We are in our sixth week of lockdown here in the UK and a wave of nostalgia is overcoming me. I have been baking sourdough loaves almost on a daily basis for friends and family, but now we need something sweet. Something melted in the mouth moreish and my mind drifted to the Austrian delicacy called Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents).
These shortbread like biscuits are traditionally baked in Austria, Germany and parts of the old Austro-Hungarian empire at Christmastime but in our household, they seemed to be a year round staple.
I grew up in a large, Austro Jewish refugee family on my mother’s side. They escaped from Vienna in 1938 and settled in Western Australia, making their home in Mount Lawley.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, my live-in grandmother employed a cook. She was a formidable woman called Pepi and was reputed to come from a mountain village near Salzburg. She was an inspirational cook and could turn her hand to any of the elaborate pastries that were seen in the fashionable coffeehouses in the smart districts of Vienna.
She made Apfelstrudel, Apricot and Plum Torte, the chocolate Sachertorte and of course the scrumptious and melt in the mouth crescent shaped biscuits called Vanillekipferl.
All hand made and mixed with her strong forearms on the old lino table in the back kitchen. I sat and watched her most afternoons and she would let me roll out some of the Kipferl for fun. We finished by dredging them in vanilla sugar as they were cooling and stored them in tins. A treat for a long, relaxed afternoon tea. They didn’t last long in our house….here is the recipe.
Vanilla Crescents (Vanillekipferl)
To make 36 crescents
225g / 8oz unsalted butter, softened
113g / 4oz caster sugar
227g / 8oz sifted plain flour
340g / 12oz ground unblanched almonds
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
Small pinch of salt
Vanilla sugar or icing sugar
Cream the butter and sugar together by beating them against the sides of a bowl with a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer set at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour half a cup at a time, then add the ground almonds, vanilla essence and salt, continue to beat until the mixture becomes a slightly stiff dough. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in grease-proof paper or cling film and refrigerate for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180c or 350f. Lightly butter two large size baking sheets.
Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of the chilled dough and place them on a floured surface; roll each one into a strip 2.5cm wide and 1.25cm thick. This will make it about six and a half cm long. Shape each piece into a crescent by pulling it into a semicircle.
Arrange the crescents at least 1.25cm apart on the baking sheets. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 mins, or until lightly coloured. Remove the sheets from the oven and leave the crescents on them to cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a cake rack. Dust with vanilla sugar or icing sugar and cool for about 15 minutes longer before serving. Store the remainder in airtight tins. They keep for about a week.
Recipe by Susan Downie.
Adapted from The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire. Time Life, 1969.