Buttery, vanilla-infused and delicately crumbly with an almost melt-in-your-mouth texture, these Austrian vanilla crescent cookies will thoroughly win you over! A traditional Vanillekipferl recipe, the way my Oma and Mutti made them!
What Are Vanillekipferl?
Vanillekipferl are vanilla-flavored crescent-shaped shortbread cookies made with ground nuts – traditionally walnuts but also hazelnuts or almonds – and generously dusted with vanilla sugar. They owe their delicately crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth texture to the high butter content and the absence of egg. Popular throughout Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, these cookies are enjoyed year-round and can be found in virtually every Viennese coffee house. But these cookies are especially popular at Christmastime. I have fond memories of munching on these crumbly cookies while walking around the Vienna Christmas market as a child and then later on as an adult. The experience of savoring traditional Austrian pastries on location in that magical Christmas atmosphere is one that’s not to be missed if you ever get the chance.
Growing up in Germany, we made these every year at Christmas along with our other favorite traditional Christmas goodies. Christmas in Germany and Austria without Vanillekipferl is practically unthinkable! And I’ve kept that tradition going since moving to the United States.
Where Did They Originate?
Though popular throughout much of Europe, Vanillekipferl originated in Vienna, Austria around 400 years ago when, in celebration of a victory over the Ottoman Turks, the locals created this pastry in the shape of the crescent moon (“kipferl”) found on the Turkish banner.
In the ongoing wars with the Turks, the Austrians came up with additional crescent-shaped pastries, the most famous of which eventually made its way to France where it was popularized. Any guesses? The croissant. Yes, we owe the croissant to none other than Austria!
Traditionally Vanillekipferl are made with ground walnuts which result in a moister texture, but ground almonds or hazelnuts can also be used. Ground blanched almonds will result in a light-colored cookie whereas ground walnuts and hazelnuts will result in a darker, speckled cookie. They’re all delicious – take your pick!
As already mentioned, these are shortbread cookies and as such no eggs are included (think traditional Scottish shortbread). And though you’ll find some Vanillekipferl recipes that call for eggs, eggs are not traditionally included. Yes, adding an egg will make the dough easier to work with (it’s softer and more pliable), but resist the temptation to do so because you’ll find that working through the drier, flakier shortbread dough is more than worth it in order to experience that heavenly, delicately crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth texture!
Tips for Making Vanillekipferl
- Almond meal comes both blanched and non-blanched and you can use either. If you prefer “white” vanillekipferl use the former, if you like them speckled, use the latter.
- Traditional Vanillekipferl are made without eggs. Similar to Heidesand and Scottish shortbread, Vanillekipferl are a shortbread-like cookie that should have a very delicate, crumbly, almost melt-in-your-mouth texture. Adding eggs will make the dough easier to work with (there is something of a learning curve to this kind of cookie dough), something to consider if you’re a beginning baker. Otherwise I strongly recommend omitting the eggs so you can enjoy the fabulous texture of these cookies.
- If you can splurge, use the best butter you can find. These cookies are made with few and simple ingredients and so quality is key.
- Don’t take out all of the dough from the refrigerator at once; depending on how quickly you work, take out half or a third of the dough at a time to form the crescents while the remaining dough stays cold in the fridge.
- Make sure the crescents are uniform in size so that they bake evenly.
- Avoid making the ends of the crescents too skinny or they may burn during baking.
- Some bakers roll the cooled crescents in a bowl of confectioner’s sugar while others lay them out and use a sifter to dust them. This is purely a matter of personal preference. While they’ll initially look prettier with a dusting, once they’re stacked in the storage tin it won’t matter.
- The flavor of Vanillekipferl improves with time. As good as they are fresh out of the oven, keep them stored in an airtight tin/container for a few days before eating them to experience the improvement in flavor. Stored properly, Vanillekipferl will keep for up to a month. However, if you use eggs they will only keep for up to one week.
Let’s get started!
Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and knead until thoroughly combined. The dough will be fairly dry and flaky.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Shape the dough into a log and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
Take some of the dough out of the fridge, leaving the remaining dough wrapped in the fridge to stay cold. Cut off small pieces of the dough and shape them into crescents. It’s usually easiest to shape them into crescents on the cookie sheet but some people find it easier to shape them in their hands. Do whichever works for you. Shape them into uniform sizes so they bake evenly.
Place the cookies a non-stick or parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake on the middle rack for 12-15 minutes (depending on the size of the crescents) or until the edges begin to turn golden.
Combine the powdered sugar and the vanilla sugar. You can buy vanilla sugar here.
Or you can make your own vanilla sugar. To make vanilla sugar you simply place vanilla beans in a container or ziploc bag of white granulated sugar. Seal shut and let it sit a few weeks, shaking occasionally. Discard the vanilla beans – your vanilla sugar is ready to use! How many vanilla beans you use depends on how strong you want the flavor and how much sugar you’re making. I make my own homemade vanilla extract and use those beans to make sugar – it’s a great way to make double use of the beans (I explain it further in my homemade vanilla extract post).
Let the cookies sit for one minute and then use a sifter to dust them with the vanilla-powdered sugar while they’re still hot.
Let the cookies cool completely and then give them a second dusting.
Stored in an airtight container in a cool place, these cookies will keep for several weeks.
For more traditional Austrian and German Christmas goodies be sure to try our:
- Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Star Cookies)
- Pfeffernüsse (German Iced Spiced Cookies)
- Lebkuchen (Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen)
- Stollen (German Christmas Bread)
- Apfelstrudel (Austrian Apple Strudel)
- Springerle (German Embossed Cookies)
- Printen (Aachener Gingerbread)
- Speculoos (Gingerbread Shortcrust Cookies)
- Bethmännchen (Marzipan Cookies)
- Heidesand (Browned Butter Shortbread Cookies)
- Marzipan (or Almond Paste)
Vanillekipferl (Austrian Vanilla Crescent Cookies)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsalted butter , softened at room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks (optional but not recommended) (egg is not traditional but for beginning bakers makes the dough easier to work with; see Note)
- 4 ounces (about 1 cup) ground walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts
- 1 packet vanilla sugar (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
- (see pictured instructions in post on how to make your own vanilla sugar)
- 3/4 cup powdered/confectioner sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- For Dusting:
- 1/2 cup powdered/confectioner sugar
- 1 packet vanilla sugar (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
- Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and knead until thoroughly combined. Unless you're using the egg yolks the dough will be pretty dry and flaky, like shortbread cookie dough. Shape the dough into a log and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.Take some of the dough out of the fridge, leaving the remaining dough wrapped in the fridge to stay cold. Cut off small pieces of the dough and shape them into crescents. Shape them into uniform sizes so they bake evenly. Place the crescents onto a non-stick or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake on the middle rack for 12-15 minutes (depending on the size of the crescents) or until the edges begin to turn golden.
- Combine the powdered sugar and vanilla sugar. Let the cookies sit for one minute and then use a sifter to dust them with the vanilla-powdered sugar while they're still hot. Let the cookies cool completely and then give them a second dusting.Store the cookies in an airtight container in a cool place (not the fridge) and these cookies will keep for 3-4 weeks (1 week if using egg).
Originally published on The Daring Gourmet October 26, 2017