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Vanilla crescents (Vanillekipferl) are one of the most known and beloved pastries for Christmas season in Austria. They are also popular in Germany and some Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.
Although, at first glance, vanilla crescents appear to be rather unspectacular—just little sugar-coated biscuits among all the colorful Christmas biscuits—they are a clear favorite. Their flavor and texture wins you over: It’s a unique combination of vanilla and nuts—and there's also the fact that they melt in your mouth.
In Austria, most people add ground walnuts or almond flour, or sometimes ground hazelnuts. My family always adds ground walnuts since we have several walnut trees in our yard. I started helping to make vanilla crescents when I was in kindergarten. It was always fun to roll out the dough and shape the crescents—even though they were probably not perfect-looking when shaped by five-year-old me. I started making these biscuits from scratch myself when I moved to Boston a while ago and missed the smell of Christmas.
I make them the same way my family has made them for generations: by using finely ground walnuts. A food processor won’t do the job. I used a Mouli grater for grinding, just like my mother and her mother. If you don't want to grind them yourself and you can’t find walnut meal in the supermarkets, you can substitute almond meal.
The second most important ingredient is vanilla sugar. The cookies' dough and coating are both vanilla-flavored. In Europe, most people use vanilla sugar (vanilla-flavored granulated sugar), which you can buy in every store, instead of vanilla extract. Unfortunately, in the U.S., it’s hard to find at supermarkets or it is super expensive. So I use vanilla extract for the dough and homemade vanilla sugar mixed with confectioners' sugar for the coating.
The trickiest part is probably not to break the crescents while handling them. You have to turn them until covered in vanilla-flavored powdered sugar when still hot—otherwise the sugar will not stick to the biscuits. At this stage, the dough is very fragile and the biscuits tend to break easily.
But that’s not the end of the world—you get to eat all the broken ones!
For the dough:
- 14 tablespoons (200 grams) cold, unsalted butter
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (100 grams) finely ground walnuts (substitute with almond meal, if not available)
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon cold milk
- 2/3 cup (70 grams) confectioners' sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- All ingredients for the dough should be very cold. I recommend measuring the flour, sugar, and nuts by weight in grams since it is more accurate than measuring by volume.
For the sugar coating:
- 3/4 cup (100 g) powdered/confectioners'/icing sugar
- 2 packets (16 g) vanilla sugar or homemade vanilla sugar