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Cancelle (Anise-flavored cakes)

  • 35 minutes
  • Medium
  • Desserts and Fruit
The anise gives this dessert from Central Italy its sweet, inviting aroma.


  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons anise liqueur
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lb all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt


In a receptacle, beat the eggs with the sugar until they become foaming, add the oil, the salt and the grated lemon zest. Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly and add as much flour as the dough will absorb, which must become firm like the dough for “gnocchi”.

Flavor the mixture with the anise and turn it onto a pastry board coated in flour.
Keep kneading until it becomes smooth, and then cut into pieces. Roll these out one at a time on the pastry board and form several small balls the size of a walnut.

 When all the dough has been used up, grease the two plates of the special iron used to make “Cancelle”, hold over the fire and as soon as it is hot enough place a knob of dough in the center, close it, and put back over the fire for some minutes, turning to heat both sides until the “Cancella” has become golden and crunchy.

Chef's Tips

If you do not have a special cancelle-maker, you can use a waffle iron to cook the cakes.

Food History

Anise is an aromatic plant that has been used since ancient times both for its medicinal and culinary properties. In fact, it was often used as a beverage. Anise was found in Iran over 3,000 year ago and historic records show that it was cultivated in ancient Egypt. It was used by doctors throughout the Middle East and was one of the 26 ingredients in the medicinal beverage created by Crateuas.

Famous for its digestive power, anise was used by the Greeks and Romans for flavoring meat, vegetables and sweets. The Latins commonly added anise to wine and other drinks to give them a nice aroma.

Anise spread to the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages, especially in England, Germany and France, thanks to the fact that monks used it to make liqueurs inside monasteries. Around the same time, the Arabs introduced to Sicilians the custom of drinking water and anise served on ice.

After having fallen out of fashion, anise-scented drinks became popular again among bohemians in the form of alcoholic beverages. Because these spirits were prohibited, people quickly began to seek them out. Even the famous Italian writers D’Annunzio and Pasolini mentioned anise-flavored alcohol various times in their works.

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