“Beat for 20 minutes”: Really? Busting a baking myth

I recently set out to make some of my favorite “niche” cookies: Anise Drops, a chewy-crisp Italian cookie often served around the holidays.

I call them niche because they’re not chocolate chip or peanut butter or sugar cookies; my extended family considers anything else outside the pale.

Also niche because they’re anise – a.k.a. licorice. And I don’t mean red Twizzlers; I mean black licorice (think Good & Plenty).

As I got ready to make the cookies, I scanned the ingredients and directions to make sure I was good to go. This section of the recipe caught my eye:

“When all the sugar has been added, continue to beat the mixture for 20 minutes. (Yes, this really is necessary!)”

Really? I mean… 20 minutes of beating? Nahhhh…. Surely this isn’t REALLY necessary. Let me check online and see if anyone else has a different take on this recipe.

I Googled “self-frosting anise drops” (their full name) and wandered through a sea of recipes EXACTLY like mine.

“Continue to beat for 20 min.” – epicurious.com

“Beat 20 minutes or more.” – cooks.com

“Beat eggs and sugar for 30 minutes.” – news.google.com

Nope. Not going there. How about if I beat for, say, 5 minutes?

This baking myth’s about to be busted!

I make two batches of batter. Beat one for 20 minutes; the other for 5 minutes.

DSC_7080

Bake the cookies.

And yes, you’re right: these are an old-timey Italian version of those oh-so-courant French macarons.

Any difference between 5 minutes and 20 minutes?

DSC_7091

Same rise…

DSC_7093

…same appearance…

DSC_7097

…same texture.

NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL, except in the amount of time I run my KitchenAid.

Why would a recipe ever call for 20 minutes of beating?

Well, it’s a throwback to when food processors and stand mixers, and even hand mixers, were just a dream on the horizon. If you were making these cookies back in the day, yeah, you probably would have had to beat the batter for 20 minutes – using a spoon and arm power.

The lesson here? Don’t be afraid to change a recipe that seems odd or nonsensical. Recipes are living things; they evolve over time. If you find an old-timer that you think needs updating, give your new method a try; you might just save yourself all kinds of time, and/or extra steps.

“Sift the dry ingredients together three times…” Or not.

Do you have any older recipes with puzzling instructions you’d like to share? Please post your question below, in comments; among all of us, I’ll bet we can figure out an update!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmm, the spoon could be the culprit, Betty, but another possibility could be the way your oven works. If you have a convection oven, the hot air moving around could blow the delicate tops around. Baking without convection should work better! If you didn’t use convection, it’s most likely from the spoon. One thing you could try to smooth out the tops before letting them dry, you could lightly dab the top with a finger wetted with water to make it smooth. Annabelle@KAF

  1. Doris

    My 92-year old German mother has made these cookies for decades using the recipe from the old Settlement Cookbook that requires 30″ of beating (probably by hand). Glad to know it’s not necessary, but I have a question. Sometimes the cookies “rise”, as pictured, but just as frequently, they do not. It’s a longstanding family mystery as to why. We are always disappointed when there are no “feet”. Any advice on how to ensure the feet? We let them “dry” for many hours in about 65+ room temp overnight. Should the “feet” appear during the drying period? During baking? Disappointingly footless anise drop cookies here in New Hampshire this year!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      These cookies are known for their slightly temperamental nature. It’s true that sometimes they form beautiful little feet and other times, they simply don’t. Our test kitchen bakers think that humidity plays a role. The cookies should feel dry to the touch before they go into the oven, and if you’re baking in a particularly warm or humid place, the cookies may need to dry for longer before going into the oven. Another key part of this recipe is mixing the egg whites for long enough. 30 minutes of mixing certainly isn’t necessary, but a solid 5 minutes of mixing will increase your chances of forming little feet. A dry skin should form on the outside of the cookies after they’ve rested and the feet should appear during the baking process. We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Virginia

    There is another unusual step in this anise cookie recipe that is odd. The resting for 8 hours before baking. I’d love to know to know what the results would be if you didn’t let it rest so long, or at all!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The rest period is what allows the cookies to “self-ice.” Without this step, the cookies would have less of a sheen on the crust and a smaller “foot,” or rumpled base of the cookie. (This is a characteristic attribute that’s desirable in cookies like this and French macarons.) Without the rest, they’ll still be delightful in taste. Kye@KAF

  3. Cindy

    Oh, how about the preheating the oven? I have heard that it is vital to wait until the preheat is ready and in other places I have heard that it isn’t necessary.
    I remember my Mom’s old black and white Sunbeam stand mixer.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We almost always recommend waiting until the oven is fully pre-heated to ensure the most even baking results. The cases where this is an exception is when using a cold-start for baking artisan bread. In these instances, the pot with the risen dough is put in a cold oven so that it can pre-heat while the oven warms. This helps make a chewy crust, but it should be used sparingly. For most cases, wait till you see that the oven is fully pre-heated for best results. Kye@KAF

  4. Rosemarie

    I made self rising anise drop cookies many years ago. Sorry that I misplaced the recipe. My recipe, however, you baked them and kept them in the oven overnight (heat turned off) in the am beautiful frosted cookies! Would love that recipe if you can find it. Also, looking for a cookie using ground hazelnuts. It was a German cookie that a friend made for us years ago.

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *