Last time we visited Britain and that's why now I think it's time for "homecoming" :D Christmas is all about traditions and even though I love trying new exotic recipes I usually stick to the old good stuff during this holiday. I can't imagine not celebrating Christmas on 24th December. I love looking forward for the evening, decorating Christmas tree, one minute fasting (= you don't eat for a minute, then you do, then you fast for another minute :D) and useless waiting for the golden pig that never comes. Well, and at the end of the evening when you can see only pieces of wrapping paper everywhere, that's the time for Christmas cookies. In the Czech Republic there it is extremely traditional to bake many kinds of the cookies and one of the most popular ones are vanilla crescents. Mine have been in our family for more than 20 years - quite old, don't you think?
Vanilkové rohlíčky (read vah-neel-co-veh roh-leech-kee) are typical Christmas cookies, almost the symbol of Christmas. They originated in Austria in Wien where (just like in the rest of German speaking countries) they're known as Vanillekipferl. Nowadays they are considered typical Christmas cookies in Austria, Germany and Slovak countries in general. However, they are baked in Hungary, too. They are said to have been created in the shape of the Turkish crescent to celebrate the victory of the Hungarian army over the Turkish in one of the many wars between the nations. (In case you'd like to know more about our Czech Christmas traditions let me know in the comment and in the next post I can write about our customs :) )
The recipes vary across the countries but they are "built" on the same basis: flour, butter, sugar, vanilla, egg yolks and nuts - here is the biggest difference. In Germany there they're made mostly from almonds, in the Czech republic here we use mainly hazelnuts or walnuts. Right after being baked, they're covered in vanilla icing sugar which makes them nicely sweet and beautiful.
The flour you use in them is good old sifted all-purpose flour. Much more important is the choice of fat. In this case the only fat that exists is butter. Good, fresh butter with delicious creamy taste and strong milk smell. Once I've tried buying vanilla crescents in a shop and all I can say is this: "Never ever again!" They didn't taste THAT bad but they completely lacked the nice buttery flavour and reminded me some cheap sugary cookies because store-bought crescents have naver seen butter (only vegetable oils and fats). It's much better to make your own! Simply, don't use any vegetable fats or shotening in these cookies. Vanilkove rohlicky consist of butter, nothing else can make up for the taste!
Another thing that has to be in my vanilla crescents is vanilla. I always scrape out these beautiful vanilla seeds into the dough and for the ultimate vanilla taste I use organic vanilla sugar instead of plain sugar. Vanilla belongs even on the surface of the cookies so about a week or two ahead I place approx. 250g of icing sugar (2 cups) into an airtight container, add in split 1-2 vanilla pods. every day I shanke it a bit and after two weeks I have a fabulousaromatic homemade vanilla sugar (and then I keep adding another vanilla pods and I think now I have in the cointainer about a pound of sugar and 20 pods :D).
As for the nuts, we have always used walnuts because they grew in our garden :D And their taste is the strongest of all nuts (I've tried them with almonds and they weren't so good) but you might use hazelnuts or even pecans. By the way, shaping the crescents is a great family fun (just try not to taste the dough before baking - it's pretty good and could disappear before you get to baking :D) - me, my sister and mom always meet in the kitchen and listening to Christmas carols, start shaping our rohlíčky. It doesn't matter if they do not look exactly the same - that's where the magic is :) I prefer extra tiny crescents, mom likes pretty arc-like crescents and my sister loves nice thick & big ones :D It's really easy to shape them, you don't need any special equipment besides your hands.
I've browsed through tons of crescents recipes but I have never seen exactly the same that I use. I have no idea where my mom got the recipe from. She doesn't remeber either but I'm sure they have a strong tradition in our family. My mom writes down notes about every single Christmas cookies we bake every year and the first note comes from 1989 and these cookies are already there! I think my granny uses the same recipe. Anyway, mom had to give the recipe to our neighbour, auntie and several of her friends because they liked them so much. There's something about them :) At least they're very addictive :D
150g (1 cup + 3 tbsp) all-purpose flour, sifted
50g (1/3 cup + 1 tbsp) finely ground walnuts
30g (1/4 cup) vanilla icing sugar
20g (1 3/4 tbsp) organic vanilla sugar
1 vanilla pod
110g (1/2 cup) softened butter, chopped
1 egg yolk
vanilla icing sugar for covering
In a bowl, combine sifted flour, nuts, sugars and vanilla seed scraped out from the pod. Add in chopped softened butter and egg yolk. Using a knife, mix until combined. Then using your hands, knead until you get nice soft and solid dough that is not crumbly at all. Cover in a plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day pinch off small pieces (their size should be similar to a small walnut) of the chilled dough and roll each one into a strip 4cm long and about 1cm wide (don't flour your board). Shape each strip into a crescent by pulling it into a semi-circle. Place them on a lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven to 170C for 10 minutes or until the edges become beige (not brown!). Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes and them roll them vanilla icing sugar. You can either eat them right now or store them in an airtight container in a cool place (these cookies get better with time - store them in refrigerator for 2-3 days and they'll be even better!).
- If you're not dieting, make a double batch - they are so good they tend to disappear in no time (or am I the only one who's capable of devouring the entire plate of them in one sitting??).
- The serving is only approximate - if you make tiny crescents, the recipe yelds more than 60 pcs. If you make bigger crescents, you may end up with 40-45 pcs.
I love their addictive vanilla smell, a thin sugar crust on the surface, slight crunch when you bite into them and the feeling when they melt in your mouth. I always realize in this moment that Christmas is here for real. As I'm writing about the right now, my stomach is becoming really hungry :D I bake many different kinds of Christmas cookies but vanilkové rohlíčky are always included. I recommend baking these a week before Christmas and storing them in a top secret place otherwise when you open the container on Christmas Day you'll only see a few leftover crumbs :D
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