Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the holiday season is in full swing. That means baking. Lots of baking. As you know, I’ve been pretty busy in the kitchen these last couple of weeks. First there were the Spritz Cookies, then the Pepparkakor (ginger snaps), followed by the Cinnamon Stars (zimtsterne), and of course the oh-so-delectable Russian Tea Cakes. In this fifth installment of #TwelveDaysofSanta, we’re traveling to Austria and whipping up some Viennese Crescents (kipfel).
Christmas traditions in Austria have deep roots and parallel many of the customs you see in Germany, beginning with Advent celebrations and a glittery array of Christmas markets. The Christmas market in Vienna, in particular, has been delighting townsfolk and travelers alike since 1298! St. Nicholas, or Heiliger Nikolaus, swoops in on December 6 to celebrate the day named in his honor and rewards good children with fruits, nuts, and various sweets. Meanwhile, his devilish side-kick, Krampus, joins in the fun by scaring naughty kids straight.
By the time Christmas Eve rolls around, children are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Christkind, the Christ Child–Austria’s official holiday gift-bringer. After the Christmas Eve feast and a round or two of gluhwein (mulled wine), the Christmas tree is lit for the first time, and the family joins in caroling around the tree. Silent Night, in particular, carries special meaning in Austria. As the lore goes, an Austrian pastor found himself with a broken organ on Christmas Eve, and improvised by playing this simple melody on his guitar. A mother in his congregation joined in with lyrics that would become immortalized. As expected, the urban legend is far more heartwarming than the real story, but no matter how the song came about, to this day it remains one of the most recognized Christmas hymns around the world.
Baking, of course, is very much a part of family traditions here, with popular Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen and Sterne gracing cookie platters as well as these melt-in-your mouth good kipfel or crescents. Between the ground almonds and the almond extract, these delicate crescent shaped treats pack in lots of nutty goodness. After baking, they’re double-dipped in vanilla-infused powdered sugar. I’ve read where these cookies in particular are difficult and fragile, but for the most part, this version seems to be pretty fool-proof. Maybe use a lighter touch when rolling them in the powdered sugar as that’s where I broke a few. Anyway, I adapted this version from my trusty old McCall’s Cooking School.
First, you’ll need to grind up the nuts, or save yourself a step and get some almond meal.
Then, plop all the cookie dough ingredients into a large bowl, and start working with your hands until thoroughly blended and no dry bits remain.
Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for about an hour.
While the dough is chillin’, make the vanilla sugar. Split the vanilla bean length-wise with a sharp knife, and scrape out all the seeds. Then cut the pod into 2-inch pieces. Put the seeds and pod pieces in a food processor bowl along with 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar. Whirl several seconds until no large chunks of pod remain.
In a medium bowl, mix the sugar from the food processor with the remaining powdered sugar, and set this aside.
When the dough is ready, measure a tablespoon of dough, roll with your hands into a rope shape, then curve into a crescent. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, and bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are just set but not brown. Here’s a video running through these steps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlaplHVnkmg
Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes, then roll them in the vanilla sugar mixture while still warm, coating on all sides. These cookies are delicate, so use a light touch so they don’t break.
Let these cool completely on a wire rack, then roll again in the vanilla sugar before serving.
This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies–enough to share–enjoy!
- 2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup ground, unblanched almonds
- ½ cup sifted powdered sugar
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp almond extract
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
- Place flour, butter, nuts, ½ cup powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla and almond extracts in a large bowl. Using your hands, mix all the ingredients together until thoroughly blended and no dry bits remain.
- Shape into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and chill for about an hour.
- Meanwhile, make the vanilla sugar: with a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center. Scrape out the seeds of the vanilla bean, and cut the pod into 2-inch pieces.
- Combine the vanilla bean seeds and pod pieces with ¼ cup powdered sugar in a food processor bowl and blend on high for several seconds, or until no pod chunks remain. Combine with the remaining powdered sugar in a medium bowl, and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Scoop out about 1 tablespoon of cookie dough, and roll into a 3-inch-long rope. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and carefully curve into a crescent shape. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the cookies about 2 inches apart.
- Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown.
- While the cookies are still warm, roll in the vanilla sugar, coating all sides. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Once the cookies have cooled completely, roll again in the vanilla sugar before serving.
- Makes about 4 dozen.
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