Grandma DiSomma’s Italian Vanilla Knot Cookies
What makes the best vanilla knot cookies?
To me the key to making great vanilla-flavored cookies is homemade vanilla extract: if you’re feeling up to it, you can find my recipe for vanilla extract here. (For my money, homemade vanilla extract is the way to go, and once you get to the habit you’ll never look back.) In addition, the quick and simple glaze for these vanilla knot cookies really tops them off beautifully, especially if you add in the optional anise and nonpareils.
Grandma DiSomma’s Vanilla Knot Cookie Recipe
Makes 3 dozen cookies
½ cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3½ teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of water or milk
½ teaspoon clear vanilla extract
1 teaspoon anise extract (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together shortening and sugar until the consistency is light and creamy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the milk and vanilla extract.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Mix until just incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Portion out a large tablespoon of dough. With lightly floured hands, roll it into a 4-inch rope. Take one side of dough and spiral it into a circle. Tuck the other end up or down. Place formed cookies on parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Let cookies set on sheet pans for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to cooling racks.
Prepare the glaze. In a bowl, combine sifted confectioners’ sugar, water or milk, vanilla, and anise extract, if using. Stir until smooth. Add more confectioners’ sugar or water to get the desired consistency. Dip cookie, top side down into icing. Turn cookies and place back on wire rack to dry. If desired, sprinkle tops with nonpareils. Let dry completely. Store in an airtight container.
Bonus secrets for a perfect vanilla knot cookie (straight from the source)!
As I originally got this recipe from my mother-in-law, I asked her about some of her key tips for making sure these delicious treats come out just so, and she offered the following:
Make sure to use the right amount of flour; too much will make the dough dry when you are rolling it with the palm of your hand
Know your oven: try experimenting with a small batch to begin with, to ensure you don’t over-brown the bottoms
The bottom of these cookies should be golden, not dark
On her oven, a baking time of 11 minutes seems the sweet spot; it might be less or more on yours.