I sometimes think a Christmas without my grandmother’s vanillekipferl or vanilla crescents as they are called here, would be unimaginable for my family and me. They are as much part of the holidays for us as a goose roast or a Christmas tree. I usually bake two or three batches of them throughout the holiday season because they get gobbled up so quickly. No one here seems to be able to resist them!!
I remember the first time I had one of my grandmother’s vanillekipferl. We were visiting my grandparents and I was sitting on the floor playing with the dog. My mother came over to me with a silver plate and told me I should try one of these crescent-shaped cookies. I didn’t think they looked all that interesting and had my eye on one of the chocolate covered cookies instead. But I tried one anyway. Hey, who’s going to say no to a cookie, right? The cookie was delightful, of course, and I quickly wanted more of them. The problem was, that the silver platter was the center piece of the coffee table, guarded by various aunts and uncles. Every time I was quietly approaching the coffee table, everyone seemed to watch me and make sure I wouldn’t take too many. This was hard to do since there were only a few vanillekipferl on that silver plate to begin with. Needless to say, I was hooked, and perhaps it was precisely the fact that the vanillekipferl were given out so sparingly, that made them so addictive!
I should also mention that this recipe was one of my grandmother’s best guarded secrets. My mother once asked her if she could give her the recipe, but she coolly replied that she would take it with he to her grave. Luckily, she softened up a bit in the last few years of her life and shared it with most of us. She passed away in the beginning of this year. I miss her very much as I’m baking her cookies this Christmas season and I am grateful that she didn’t keep the recipe a secret for eternity. What better way to travel back in time than through your taste buds?
In case you might be wondering why the measurements are a bit odd, I translated this recipe from German and converted it from the metric system.
1/2 lb unbleached all-purpose flour
7 oz (1 3/4 sticks) butter, cubed
1/8 tsp salt
4.4 oz sugar
2 egg yolks
7 oz ground almonds (almond flour)
5 oz powdered sugar
1 Vanilla bean
Sift the flour on the counter top. Add all other ingredients to the mound and begin mixing everything together with your hands. In the beginning the dough will feel dry, but the more you knead it, the more it will come together. You might have to add 1/2 teaspoon of cold water if this isn’t the case.
Shape dough into a two-inch thick sausage and wrap into some plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the dough has finished resting, it is time to shape it into cookies. This is best done near an open window. You will not need any flour on your work surface because the dough is pretty dry. Cut off a half-inch slice from the sausage and squeeze it into an oblong shape.
Then start rolling it on the work surface, shaping it into a little sausage that is slightly tapered on both ends. Transfer it to a greased cookie sheet and bend it so that it forms the shape of a crescent.
Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes. When the vanillekipferl are slightly browned on the tips, it is time to take them out of the oven. Let them cool for about 4 minutes. In the meantime, slice open the vanilla bean and remove all the seeds from it. Mix with powdered sugar. Carefully cover warm cookies, one at a time, in vanilla sugar and transfer to a cooling rack. The cookies are very fragile at this stage, but will harden further, once they cool.