With the holidays fast approaching, it’s time to savor the tastes of the season and take a bite.

Nothing evokes the holidays quite like Anise Cookies, and Dickson City resident Kayla Occhipinti’s recipe for the signature sweet will get you in the Christmas spirit.

The recipe – which earned Occhipinti a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore – was passed down from her grandmother, Frances Occhipinti. It’s a simple and straightforward recipe, Occhipinti said, though it remains a classic for its distinct spicy-yet-sweet flavor.

“Just don’t use too much anise (extract),” she said, laughing. “I’ve definitely done that before. Otherwise, you just have a black licorice cookie.”

However, the amount of anise extract in the cookie’s icing is completely up to the baker’s preference. Occhipinti also noted the cookies can be decorated however one prefers, which can be half the fun for the youngest bakers.

“I think it’s an exciting part for little kids, getting to help out and drizzle the icing or put on some sprinkles,” she said.

CHRISTOPHER DOLAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Dickson City resident Kayla Occhipinti is this week’s Local Flavor: Recipes We Love contest winner thanks to her Anise Cookies recipe.

Occhipinti has loved baking for as long as she can remember, and about a year ago, she decided to make the leap to creating custom order for others’ special occasions. Occhipinti frequently shows off her baking creations on her Instagram account, @thegypsy baker_11, as well as her Facebook page, @Thegypsybaker, where customers also can find forms to place orders. She creates trendy confections including Nutella Cupcakes as well as seasonal treats such as Apple Cider Cupcakes and Pumpkin Rolls. She’s also put together DIY cupcake kits for kids that come complete with cupcakes, frosting, sprinkles and other toppings to keep youngsters busy at home.

Cookies are her biggest item by far, though, and she can make up to 15 kinds for holiday trays, including Ricotta, Italian Pepper, Peanut Butter Blossom, Snowballs, Thumbprint, Linzer, M&M, Sugar and Chocolate Chip.

Anise Cookies are her favorite during this time of year, however, thanks to the meaningful memories they evoke. Occhipinti remembers the entire family getting together to make dozens upon dozens of Anise Cookies during the holiday season.

She hopes this becomes a tradition for others.

“I like that I can share this with people and they can make them with their own families,” she said. “Especially during COVID, I think people want to do something at home with their loved ones and do something fun.”

Kayla Occhipinti’s Anise Cookies

For the cookies:
7 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
7 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup solid Crisco shortening
1/2 cup milk
7 eggs
3 teaspoons anise extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix together flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer to combine shortening, milk, eggs and anise extract. Slowly start to add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing in between each addition until mixture is well-blended with all dry ingredients incorporated. Grease baking sheets.Using an ice cream scoop, cookie scoop or your hands, form dough into a 1-inch ball. Place on baking sheet and repeat. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes. Let cool on cooling rack.
For icing:
Powdered sugar
Anise extract
Sprinkles (optional)
Mix together powdered sugar and anise extract (start off with a small amount of each and add more until desired consistency and flavor are reached).
Spoon icing over each cookie until you reach your desired amount of icing. Add sprinkles.