Ever since I was a kid, Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents) have been somewhat an obsession of mine. It all began when I was just old enough to go with my father and grandfather on the traditional stag hunt on December 27. My grandfather was a forester in Austria in his retirement, which means he was licensed to hunt an area in Austria’s state own lands (the owner of most of Austria’s woods). But such license includes not only the senseless killing of wild game, but is in fact the means to keep the herbivore population within a range that is healthy for the eco-system. That meant, for example, that my siblings and I would collect bags of horse chestnuts every fall, sell it to grandpa, and then help him to feed the animals through harsh Alpine winters.
Anyway, the stag hunt, also known as the St. Stephen’s – Hunt. My grandpa, my dad and I would drive to the farmer on the edge of the forest where all the other farmers in the area (it’s tradition to invite them) would gather. And while the adults drank schnaps (to stay warm, they claimed), little Christian would devour Vanilla Crescents, often enough earning a stern look from my dad, who saw the precious cookies diminish rapidly.
I don’t remember a stag ever being killed at any of these hunts, which my mother would attribute to the amount of schnaps the hunters would imbibe.
So, these are my earliest memories of Vanilla Crescents, and there were many more occasions and stern looks when I grew up. When I transferred to the US, I needed to make them myself. And now I have to hide them from wife and kids, because there is no other way stopping them.
Although I have gained some fame in the neighborhood in regards to these special cookies, I am happy to share the recipe. It’s from an old cookbook about Imperial Austrian cuisine, which accounts for their rich taste, but also for their richness a doctor would not recommend. But…once a year? That should be fine!
What you need (if you have any way to measure in grams, that would be best)
250 grams (8.8 oz or 1 cup and 1 and 1/2 Tbsp) unsalted butter
125 grams (4.4 oz or 1/2 cup and 3 and 1/3 Tsp) granulated sugar
300 grams (10.6 oz or 1 and 1/3 cups) flour
150 grams (5.3 oz or 1/2 cup and 2 and 1/2 Tbsp) ground almonds (with brown skin)
1 Tsp vanilla extract
1/4 Tsp salt
First, mix butter and sugar until really soft and “foamy”. Then add flour, but never more than 1/2 cup at a time. Add almonds, vanilla extract and salt and mix to smooth dough. Form it into a ball, wrap it in tin foil and store it in the fridge for an hour.
But seriously, if you don’t go about it that way, for example if you throw all ingredients into the mixing bowl at once, don’t mix the butter and sugar long enough, or add all the flour in one swoosh, you’ll regret it later. Been there, done that. The crescents get too dense, or too fluffy and crumble at the slightest touch.
Heat the oven to 350 F (convection a little less) and take the dough out of the fridge, break a piece off and knead it briefly to push excess air out (too much and the dough gets too warm and sticky…hard to work with). Then roll the piece into a long …uhm… roll of about 1/2 inch in diameter. Take a knife and cut off 1/2 inch long pieces. Put one between your palms at a time and roll the nugget back and forth until you have an about an inch long piece getting thinner at each end. The natural concave form of your palms facing each other help you with that. Again, don’t overdo it here either, so that the dough doesn’t “overheat”. This rolling between hands (which we call wutzeln in Austria) is very important, because it seals the outside of the crescent and makes it keep its form (I’ve seen people cutting longer pieces and just form the crescent without wutzeln…not the same)
Finally you take the gewutzelt piece and form a crescent over your thumb, and place it on the cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until you see to thin ends of the crescents brown slightly. Take out of the oven and let cool down a few minutes, until the crescents are hard to the touch (they are quite delicate, though). With a spatula, remove them from the cookie sheet to a flat surface, and let them cool down a little longer.
Finally, put a few crescent (while they are still a little warm) in a bowl filled with powdered sugar about an inch high, and shake the bowl carefully so that the crescents are covered with sugar all around.