From 9 am until 4 in the afternoon, I watched my friends make kipferl after kipferl, and more Viennese cookies that their mother always made. And gave to the neighbors. These grown women -sisters – love to make these cookies now because they can either eat them or give them to neighbors instead of watching them go out of the house while they cleaned up – as was the case when they were little girls.
And we drank wine (a dry rose from Vielle Ferme) while processing butter and sugar — transforming this paste into a vehicle for flavor: vanilla almond, chocolate hazelnut, and the Hussar cookie that carries its extra flavor in a dimple in the center filled with raspberry or mint jam for Christmas.
My friends work from a cookbook their Viennese mother gave them that translated Austrian cooking for an American audience. The author lived in Vienna, but apparently was no Julia Child. As they cook, all the family cooks openly correct the authors measurements and methods. ‘We’re not certain she ever tried the recipes,” one sister said. So their matching cookbooks are stained with notes, and they pass these onto their kids since they all have the same book.
The food processor works great to blend butter and sugar for cookies. My old cookie cookbook suggested beginners use shortening instead of butter as a failsafe, but with a food processor, a beginner can take the butter straight from the fridge and the dough is perfect. The recipe suggests that the dough rest in the fridge for 20 minutes, but we skipped this step with no ill effects.
For the Red and Green Hussars
(thumbprint-style) Cookie: generic style
- 2 parts unsalted butter
- 1 part granulated vanilla sugar
- 2-3 egg yolks
- 3 parts flour
- pinch of salt
- red jam (seedless raspberry)
- green jam (jalapeno is probably too much, mint was our choice)
- finely chopped blanched almonds, for garnish
Incorporate the sugar and butter until fluffy, either by hand, with a mixer or food processor. Add yolk one at a time, then gradually incorporate flour (with salt tossed on) until it is a dough that hangs together, like a soft playdough, not crumbly. When the balls are placed on the cookie sheet they shouldn’t look like they are melting. One of the baking sisters rolled the dough into balls smaller in diameter than a quarter, and then made the dimple with the end of wooden spoon instead of a thumb. Then, her sister painted the cookies with beaten egg white, while the other dusted them with finely chopped (minced, not pulverized) almonds.
Bake these at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes but check after 15. They should be just barely gold. When they are cooled fill the small dimple with jam.
Their Vanilla Crescent or Vanilla Kipferl is made with a similar combination of butter and sugar and assembled the same way as above into a similar dough. If this dough gets too soft, chill it while working on other things, but not longer than an hour. We rolled these out into a rope about an inch in diameter, then cut 1/2 inch slices that we formed into crescents.
Vanille Kipferl Recipe:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 cup butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup almonds, grated*
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup vanilla sugar
Bake crescents at 275°F because they should stay delicately white. While hot, roll each one in the vanilla sugar.
You can mix these cookies with a spoon if the dough is soft enough, but the secret to the perfect texture of these crescents, the sisters tell me, is the nut grater.
It looks like a meat grinder and neither one of them has been able to find it in the U.S. The nut grater turns nuts and chocolate to the texture of fine sugar without releasing the oils and making a clumpy paste.
By the third of these cookies, I started to see the Viennese thinking here. While we’ve got the nut grater out, lets keep going. Here’s the chocolate hazelnut variety.
Cloister Crescents: Klosterkipferl
- 1/2 cup butter
- 3 Tablespoons vanilla sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 3 Tablespoons grated chocolate
- 1 cup grated hazelnuts
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 Tb. pistachios, chopped fine
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 1/2 oz chocolate
- 1 Tbs butter
Work butter, sugar, flour, chocolate, nuts and yolk together into a smooth dough. Roll into a rope (1-inch diameter) and cut slices (1/2 inch) and form that slice into a crescent. On a non-greased cookie sheet, bake at 325° F for 10 to 20 minutes.
While they are baking, cook sugar and water until it is 217°F. While it’s getting hot, melt the butter and non sweetened chocolate gently (in a double boiler or in a good pan on the lowest of gas flames, most electric stove settings will burn the chocolate). Add the hot sugar syrup to the chocolate and beat it slightly until its shiny. Add a few drops of water if the icing becomes grainy. Keep it hot so it flows well. While the cookies are still warm, frost them with a dash of the chocolate icing and sprinkle the icing with chopped pistachios. Optimally, you can use a fine tip and pipe this frosting. It should set up shiny, and hopefully, you’ll have friends over who can get the chopped pistachios on top before the icing dries.
About this time, you need to start drinking wine, if you haven’t already.