Viennese Vanillekipferln (literally "vanilla crescents") are traditional Christmas cookie fare, although this shortbread is so easy and tasty, you will want to make them all year long. This shortbread recipe is made with ground hazelnuts and vanilla sugar, although some variations use almonds and others use ground peanuts. A nice thing about these cookies is that they age well and are much better after they cool. According to Wiki, the crescent shape came about when Vienna was celebrating one of their victories over the Ottoman empire.
- Cut butter into tablespoon chunks. Mix flour, sugar, and hazelnuts with optional salt. Cut in butter (like you would for pie dough) or beat with a mixer on low speed until crumbs form.
- Add the vanilla, if you are using it, and mix again, until dough comes together in a ball.
- Form dough into 1-inch diameter cylinders and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably several hours befoe baking.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough cylinders from the refrigerator and cut them into 3/4-inch slices. This is the traditional way of measuring the dough. You can also scoop or cut the dough into 1/2-ounce/13- to 14-gram pieces in any manner you like.
- Take each piece of dough and form a rope, about 3 inches in length and with tapered ends. The dough is a bit crumbly, but when warmed up in your hands it will stick together better.
- Place on a nonstick or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until slightly browned.
- Roll in vanilla sugar or powdered sugar while still hot or as soon as you can handle them. These cookies are fragile when hot, but become robust when they cool down.
- Use any other ground nuts to vary the taste. Hazelnuts are very expensive in the US. Almonds are a less expensive choice.
- German baking does not usually use salt, but my American mother taught me that a pinch in cookies and cakes helps the flavor marry, so I include it.
- Use vanilla in any form you prefer, such as vanilla paste, extract or scrape the inside of a vanilla bean. It is especially important in these cookies if you do not have vanilla sugar for the coating on hand. Otherwise, you could not call them Vanillekipferln.