It’s the spices — cinnamon and star anise powder — that make them so enticing, but pay attention to their texture — a mix of firm and chewy-and the glaze, which is sweet and plain, yet essential to the cookies’ appeal.
These are delicious and beautiful slicked with glaze, but if all you do is finish them with sprinkles or dust them with colored sugar, they’ll still have the look of a quintessential holiday sweet. As with most things that you make with spice, these are better a day after they’re baked — it’s good to give the spices time to take root and blossom.
- Mix cinnamon and star anise together.
- Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter, both sugars and the salt together on medium speed, scraping the bowl as needed, until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the egg and beat for a minute (don't be concerned if the mixture curdles).
- On low speed, beat in the molasses and vanilla.
- Turn off the mixer, add the dry ingredients and pulse just until the risk of flying flour has passed, then mix on low speed until the dough comes together.
- Scrape the bowl and turn out the dough, divide it in half and pat each half into a disk.
- Working with one disk at a time, place the dough between sheets of parchment and roll it to a thickness of ⅛ inch.
- Refrigerate the disks for 3 hours or freeze them for 1 hour. (You can refrigerate the dough for a couple of days or freeze it for up to 2 months.)
When you’re ready to bake:
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350°F.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats.
- Keep one piece of dough in the fridge while you work on the other.
- Peel off the top sheet of parchment and, using a 2-inch-diameter star-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can.
- Place the cookies about an inch apart on the baking sheet. Gather the scraps and save them to combine with the scraps you'll get from the second piece of dough; then roll, chill, cut and bake the scraps.
- Bake the cookies for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they are golden and only just firm-poke one in the center, and it will give a bit. Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool.
- Bake the remaining cookies, always using a cool baking sheet.
To make the glaze:
- Working in a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until it's frothy.
- Add the confectioners' sugar and, using a flexible spatula, stir until it's incorporated-this takes a little work.
- Stir in the melted butter and keep mixing until you have a smooth glaze that spreads easily. If you think it needs it, add warm water by the droplet.
To finish the cookies:
- Using a small offset spatula or a butter knife, spread some glaze over each cookie. If you'd like to add a little chocolate pearl or three, some sprinkles or anything else, do it while the glaze is still wet. Leave the cookies out for an hour or so to allow the glaze to dry.
Storing: Unglazed, the cookies can be frozen, well wrapped, for up to 2 months. Once glazed, they can be kept at room temperature for about 5 days.