Vanillekipferl are “vanilla crescents,” small, moon-shaped cookies made of flour and ground up nuts, coated with vanilla sugar. My impression is that these are the most popular Christmas cookies in Austria, and they’re definitely the most popular cookies in my house, by a vote of 2-1. Most commonly, they seem to be made with almonds or walnuts, though a surprising number of recipes just call for “nuts” generally. Supposedly this is a regional difference, but I can’t find any clear explanation of which nut belongs to which region, or exactly which insane people are making it with peanuts. I used almonds, which seems to be the most classic choice (and which, incidentally, are much easier to grind up than walnuts).
The history of these tiny cookies seems to be fairly vague, but the German internet is pretty much agreed on two things: one, that these are the most-loved Christmas cookies; and two, that they’re originally from Vienna. The (unsourced) legend is that they were created by Viennese bakers to celebrate the end of the Ottoman siege of Vienna, similar to croissants. I’m skeptical, though, since various legends appear to credit that siege with introducing everything from coffee shops to bagels. In any case, they definitely became popular around the end of the 19th century after some German chemists figured out how to produce vanillin (the main chemical component of vanilla) from pine bark.
I used two different recipes, one from the trusty Gute Kuche and one from my mother-in-law’s cookbook. The ingredients were identical, but the proportions were surprisingly different. My first two attempts at making the Gute Kuche version exactly as written produced dough that was far too crumbly — though the resulting cookies were still delicious — maybe because I wasn’t using proper Austrian flour. In the end, I settled on my own version that’s somewhere in between the two recipes.
- 150g flour — see here for more than you ever wanted to know about flour, but basically you want pastry flour (US), type 405 (Germany), W480 glatt (Austria), or approximately うどん粉 (Japan)
- 115g butter — I adjusted this recipe to use exactly one stick of American butter
- 31g powdered sugar
- 45g almonds — preferably almond slivers, since they’re easier to grind up
- A mix of 200g powdered sugar and 1tbsp vanilla sugar for coating — vanilla sugar is a mix of sugar and vanilla that seems to be pretty common in Austrian baking; I bought some at a specialty German grocery store, or I guess you could do this.
- Grind the almonds into a powder.
- Mix flour, butter, powdered sugar, and ground almonds together in a bowl to form a dough. Don’t melt the butter first, it should be cool or at most room temperature. When you start mixing it’s probably going to feel too floury and you’re going to think, “there’s no way this is going to work, I need more butter.” But keep mixing, and it will. The resulting dough should be malleable without crumbling.
- Form the dough into a large ball and stick it in the fridge for an hour to cool down.
- After the dough has rested, roll it out into a couple of long, vaguely sausage-shaped rolls. If the dough is right, this should be pretty easy.
- Cut or tear the sausage-roll into small pieces and roll them between your hands until they’re roughly the size and shape of a pinky finger.
- Curl them into little crescent moon shapes and put them on a baking tray.
- Bake for roughly 10 minutes at about 390°F or 200°C.
- Take them out of the oven and immediately dunk them in the sugar/vanilla sugar mixture to coat.
Put them on a plate and watch them disappear very, very quickly.