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An Heirloom Cookie Essential on the Serbian Holiday Table

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A big congratulations to QueenSashy, whose Vanilice (The Little Vanilla Cookies) was voted Your Best Holiday Cookie from Anywhere in the World!

We asked her to tell us a little bit more about these cookies—here's what she said:

Photo by James Ransom

Vanilice (pronounced va-nil-itze) are traditional Serbian cookies, sort of like Serbian Linzer cookies. Some believe that Vanilice are a cousin of Linzers, because the northern parts of Serbia were held by the Austro-Hungarian empire, which heavily influenced the cuisine of the region. Being from a farming country, the Serbian folk adapted the recipe to utilize what they had most of—lard and walnuts.

Vanilice are integral to the Serbian holiday table: We make them for Christmas, New Year's, patron saint days, and other special occasions—like births, baptisms, weddings, and even funerals.

The recipe my family uses dates back to my great grandmother Katarina and my great-aunt Cica, who inherited it and supervised every family member in their making of Vanilice. Translated to English, Vanilice means "little vanillas"; the cookies are dusted with powdered sugar, which is infused with vanilla bean. I've seen many variations of Vanilice, and while some use butter or shortening, the cookies are traditionally made with lard. My great-aunt Cica made a very special rose hip jam to be used for Vanilice, but the other two popular choices are apricot and raspberry.

The makings of Vanilice.
The makings of Vanilice. Photo by James Ransom

Vanilice are one of those cookies that shine in their simplicity. The lard is critical, and so is the touch of lemon—one should not really notice it in the cookie, but yet there it is, adding a very special something. And finally, Vanilice are never eaten right away: They are best once they spend a day or two in a tin. That is when they soften up and should practically melt in the mouth.

I've been making Vanilice for over four decades now, and as a matter of fact, Vanilice were my very first kitchen creations ever. I was about four years old when Cica and my grandmother Persida decided that I was ready. They gave me a tiny apron, a little bit of dough, a tiny spatula and a cookie cutter, and allowed me to make my own Vanilice. And I have been making them ever since.

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Vanilice (The Little Vanilla Cookies)

609271d6 306e 4b3e 8479 9d404fb84e73  moi 1 QueenSashy

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Makes about 60 cookies
  • 200 grams confectioners' sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 300 grams lard (ideally leaf lard)
  • 250 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 250 grams ground walnuts
  • 600 grams all-purpose flour
  • Rose hip or apricot jam