Popular throughout Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, these cookies are a popular favorite, especially at Christmastime, though enjoyed year-round and found in virtually every Viennese coffee house.
Growing up in Germany, we made these every year at Christmas along with several other traditional German Christmas goodies. Christmas without Vanillekipferl is practically unthinkable!
Vanillekipferl owe their melt-in-your-mouth texture to the high butter content and absence of egg. They’re a shortbread cookie made with the addition of nuts and a generous dusting of vanilla sugar, which you can either buy ready made or easily make it yourself (see further below).
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: 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 walnuts and hazelnuts will result in a darker, speckled cookie. They’re all delicious – choose according to your preference!
As already mentioned, these are shortbread cookies and though you’ll find some recipes that call for eggs, eggs are not traditionally included. Though adding an egg will make the dough easier to work with (softer and more pliable), resist the temptation to do so because you’ll find that working through the drier, flakier shortbread dough is more than worth it in the end in order to experience that heavenly Vanillekipferl melting in your mouth!
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.
Cut off pieces of the dough to shape them into crescents.
It’s usually easiest to shape them into crescents on the cookie sheet. Place them 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.
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.
You can buy Vanilla Sugar HERE.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN VANILLA SUGAR: 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 the vanilla extract post).
Stored in an airtight container in a cool place, these cookies will keep for several weeks.
Vanillekipferl (Austrian Vanilla Crescent Cookies)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 ounces (about 1 cup) ground walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts (see blog post for more info)
- 1 package (1 1/2 teaspoons) vanilla sugar
- (see pictured instructions in post on how to make your own vanilla sugar)
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar (aka confectioner sugar)
- small pinch of salt
- For Dusting:
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 packet (1 1/2 teaspoons) vanilla sugar
- Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and knead until thoroughly combined. The dough will be fairly dry and flaky. 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.
- Cut off small pieces of the dough and shape them into crescents. 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.
- Stored in an airtight container in a cool place, these cookies will keep for several weeks.