Tonya Dirksen's Italian great-grandmother used to make these iced cake cookies for holiday gatherings, piling them high on a plate to form a cookie tree. These days, the Sacramento, California, mom is continuing the tradition with her own family. "We've been making these cookies for almost sixteen years," says Tonya. "And my kids still look forward to helping with them each year."
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add the melted butter and whisk to blend. Set the bowl aside.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the egg mixture, the vanilla, and the orange or lemon extract. Knead the dough (or mix it with a wooden spoon) until shiny, about 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with waxed paper and let the dough stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350F. Form the dough into tablespoon-size balls and set them on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake on the center oven rack until golden brown around the edges, about 12 minutes (or 15 minutes for crispier cookies). Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
For the icing: In a small bowl, combine the sugar, milk, and anise extract, if using. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. When the cookies are completely cool, brush the tops with icing and immediately apply the sprinkles before the icing sets. When the icing is dry, stack the cookies on a tray to make a towering tree.