My kitchen can be a wondrous place at times. What comes into it as a delightful cookie, milkshake, or other treat recipe, often leaves as a frilly cake or cupcake–it’s a magical occurrence that I simply can’t explain. I suppose that’s not a tragic thing, but it is quite mysterious. That is, in fact, how these Licorice Delight cupcakes came to be. See, Nanny (also known as Grant’s mom and Mary Lou) is Italian, and she has been making the most delicious Italian Anise Cookies (or, as they are called to us, “Anisettes”) since long before I came along. She makes them on holidays, and, since everyone loves them so, many other times throughout the year. Her mother (also known as Nanny) made them for what I imagine was most of her life, and who knows, perhaps even her mother and grandmother made them back in Italy. The cookies are a melt-in-your-mouth buttery cookie with a subtle-but-distinct anise flavour (think similar to natural licorice), and are either topped with a sweet confectioners’ glaze and topped with colourful sprinkles (what I’ve discovered to be a more traditional method), or, as Nanny makes them, and her mother made them, topped with a generous spreading of vanilla buttercream frosting and sprinkles.
Grant, my 50% Italian, non-dessert man decided long before we met that Anisette cookies are the one and only treat that he will compromise his otherwise freakish healthy diet for, by eating an entire tin of them at one sitting. This is true, and it’s quite fascinating for the rest of us to witness. Did I mention that he cannot stand licorice? Black jelly beans? Never. So anise and licorice are technically two different plants altogether, but the flavours are so similar. That’s the wonderful thing about anise–it has such a delicious natural flavour that non-licorice lovers seem to love it (and, actually, when I tell Grant that anise is what is often added to black jelly beans to bring out the licorice flavour, he actually tells me I must be mistaken because he would never eat such a thing) and licorice lovers seem to pick up on the flavour immediately and, of course, celebrate its delightfulness.
Since I also adore Nanny’s cookies, I had every intention of blogging and sharing them with you, and I likely still will, but for the longest time now I’ve been wanting to turn them into cupcakes. With such simple and cupcake-friendly flavours, I just knew they would taste so good that way. So, this past week while Reese was at school, Neve and I made a batch and, as I suspected, they are delicious and simple, but unique. Sort of a family tradition reinvented. For the cupcakes themselves, I started with a vanilla cupcake recipe that I love and have used (such as here) many times, as I love the light and fluffy texture, but I added some almond extract, as almond and anise pair really well. Now, I’ve reversed Nanny’s Anisette Cookie method by tying the anise into the icing rather than the cupcake, but I felt compelled to do it that way. You can definitely put anise in both the cupcake and the frosting, but to keep it subtle, I opted for anise frosting only. I couldn’t resist using my recent favourite recipe for whipped vanilla frosting, so I made that with a good hit of vanilla and natural anise extract, which is heaven. Whipped vanilla licorice-ish-but-not anise heaven.
Even ask Neve–I bet she’d agree.
Sometimes it’s the sweetest little things that bring the most joy, and that’s really what it’s all about. Baking with my kids and keeping it light and fun often makes for the yummiest and most memorable treats. Nothing fancy, just homespun and super delicious.
I wanted to embrace the licorice-ness, and so I used some white DeRuijter Anise sprinkles on some of them and mini licorice all-sorts. Since anise isn’t officially licorice, but just an incredible authentic flavour of its own, you certainly don’t need to emphasize the candy aspect. You could go with a simple frosting swirl and even a few white sprinkles. Adding a vanilla bean to the frosting would also be a beautiful and classic take on it. Really, just the combination of almond, vanilla, and anise is a winner and would work in so many ways. Did someone say Licorice Delight Cake? Good thinking.
These cupcakes are so fluffy and moist vanilla, that I, literally, could not stop eating them when I was frosting them. Believe it or not, that doesn’t happen as much as you would expect. I can often run on autopilot and just do what I need to do without eating every baked good in sight, but these were really incredible.
Now, typically friends don’t let friends photograph hot espresso and cupcakes while using a MacGyver’d foam core board rested against any random object to reflect light, but that’s how I roll, seemingly.
That’s okay, because around here we always know when it’s time to take a cupcake break.
Moist & fluffy vanilla-almond cupcakes topped with whipped anise frosting and mini licorice allsorts.
- 1-3/4 cups (175 g) cake flour (aka cake & pastry flour)
- 1-1/4 cups (157 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks)(227 g) unsalted butter cut into 1-inch cubes, room temperature
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup (240 ml) whole milk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) pure almond extract
- 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
- 3 cups (475 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 2-1/2 tablespoons (37.5 ml) milk
- 1-1/2 teaspoons (7.5 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon (3.75 ml), or to taste, pure anise extract
- pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Line standard cupcake pans with your favourite paper cupcake liners. (I love black & white liners for the Anise Cupcakes!)
- In bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine dry ingredients (flours, sugar, baking powder and salt) and mix on low until blended. On medium-low, add cubes of butter, a few at a time, and mix each one for a moment before adding the next few, until each cube of butter is incorporated. Be sure there are no large chunks of butter in the batter.
- Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Be sure each egg has been incorporated before adding the next.
- In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together milk, vanilla, and almond extract. With mixer on medium, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl with spatula after each addition. Beat until just incorporated (try not to over-beat).
- Using a 1.5 oz cookie scoop (or your cake batter tool of choice), divide batter among liners (should be 2/3 full). Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 17-20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and immediately transfer the cupcakes onto a cooling rack by inverting the tray. Carefully turn the cupcakes right-side-up and let cool completely before frosting.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium. Butter will become very pale & creamy.
- Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy, and fluffy.
- You can include one seeded and scraped vanilla bean and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of pure vanilla extract for a deeper vanilla flavour (and the glorious vanilla bean specks).
- Once cupcakes are completely cool, spread frosting over each one using a small offset spatula or you can pipe frosting using a piping bag and your desired pastry tip. I used Ateco #887. Top with sprinkles, black jelly beans, Goodies, or, as I used, Mini Licorice Allsorts.
[Cupcake batter recipe adapted from Billy's Bakery Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes via Martha Stewart]
- I used Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract for these cupcakes (and use it for most of my baking).
- I used Watkins Anise Extract 2oz and Mini Licorice Allsorts, 1 LB