagined how much they would mean to other people. Hearing that you were able to bring a little of your grandmother into your child’s life, even in the form of a cookie from your own childhood, warms my heart – and I know it would make my Nana happy to hear it. Thank you so much for sharing this with me today!
Phillip Collins says
Thank you for sharing this recipe. We had a very similar one growing up, from our Polish grandma who also helped raise us.
There is nothing quite as bitter sweet as baking these for Christmas. They are so tastey and bring back such wonderful memories of Christmases past.
The only alteration we make is using a cream cheese frosting. It adds a nice contrast.
Thanks again for sharing Erica, it wouldn’t be Christmas without these.
Christine Heath says
I have been looking for a recipe for a roll out cookie anise flavor but the color was dark almost black. Our German neighbor made them when I was a kid I am now 70 . I have yet to find a recipe for it. They were very thin. I was too young to ask for the recipe then and she left long before I could have. Anyone who can help? I have German heritage and would love to have it
Donna G says
Can you freeze the dough?
Donna M says
Can I freeze the dough