Fact: in this part of the old continent there is no Christmas without Vanillekipferl. These crescent-shaped biscuits are very popular in the Advent season throughout Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania and in my home country.
To confuse you, we all call them different names, but shhh! they are virtually the same. I’ve decided to refer to them by their German title in this post simply because I thought it will be the most familiar of the bunch.
Legend has it the flaky, buttery pastry was created to celebrate the 1683 victory of the Austro-Hungarian army over the Ottoman Turks in the siege of Vienna: the shape of the cookie is said to represent the half-moon of the Turkish flag.
Wether this is true or not, Vanillekipferl spread and soon become a festive specialty in Central-Eastern Europe. The dough is a simple shortcrust or shortbread pastry enriched with ground walnuts, almonds or hazelnut depending on family tradition (= what your folks could get), shaped into tiny horseshoes, dusted generously with vanilla sugar.
Now, I could call my recipe the Best Ever Vanilla Crescents or Impossible Christmas Biscuits, but those attributes are so overused. Also, this pastry is assumably not the best, nor is it impossible. What it is is sweet and humble, just like my beloved granny who taught me how to make it.
Vanillakipferl is more than a winter treat for us though: it’s tradition, family and the essence of Christmas in a delicious bite the size of your pinky. Ask anyone from this region, childhood memories will be sure to pop up regarding the delicate little crescents.
And today I’m giving you my family heirloom recipe, just in time for the holidays. They probably won’t be the star of the holiday table when it comes to looks, but these crescents make Christmas magic happen. Just watch!
Oh, and don’t even bother making one batch, double the recipe! It will quickly disappear.
Vanillekipferln (Traditional Christmas Vanilla Crescents)
200 g (7 oz) butter or margarine
280 g (10 oz or 2 ¼ cup) all-purpose flour
50 g (1.78 oz or ¼ cup) granulated sugar
100 g (3.5 oz or ¾ cup) finely ground walnuts
1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 pack (8 g or 1 ½ tsp) vanilla sugar mixed, for dusting
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients with your hands until dough comes together.
- Shape dough into a ball, wrap in cling foil and let rest in the fridge at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.
- Preheat oven to 175°C / 350°F, line baking tray with parchment paper.
- Divide dough into two parts. Work with one portion at a time, put remaining dough back in the fridge (when cool, it’s easier to shape and crescents hold better during baking)
- Pinch off chunks from the chilled dough, shape into crescents the size of your pinky.
- Place crescents on baking sheet a little apart.
- Bake for 25 min, until slightly golden on the sides.
- Gently roll in vanilla sugar to coat while still warm.
Yields approx. 75 crescents, filling 1 and a half baking trays. Stored in an airtight container, vanilla crescents are delicios for weeks.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for all!