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.

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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?

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Same rise...

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...same appearance...

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...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!

Filed Under: Tips and Techniques
PJ Hamel
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About PJ Hamel

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!

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