The Red Clog Blog may have debuted just last week, but the concept and ideas had been nascent for quite some time. And so it was fitting that the launch coincided with my mom’s birthday. This was the first year that mom was no longer with us on her special day and I won’t sugarcoat things – it was a tough one.
For years, my mom implored me, “Leesee, you really should do something with Food” (aside from eating it – which was never my issue) and now, on the occasion of what would have been her 81st birthday, I honor and remember her with this post. Good news, there will be something decadent in it for all of us, because Mom was born in Vienna, capital of Austria and ATSAD. All Things Sweet And Delicious. (Images of Vienna have been added to Gallery)
My mother didn’t live in Vienna for more than the first couple years of her life; world events got in the way. Still, growing up in Jacksonville, Florida – completely distanced from the elegant capital of the former Hapsburg empire – she benefited from the influence of Alt Wien (old Vienna), thanks to her parents. And it was in that home where I accidentally discovered a love of baking; that story will wait for another day.
Mom was skinny with coarse red hair and pale skin. She liked to collect frogs, snakes and other native “wildlife” and she would tuck them away in her pockets for safekeeping. Usually she forgot they were there and my grandmother, a dignified and stylish lady, endured more than her share of terrifying moments when said creatures tumbled out to explore their new Florida home.
In an effort to fatten up my mom (and perhaps distract her from acquiring more salamanders), Grandma would bake Mom’s favorite cookie – Vanille Kipferl. In Wienerisch, the Viennese dialect, “erl” is added to the end of a word to connote something little or cute. It can also be used as a term of endearment; I was lovingly called “Leeserl” by my grandmother. A small package might be a “packerl”. A cute kitty – “katzerl”. A sweet Viennese girl is a “Wiener Maderl”. And so on. Thus, Vanille Kipferl are literally “cute little crescents”.
These Kipferl are the quintessential taste of Vienna. A perfect bite, they offer sweetness, crunch, and a pleasing nutty texture all wrapped up in a playful crescent moon shape. Nothing goes better with a cup of Vienna’s legendary coffee. The recipe I am about to share with you is the real deal, however it didn’t originate with my grandmother. She probably baked the Kipferl from heart and I never found her version in writing. But her sister in law, Tante Loni, another native of Vienna and excellent baker in her own right, left me her Vanille Kipferl recipe with notes, including the personal assessment “very good” in perfect European cursive. Lucky for us!
What I love about this recipe, aside from the immediate connection with my Viennese ancestors, is that it’s easy to make and contains just a few ingredients, most of which you probably have on your shelf. And while I told you I wouldn’t sugarcoat my emotions from mom’s birthday last week, I am very happy to invite you to join me in sugarcoating these Kipferl now. 😊
Tante Loni’s Vanille Kipferl Makes about 6 dozen
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
¾ cup (4 ounces) almonds ground in a food processor or chopped by hand. (some very small nut pieces are fine, just make sure it’s mostly ground.)
Vanilla sugar (see note*; must be made in advance, or purchased)
Cookie sheet(s) with parchment (my preference) or foil, lightly greased
First prepare the dough. Cream butter and sugar together until well blended with a kitchen or hand-held mixer in a large bowl. Add the flour and almonds together to the butter/sugar mixture. Using either an electric device (I use a KitchenAid for this) or your hands, blend until the dough comes together in a unified mass. Shape a large ball of dough and wrap this in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 60-90 minutes. The dough must be cold when you work with it otherwise you risk the Dreaded Spread – when cookies flatten out too much. And flat Kipferl are not desirable Kipferl! The best ones have some height, sort of like a mini Austrian alpine range.
When ready to shape and bake cookies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line the cookie sheet.
Remove half the dough and place on a counter, keep remaining dough cold (or freeze for a later batch).
Pinch off about a walnut size ball of dough and roll it in the palms of your hands just enough to get the dough malleable. Then roll this piece into a 3 inch sized “snake” with slightly tapered ends. Shape into a crescent. Place on cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, leaving about an inch of space between kipferl. Try to keep your kipferl roughly the same size to ensure even baking. (They will grow and spread a bit in the oven.)
Bake at 325 degrees for 12-14 minutes. You will probably start to smell them around 10-12 minutes. They will smell good. Very, very good. It’s ok to have slightly browned edges but you don’t want them to bake beyond that.
Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes. Next, coat all over with vanilla sugar. I like to fill a Tupperware container with the vanilla sugar and then ever-so-gently toss the cookie right in the sugar, sort of like you’re giving it a nice, quick bath. Be gentle, the kipferl, when warm, will crumble easily and you’d be surprised how many of these broken bits you will consume, since we all know there are no calories in broken cookies. Finish by placing the Kipferl on a rack to cool.
A Word About Vanilla Sugar
Vanille Zucker, as it’s called in German-speaking countries, is so popular that you can purchase it in most German, Austrian, Swiss grocery stores (as well as elsewhere in Europe). I’ve seen it in the US at some German food stores and occasionally at IKEA. If you find it, grab some. But if not, it’s easy to make and once you get the hang of it, you’ll find a myriad of uses for it. I make a batch and leave it on my baking shelf for months.
Take a vanilla bean, cut it in half lengthwise and moving from one end of the bean to the other, scrape the seeds out with the edge of a sharp knife. Add the seeds to a half a cup of sugar. Then cut up the remainder of the vanilla bean into several pieces and add that to the sugar as well. The more time these flavors can hang out together, the better the vanilla flavor will be. Ideally you want this to sit for at least 2 weeks. It won’t be the end of the world if you use it earlier, it just won’t pack the same vanilla punch.
An alternative and faster method is to use powdered sugar. Scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean and add to 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar. Cut up the remainder of the vanilla bean into several pieces and bury that in the sugar as well. Store in container overnight and you can use this sugar the next day (remove vanilla pieces first).