The recipe for these traditional Austrian Crescent Cookies (called Vanillekipferl in Austria), like many generational recipes, has a handful of simple ingredients and are best made in the company of family while sharing memories and tales of Christmases past. I remember having these for the first time with my now husband’s family – mounds of these small, delicate cookies placed carefully onto platters and enjoyed at the end of Christmas gatherings.
Like all family recipes, the concept of this cookie is the same, with slight variations from household to household. My husband’s maternal grandmother, who was Austrian and German, coated these cookies in granulated sugar as soon as they came out of the oven. His paternal grandmother, who is German, coats them in a vanilla and powdered sugar mixture. The Austrian grandmother used walnuts, while the German grandmother uses almonds.
My husband’s mother learned the recipe from her mother (who learned it from her mother) and has shared this tradition with myself and my daughter – so we began to make them for the holidays, as well. As we bake, my mother-in-law shares memories of baking these cookies with her mother, who would make this large batch of dough and freeze the additional logs so that she could have fresh cookies for guests when they visited during the holiday season. My eldest asks endless questions about Christmases when Grandma was little, hanging on to every detail. They shape the cookies and chat – reminding me what makes these cookies so special is simply the love with which they are made.
These cookies contain ground walnuts, which makes the flavor so distinct. The generous amount of butter creates a shortbread-like cookie with a delicate crumb. The recipe makes an seemingly endless amount of cookies, but you’ll be surprised by how fast they go! The dough will be divided into four logs and wrapped individually – it freezes well, so you can store a log or two in the freezer for fresh cookies whenever you’d like, just like Grandma did.
Vanillekipferl | Grandma's Vanilla Kipferl
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 lb butter, softened to room temperature*
- 1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 cup granulated sugar for coating cooking.
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a food processor, add the walnuts and pulse to grind them. Alternatively, place walnuts to a plastic bag and crush using the flat end of a meat mallet. Ensure that the walnuts are ground into uniform pieces, as pictured above.
- Cut the butter into quarter inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add half of the flour into the mixing bowl and begin to combine the flour with the butter by hand. Pinch the butter between your fingers with the flour to incorporate well. Add the rest of the flour and continue to work the dough and butter together to create a homogenous mixture – there should be no big chunks of butter left and the mixture should be crumbly.
- In a small bowl, mix the eggs and the vanilla. Pour this mixture into the mixing bowl with the butter and flour. Add the sugar and walnuts. Mix together, using your hands to work the dough together. When the dough begins to come together, overturn it onto a clean work surface and knead for a few minutes. Press the dough into a rectangular loaf and cut into four pieces.
- Take each piece of dough and roll it into a log, about 2 inches in diameter by 6 inches long. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled – for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and slice the logs into half inch disks. Cut each disk into quarters. Roll each small piece into a ball and shape into a small log – about 1/4 inch in diameter and 2 inches long. Curve the dough to create a crescent shape and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Place the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet or silicone baking mat. You should be able to fit about 4 dozen cookies per sheet. The cookies do not spread, so they can be placed close together.
- Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, until slightly deepened in color, or edges/bottoms begin to brown. Remove from oven and immediately place and turn (gently) into remaining granulated sugar to coat. Let the cookies cool completely, then repeat this process for a second coat of granulated sugar.
- Store in an airtight container in cool place. Cookies will keep for several weeks. They can also be frozen.
*You may use salted or unsalted butter in this recipe. If you are using unsalted butter, be sure to add a pinch of salt to the mixing bowl as you mix the butter and flour.