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Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescent Cookies)

A fine walnut shortbread under a layer of freshly fallen sugar.
difficulty:
yield:

About 50 cookies

time:

About 25 minutes to make and shape the dough and about 40 minutes to bake the cookies

introduction

The most beloved Christmas cookies in all of Europe, these velvety crescents fashioned of rich, barely sweetened pastry dough and a landslide of ground nuts submit to authorship claims by Austria, Bohemia (now the western Czech Republic, encompassing Prague), and Germany alike. Their German name, Vanillekipferl, gives vanilla descriptive ascendancy—and in truth, German recipes scrape as much vanilla bean marrow into the dough or sugar dust as possible. But it is the Austrian term Kipferl that carries the real pedigree: the curved half moon, which illustrates its name, represents (along with the pretzel) the oldest and purest baking shape we know, regarded as the clear forerunner to the French croissant. Europeans point to a charming story to explain the history of this cookie: during the Turkish Occupation in the 17th century, they say Viennese bakers working in the night saved their city from a secret invasion. The cookie they created to commemorate their victory was shaped the half moon of the Turkish flag.

Whatever their name (and there are several) or nationality, whether their nutmeats are almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans, these melting nut crescents are united by the pure minimalism of their principal ingredients: flour, pure butter, and vanilla beans. They contain no eggs. We simply chose our feather-light pastry flour and standard proportions of European-style butter, walnuts (favored in Central Europe), and plump, fresh vanilla beans (preferably Bourbon)—two of them! Germans use vanilla beans for their confections—no extract. These cookies are light as a snowdrift and rich with the flavor of nuts, butter, and vanilla.

Baking Notes

Choose the nuts you apply to this recipe with care. They should be high quality and extremely fresh. Two excellent walnut suppliers, from California of course, are Braga Organic Farms, and Haag Farm Walnuts, which ships several varieties of shelled new crop walnuts.

We found that these cookies bake best on silicone mats and with the oven set on convection. If you have a convection setting on your oven, use it. The cookies may bake more quickly, so keep your eye on them.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a digital kitchen scale, two baking sheets, silicone baking mats or parchment paper, a food processor, a medium bowl, a whisk, a large mixing bowl and a hand mixer or a stand mixer with the flat-beater attachment, a rubber spatula, a paring knife, a ruler, a small metal spatula, and wire cooling racks.

    • 8
      ounces walnuts, blanched whole almonds, or skinned whole hazelnuts
    • 10
    • ¼
      teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 8
      ounces unsalted European-style butter, cool room temperature
    • 2.4
      ounces superfine sugar
    • 2
      plump, fragrant vanilla beans (preferably Bourbon)
    • 7
      ounces confectioners’ sugar
  1.  

    Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees on the convection setting, if your oven offers the option. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone mats (preferably) or with parchment paper.

  2.  

    Turn the nuts in a food processor and pulse in quick, short bursts until finely chopped, with pieces no larger than ⅛ inch. Remove 4 ounces of the chopped nuts to a medium bowl and continue pulsing the remaining nuts until ground to the consistency of coarse cornmeal, 5 to 10 short pulses, taking care not to overprocess. Empty the ground nuts into the bowl with chopped nuts. Add the flour and salt to the nuts and whisk to combine. Set aside.

  3.  

    In a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat-beater attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula midway through. Using the tip of a paring knife, split each vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds from each pod half with the knife blade (fig. 3.1), and drop the seeds into the butter. Beat on low speed until the seeds are evenly distributed, about 30 seconds, scraping the bowl midway through. With the mixer running on low speed, stream in the sugar (fig. 3.2). Increase the speed to medium and continue beating until the mixture is light and aerated, about 3 minutes, pausing once to scrape down the bowl. With the mixer running on low speed, add the flour in a slow, steady stream and beat until the dough begins to come together (fig. 3.3). Knock the dough off the beaters or flat-beater attachment and use a few strokes of the rubber spatula to bring the dough into a cohesive mass. 

  4.  

    Pinch off tablespoon-sized bits of dough; each one should weigh 0.5 ounces. Roll the pieces into balls between the palms of your hands and set them on an unfloured work surface. Roll each ball against the work surface into a 3-inch rope with pointed ends and place it on one of the prepared baking sheets, curving it to form a crescent shape (fig. 4.1). Space the cookies at least ¾ inch apart; all of them should fit onto the two baking sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the tops of the cookies are lightly golden, the bottoms are beginning to brown, and the tips are brown (fig. 4.2), rotating the pan from front to back halfway through baking, 18 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a wide, shallow bowl.

  5.  

    Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 2 minutes, and then use a thin metal spatula to transfer them to a wire rack. Let cool just until warm, about 5 minutes. Working a few at a time, transfer the warm cookies to the confectioners’ sugar and gently spoon sugar over them (fig. 5.1). Return the cookies to the wire rack and let cool completely. Once cooled, roll the cookies in the confectioners’ sugar to coat completely, and then gently shake off the excess. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week; sprinkle them with confectioners’ sugar just before serving to refresh their appearance. 

    1. 3.1
    2. 3.2
    3. 3.3
    1. 4.1
    2. 4.2
    1. 5.1