Licorice Delight: Vanilla Almond & Anise Cupcakes

Anisette Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

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.

Anisette Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

 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.

Anisette Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

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.

Anisette Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

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. 

Anisette Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

That’s okay, because around here we always know when it’s time to take a cupcake break.


Licorice Delight: Vanilla Almond & Anise Cupcakes

Yield: 30 standard cupcakes (you can halve this recipe)

Moist & fluffy vanilla-almond cupcakes topped with whipped anise frosting and mini licorice allsorts.


    For the Cupcakes:
  • 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
  • For the Frosting:
  • 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


    For the Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line standard cupcake pans with your favourite paper cupcake liners. (I love black & white liners for the Anise Cupcakes!)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. For the Frosting:
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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).
  11. 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]

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

Good luck & enjoy!

Share the Sweetness!


  1. Tamar says

    Just commenting to say these look heavenly! I’ve decided to take a short break from baking – but as soon as I’m back, these will be first on my to-bake list!!
    Also, Neve is growing up just beautifully. She is too cute for words. I also love her little cupcake hair clips! I must say I have a very similar pair… however, I am 19, and I find it’s less socially acceptable to wear them :)

  2. unsightly says

    Beautiful photos, she is adorable. These cupcakes look great, I’ve bookmarked them to be baked this weekend.

  3. Georgiana says

    Oh, these sound so good! And those pictures are a-dor-able. I have never been able to find aniseed flavouring in England (seriously, where is it all hiding?) but I might try making them with Pernod as a substitute. And then not give them to children. Clearly.

  4. Amy C. says

    Oh Rosie why do you do this to me? :) We are celebrating my fathers Bday this weekend and I was going to make your Ginger Orange Carrot cake and his favorite candy is licorice he would LOVE these.I guess I will be making both. Can’t wait to try them. Love your blog

  5. Mary Sanavia says

    Hi Rosie! your pictures look so delicious as always but my favorite is the cupcake induced smile….precious!. I have a similar story with anise, I normally don’t like it, but if it’s in cookies, I love them….(crazy, I know). Glad to know I’m not the only one.

  6. says

    Now, I was all set to tell my sob story about not liking licorice. But you had that covered by the end of the first paragraph. So instead, I will say that I am almost ready to take a leap out of my licorice- and licorice-look-alike-free comfort zone and try these out.

    Perhaps in the fall. I could see these going nicely with leaf piles and down vests:)

  7. Jen says

    These look fantastic. It’s very possible you’ve mentioned this before, but where do you purchase your cupcake liners?

  8. says

    Having one of those days…making a pie for Jennifer Perillo and wearing a heavy heart. I saw a tweet for some adorable cupcakes. And truly, they are, but tonight, when thinking of ‘Sometimes it’s the sweetest little things that bring the most joy’ – well, tonight it’s the photos of Neve. The simple pleasure of seeing that beautiful sweet face has given me some measure of relief from the sadness. Thank you. Thank Neve. Thank God.

  9. says

    I’m not totaly sure if I like licorice or not. When I hear the word licorice a game that I used to play during the Halloween time about trick or treating kids pops into my head. They turn into goblins or weird monsters when you give them black licorice :P

    Anyways, this would be an interesting new flavor to try :)

  10. says

    Hi Rosie Im from Colombia and 3 days ago I found your website and I just fell in love ;) your creations and so gorgeous and well done, I´m publicist but like you I love the pastries ´cause its one of the things that made happy the people´s life!! I´M following you by twitter and your blog, I send you a kiss and a big hug for you and your family.


  11. says

    As usual a delight in the recipe, your brilliant photography and of course your beautiful daughter. I am not a huge licorice fan but I know many who are. I think I maybe converted very, very soon! Thanks Rosie!

  12. Rachel says

    I read this post in bed this morning, and enjoyed the story. But then when I saw the photos on my ‘big’ computer, I fell in love with them! I love the antiquey look they have. Any chance you are willing to share what preset (or whatever) you used to get that amazing effect?

  13. Eugenia says

    I made these delicious cupcakes yesterday using licorice instead of the anise flavouring which I could not find. My family were not too enthusiastic when I told them what I was making BUT devoured them when I served them!Guess what? They are our new favourite!! The flavours are so delicate and compliment each other so well. I am going to make this recipe in a cake form next weekend. Well done on another delicious recipe. I will be first in line to buy your book when you decide to publish one!Congratulations on your beautiful family.

  14. says

    Oh. My. Word. Rosie, that first photo just about melted my heart!! :) Too sweet!

    I love, love, love the way you decorated these! So simple and cheery, but sweet and elegant. Beautiful! :) I’m not a huge licorice fan, but I’d be willing to try these, just to make them look so super cute!

  15. Ross says

    I substituted the Anise extract with Absinthe (legal over here in the UK) for a cocktail party, and everyone raved over how they managed to be elegant and exciting at the same time. :D

    Your posts are really inspiring. :)

  16. says

    I’m so excited for Nanny’s cookies! I feel the same as Grant. I love anise but not licorice at ALL. However as an accent the candies are beautiful! Lol….your expresso incident could be a shot right out of my kitchen!

  17. Eugenia says

    Just to let you know, I made these again this weekend for my sisters and they loved them. My husband does not eat icing on cakes but tasted and enjoyed these vanilla anise (in my case liquorice) cupcakes very much.

  18. Carole says

    My daughter brought your site to my attentions and I’m loving it along with the pictures of your lovely daughters. I adore all things romantic, Victorian and shabby chic so it’s easy to ‘like’ what you’ve created here. If you’ll forgive me a negative comment, I find it difficult to read the words printed in turquoise because the color is so light. Thanks for sharing your gifts and talents:)

  19. says

    These cupcakes are made just for me! I LOVE black licorice/anise! I bought a whole bag of black jelly beans for myself, and went through it lickety-split! Can’t wait to make these! Your little taste-tester is a doll:)

  20. says

    I can’t wait to try these! My husbands family is from Sweden and Swedes love their black licorice. I’m sure they’ll be a big hit when I make them. Thanks for sharing! Is there a recipe for your coconut key lime cake? I see the citrus curd recipe but I’m looking for a from scratch key lime cake for a friends birthday coming in early June.

  21. Shannon says

    Hi Rosie!

    I’ve noticed that some of your recipes call for adding the butter to the flour, then adding eggs. I have done it using this method and I love how it always results in a tender cake. After making dozens of cupcakes that turned out with a cornbread texture, I am so grateful to have a method that results in such a perfect cake. I am wondering why you use this method though? Its something I have never seen before.

    Thanks so much!

  22. says

    I was inspired by this recipe. Low and behold, I have the exact same tea set. I never thought I would come across someone else with the “maple leaf” collection. Simple pleasures.

  23. JoAnn says

    Made these for the second time today. I LOVE these! What an excellent cake recipe. The flavor combination is perfect. I remember thinking they were good the first time I made them…don’t know what took me so long to make them again. Thanks for a great recipe!

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