Vanillekipferl are small almond biscuits that are shaped like a crescent moon. They are particularly popular in Austria and Germany, where they are part of the culinary delights of Christmas biscuits.
The Christmas markets in Salzburg and Vienna are some of the most popular in the world. People from all over visit these markets and want to feel the magic of the Christmas season. It is a unique atmosphere, when wandering across the Christmas markets in the snow. It is literally a feast for all senses - the glow of lights and candles, the smell of roasted chestnuts, and the taste of warm Glühwein with Weihnachtskeks (i.e., mulled claret with Christmas biscuits). All these things are part of Christmas in Austria. For those who seek for a traditional Austrian Christmas, homemade presents can be found at most markets. Decorations made out of straw, hand-knitted woollen socks, and warm biscuits right out of the oven are some of the highlights. In particular, the appeal of homemade biscuits extends beyond tourists at Christmas markets. In most Austrian homes, baking buiscuits is an essential part of Christmas preparation. Baking buiscuits belongs to the Christmas rituals as much as setting up the Christmas tree. Baking is a family activity to be enjoyed on wintry days, when it is snowing outside.
Austrians bake a variety of biscuits in all shapes and sizes during advent season. Ginger bread biscuits, biscuits filled with jam, biscuits layered with marzipan, and biscuits topped with pink icing sugar or walnuts are among the most popular. Who could forget one's first experiences of baking biscuits with the sweet smell of vanilla, ginger and cinnamon and then the anticipation as they turn golden brown in the oven? There is nothing quite like it to get everyone in the Christmas spirit. Additionally, baking is an activity that children enjoy, while waiting impatiently for Father Christmas or the Christkindl, which is the Austrian equivalent. Children love to knead dough and cut out biscuits. They enjoy creating the distinctive shape of Vanillekipferl, which is formed by rolling the dough between one's palms. What is more, no two Vanillekipferl are ever the same, since the size of palms and pressure applied vary. Although, at first, the Vanillekipferl appears to be a modest, little biscuit among all the colourful and sometimes elaborately decorated Christmas biscuits, it is a clear favourite. What makes the Vanillekipferl so special is its flavour: a unique combination of vanilla and almonds.
Vanilla is an expensive and exotic herb, whose aroma has enchanted people over thousands of years. Vanilla is used to flavour a wide range of desserts such as ice-cream, cake fillings, and puddings. Authentic vanilla comes from vanilla-pods. These are long pods that house the seeds of a variety of orchid which is grown in Central America, Mexico, and islands such as Tahiti and Hawaii. Vanilla-pods can be made into an alcohol solution called vanilla extract or be used to flavour sugar for baking purposes.
The distinctive crescent shape that makes Vanillekipferl instantly recognisable among the Christmas biscuits is based on Kifli, a traditional Hungarian dish. Kifli are crescent shaped rolls made from a flour dough. The dough is cut into triangular wedges that are then wrapped and will form a crescent shape, when they are baked. Initially, they were a savoury dish, but later they were filled with nuts and served as a dessert. The origins of the shape go back to the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the Ottoman Turks stormed the city of Vienna, it was the bakers who raised the alarm, and thus saved the city from invasion. As the story goes, these bakers formed the Kipferl to symbolize the Turkish crescent moon and celebrate having successfully avoided an invasion. Whether this legend is true or not, most Austrians are unaware of this connection. They simply enjoy the taste of Vanillekipferl with a cup of hot fruit tea, coffee, or even mulled wine.
|Time||prep: 45 min, baking: 8-10 min|
(makes approximately 50 Vanillekipferl)
- 350 g plain flour
- 200 g cold unsalted butter
- 100 g icing/powder sugar
- 100 g ground almonds
- 1 egg
- 1 packet vanilla sugar
- A pinch of salt
For coating the Kipferl after baking:
- 60 g icing sugar
- 2 packets of vanilla sugar
Note: Vanilla sugar can be bought in any supermarket. Alternatively, it can be made by putting a vanilla-pod and some sugar in an airtight jar for a week or two.
- Sieve the flour into a bowl.
- Cut the cold butter into slices and mix it with the flour.
- Add icing sugar, salt, vanilla sugar, ground almonds, and egg to the mixture.
- Rinse hands in cold water, and knead the dough on a pastry board. Let the dough rest for half an hour.
- Grease a baking tray, or alternatively use a sheet of baking paper to prevent the Kipferl from sticking.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C ( 350 F/ Gas 4 ).
- Form the dough to a cylinder with a diameter of approximately 5cm, and cut off 0.5 cm thick slices. Roll them between your flat palms to form a sausage shape that is slightly tapered. Lay them in crescent shape on the baking tray, and bake them for 8-10 minutes until they are a light golden brown.
- Immediately after baking, dip the Kipferl into a mixture of icing sugar and vanilla sugar. Try some – they are delicious while still warm!
- Leave the rest out overnight, and then store them in an airtight tin.