I had not baked Christmas cookies in years and years and years. Actually, before I moved to this current house, which has a proper kitchen, I had not baked anything since 2015, though cookies have not happened for at least twenty-some years.
Lately I have resumed baking, not just because the kitchen has the space and the good ovens, but also because I have found it comforting and a stress relief in these challenging couple of years. And if you follow me on social media, you know how rough this year has been, as I lost both my pups within 7 months of each other.
So now I have more time to do other things, just for all the wrong reasons. But until we manage to resolve that particular issue so that our loved ones never leave us, baking helps. As does creating art, though that is a story for another time.
I was preparing a package with a couple of things for my parents in Italy & Christmas cards for everyone, when a friend suggested sending something baked. So the package was set aside, and I got to baking. If you know me, you know I find it difficult to do things by halves, and I ended up baking several batches so I could send some to my parents, my two brothers and a couple of aunts, plus have extra to distribute among friends here, plus the postman, plus the vet, plus…. I am still distributing.
For my family in Italy I also made and sent one other of their favorites, Candied Orange Peels, and you can find the recipe here.
This recipe for Vanillekipferl dates back to my years living in Düsseldorf, Germany, which is when I came under the spell created by the various food magazines during the months before the Holidays. Christmas cookies and baking in general have always been a big deal over there, and the assortment (especially of cookies) is incredible. My german at the time was not very good, and google translate was not even a glimmer back then. But I was determined, and with the help of my dictionary and a lot of patience, I managed to translate ingredients and steps. I still remember how challenging it was for me to figure out what “Mark von eine Vanilleschote” was (seeds from a vanilla pod/bean).
Anyway, a lot of story to introduce a recipe that is quite simple. Ready?
yields about 70 smallish cookies
- 200 gr. / 7 oz. flour
- 120 gr. / 4 & 1/4 oz. peeled and finely ground almonds (or almond flour)
- 85 gr. / 3 oz. sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 175 gr. / 6.2 oz. cold butter
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- seeds freshly scraped from a vanilla bean
- fine white baking sugar (preferably vanilla sugar)
Fine baking sugar is not powder sugar, but what is also called caster sugar. Basically it is a finer granule white sugar. Some like to use powder sugar, but I prefer the fine sugar, even better if vanilla sugar (sugar that has been kept in a jar for at least a week (better if longer) with a few vanilla pods to infuse the flavor. Easy enough to make at home if you bake regularly.
Vanilla pods/beans are not cheap, and just yesterday I found what looks like a good source of both Bourbon and Tahitian vanilla beans. I still have to order from this company, but I thought I would share it with you all the same. They are called Vanilabean.net. I will place a test order soon, but their beans and their prices look very appealing, and they have a Holiday sale going on at present (this is totally not sponsored, btw).
- Prepare a couple of cookie baking pans covered with either parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and extract the seeds by scraping with the blade of the knife. You can view this quick video for the easy procedure if you like.
- In a small bowl beat the egg lightly with the vanilla extract and the vanilla seeds from the bean. Set aside.
- Place the flour, ground almonds/almond flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the cold butter cutting it in small pieces. Using a pastry cutter (or a food processor) work the butter into the flour/sugar mix until well blended and forms coarse crumbs.
- Add the egg/vanilla mix and blend well using a fork and then finishing with your hand. Flip all of this dough onto a lightly floured surface and blend until the dough is formed and smooth. Do not overwork, it will be quick.
- Divide the dough in two with a dough scraper/cutter or knife. Cover one half with plastic wrap so it won’t dry, and work the other into a log, about 4 cm. (1 & 1/2 inch) in diameter.
- Form the crescents. Cut regular pieces from the dough log and roll into small balls and then into smaller sausages, fluted lightly at each end, then bend to form the crescents and place on the baking sheets. Repeat with the rest of the dough. The cookies will not expand during baking, so a small distance between each will be sufficient. As you work and develop muscular memory, you will feel with your hands when you have the same amount of dough in your hand, or if it’s a tad much or little. Adjust in pinches.
- When the baking sheet is full of cookies, place it in the refrigerator to chill for about 15 minutes. Just the perfect time to pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C.
- Bake for about 15-20 minutes (each oven is slightly different) or until the shine of the butter has vanished and the fluted tips of the crescents begin to turn golden.
- In the meantime, place the vanilla caster sugar in a shallow bowl. When the cookies are ready, remove from the oven and, while still hot, roll them quickly but gently in the sugar and place on a rack to cool. Enjoy!
I find that these cookies can last for at lease 2-3 weeks if stored in a cool and dry place (not in the refrigerator), though they usually don’t because they are too delicious.
These steps seem like a lot, but they are really not. I just provide all the details I can think of to make it easier in case of beginner bakers. You should see my personal steps list! For something this simple, it usually looks more something like: blend, form, bake till ready, sugar.
Vanillekipferl, though popular throughout German-speaking countries, actually originated in Vienna a few hundred years ago. They are considered Holiday cookies, but they are really wonderful at any time of the year with a lovely cup of tea.
I ended up creating two sets to shoot these cookies. The first was with the beautiful English tea cup set and matching dessert plate I recently found at the Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco (still happening for one more weekend in case you are in the area and wish to experience it) at the antiques/vintage shop by Fitz-Gerald Manor Shop, who also sells wonderful vintage classic books.
The second was an idea that popped into my mind while waking up the next morning, with a very different but just as magical style of setting using the whimsical tea set you see in the image below. I had found it on Etsy a few years ago, and it is hand made by Russian ceramic artist Valentina Fadeeva. Etsy is telling me that she is not currently selling through their platform, but she is quite active on her Instagram account, which is @ceramictales. This is also not sponsored, btw. I would tell you if it were.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Do let me know how you like the cookies if you bake them.
And if you are interested in more recipes for the Holiday season, you can click on the widget below.
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