The cliff dropped precipitously into the sea. The so-called road down to the port was more of a endless, stomach turning series of switchbacks so tight that as we rounded the corners I was afraid the back tires of our rental car would swing out, pulling us off the road. Yes, mostly I was just afraid, and eventually I closed my eyes and tried not to vomit as other cars of blithely speeding Spaniards kept trying to make their way past us up the mountain. A two lane road the width of a Ford Explorer. Dios mio.
I was in Mallorca, supposedly enjoying the scenic views as we descended the mountain towards a dinner about which I had unhappily muttered to my companions, "This better be freaking awesome." The sun was going down, which meant that the way back to main road would be through starry blackness. There were no guard rails and we were Americans unused to using manual transmission.
No one else seemed fazed by the situation, and I'll admit that that particular view of the sun setting over the Mediterranean is one of the most stunning I've ever seen. Dinner, in the only restaurant in the port, was, well, freaking awesome. Still, the trip home was always hovering in the back of my mind.
After we'd finished dessert and coffee and I was verging on panic, a bottle landed on our table. It was large—at least a liter—and it was filled with greenish liquid and a variety of herbs. It was hierbas: a popular, highly alcoholic Spanish after-dinner drink. We were invited to dig in. Dig in I did, and the ride back up the mountain was blissfully fuzzy. As I drank myself some courage, I also nibbled on a plate of anise flavored cookies. It was a powerful one-two punch of alcohol and licorice that stuck with me the next day.
When I saw the recipe for anise cookies in Rustica, my newest Spanish cookbook, I knew I had to make them. These cookies are crisp, with an additional crunch from the whole fennel seeds that are distributed throughout the dough. As I couldn't find a Spanish brand of anise liqueur, I used Sambuca. The cookies have a powerful, distinct licorice flavor from the booze that's emphasized every time you crunch down on a fennel seed.
I'll be blunt: you have to really like anise to like these cookies. They feel a little like a digestive—a little sweet, herbal something to nibble on after dinner. Or before the ride home.