Christmas is coming! In Germany, that means baking. this year, again, we’re sharing some traditional German Christmas biscuits that you can make at home. Today’s recipe is for Vanilla Kipferl or traditional German vanilla crescent cookies.
What are Vanille Kipferl?
Vanille Kipferl or vanilla crescents are a crescent-shaped vanilla shortcrust biscuit. They are traditionally made in Germany, Austria and former Bohemia (now predominantly the Czech Republic) for Christmas.
They are made from a shortcrust pastry which includes ground almonds and often roasted almonds slithers too. Depending on the region, they may even contain walnuts, peanuts or hazelnuts.
To give you an idea of the popularity of the biscuits: Vanilla Kipferl were voted number two in a poll of Germans on the favourite Christmas cookies by German baking product manufacturer Dr. Oetker in 2014.
Tips for making Vanilla Kipferl
Like our other German Christmas biscuits, this recipe is a translation of my mother-in-law’s recipe. She wasn’t sure where it originally came from – it could have been from an aunt, but it might have also been a TV magazine.
The recipe is similar but different from a strict shortcrust recipe. The addition of egg yolks makes it easier to form the distinctive crescent shape.
I forgot to get a vanilla pod when I was at the supermarket. If you, like me, are a little distracted this Christmas and forget to get a vanilla pod, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste (or even vanilla essence) to the dough when adding the eggs and butter.
What is vanilla sugar?
In Germany, it is difficult to find vanilla essence. Instead, Germans used vanilla sugar (Vanille Zucker), which comes in sachets or a small tub (like baking powder). You can buy some here. If you check the link, the sachets even come with an image of Vanille Kipferl on the front.
Make your own vanilla sugar!
You can make your own vanilla sugar: Pour 250g fine sugar into a preserving jar. Cut a vanilla bean into small pieces, add to the sugar and stir through so that the vanilla pieces are distributed evenly. Seal and let sit for a week. Make sure any vanilla pod pieces do not end up in whatever you are making.
Use your vanilla sugar when baking (instead of vanilla essence), on pancakes or waffles, or in your coffee or tea.
If you don’t have a week to wait, you can use vanilla powder, leave it out entirely or mix seeds of half a vanilla bean into the powdered sugar and mix well.
Forming the Vanille Kipferl
The best way, however, is the traditional way.
Roll a finger long spindle form from some dough with your hands then carefully bend the ends around to form a moon or crescent shape. This is much easier than trying to get the biscuits out of a cookie form! Check out the video (below) to see Miss M making her first vanille Kipferl with her Oma.
Finally, the biscuits must still be warm when they are dunked in the mix of powdered sugar and vanilla. This will help ensure that the sugar sticks to the biscuit to give their distinctive look. Use a silicone spatula to prevent the biscuits from breaking!
Vanille Kipferl: traditional German vanilla crescent cookies
- 1 vanilla pod
- 120 g plain flour
- 80 g ground almonds
- 1 generous pinch baking powder
- 80 g white sugar
- 120 g unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 egg yolks
- 50 g powdered sugar
- 2 packets vanilla sugar
- Halve the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Combine the flour, baking powder, ground almonds and vanilla seeds and mix in a bowl.
- Add the butter, egg yolks and sugar and mix until well to form a dough.
- Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180°c. Line two trays with baking paper.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and separate into approx. 35 little balls. Take each ball and roll between your palms to form a spindle (about the length of your finger and thickness of a pencil). Bend the two ends around to form a crescent. Place on a tray.
- While the biscuits are baking, combine the powdered sugar and vanilla sugar in a bowl.
- Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden.
- Remove from the oven and carefully 'dunk' in the powdered sugar then place on a wire rack to cool.
A modern twist on the Vanille Kipferl
A wonderful winter warming version takes the basics elements of the Vanilla Kiperl and substitutes pecans for the ground almonds and adds dark chocolate, cinnamon and chili and dunks. The cooked biscuits are then dunked in a mixture that includes cocoa powder. Perhaps I will share our recipe for chili chocolate Kipferl at some stage…
Watch out for sneaky cookie snatchers
When they were finished, Miss M asked if she could have some. I told her that she would have to wait until I had taken my photos.
A short time later, she disappeared into the kitchen and was very quiet for some time. When she returned, she had crumbs in the corner of her mouth, powdered sugar on her chin and three powder stripes on the back of her jeans.
“Did you have some of the biscuits?” I asked.
“How did you know?”
I didn’t even have to use my super Mummy powers.
Make some Vanille Kipferl (vanilla crescents) this Christmas
These Vanille Kipferl are one of the quintessential traditional German Christmas biscuits. They are a favourite of most Germans – not just because they are very easy to make! So why not make some this Christmas?