It’s time for a spot of early Christmas baking. These delicious little walnut crescent cookies are a traditional German Christmas treat that you will love. This is a foolproof recipe that needs only 4 main ingredients and you can adjust the flavours to suit your own taste.
What are walnut crescent cookies?
Walnut crescent cookies are traditional German and Austrian cookies, normally made at Christmas, although they are so easy to make you could be excused for making them throughout the year.
The German name for them is vanillekipferl which literally translates into vanilla crescents.
They have a light and buttery melt-in-the-mouth texture, a bit like shortbread, with extra crunch from the addition of chopped walnuts. Once cooked they are sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar to give the distinctive ‘snowy’ look.
When I was growing up in South Africa, the local German bakery started selling these little cookies in November, and for me, they always heralded the start of the Christmas season. Now that I’m older, and back in the UK, I make them every year around this time. They make a great gift to give to family and friends.
How do you make vanillekipferl?
This recipe makes around 4 dozen walnut crescents and they stay crispy for weeks, stored in an airtight tin. You can get the complete list of ingredients and full instructions for making these walnut cookies on the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
You only need 4 main ingredients –
- flour – use plain flour or cake flour. You don’t need baking powder for this recipe as the cookies should not rise. For this reason, don’t use self-raising flour.
- confectioner’s sugar (also known as icing sugar or powdered sugar). This is used both for baking the cookies (instead of castor sugar) and for sprinkling over the baked cookies. Some recipes call for vanilla sugar for sprinkling. You can make your own vanilla sugar by storing a vanilla bean in a jar of normal sugar, and adding a tablespoon of this to confectioner’s sugar.
- butter – there is quite a lot of butter in this recipe. This is what makes the cookies so crispy.
- chopped walnuts – you could substitute these for chopped almonds or hazelnuts.
Note – this recipe does not contain eggs. I’ve seen some recipes that use egg yolk to assist in binding the dough, but in my opinion, this is not necessary.
You will also need some flavouring ingredients. I like to use lemon and vanilla essence, but if you prefer you could switch out the lemon essence for almond essence. I also add a half teaspoon of salt to the flour, but this is optional.
What do to
- Start off by measuring the flour, salt and confectioner’s sugar into a mixing bowl (image 1 above). Stir to combine.
- Cut the butter into cubes and add to the flour (image 2 above).
- Now, using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour. You may find this easier to do if the butter is at room temperature. It takes quite a while to rub the butter into the flour, and you may think it is never going to incorporate, but it will. Just keep rubbing!
- You need to get the mixture to the point where it starts to adhere together and form lumps when you squeeze it with your hands (image 3 above).
- At this point you can add the chopped walnuts and the essence (image 4 above). You can chop the walnuts in a food processor, but don’t over-process – make sure you leave a few pieces of walnut. If you don’t have a food processor you can just chop the walnuts finely with a knife.
Form the cookies
- Mix the walnuts into the dough until the dough comes together in a smooth ball (image 1 above).
- Cover the dough with cling film or plastic wrap and leave to chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.
- To form the crescents, break off marble-sized pieces of dough and form into crescents. You might find it easiest to roll the piece of dough into a sausage shape and then wrap it half-way around your finger.
- Place the crescents onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a silicone mat (image 2 above). Alternatively, just grease the baking tray lightly with butter to prevent sticking. Don’t place the cookies too close together, they will spread on baking.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes at 180C/350F. Don’t allow the cookies to go too brown. They should be a light golden colour (image 3 above).
I find the cookies are quite large enough if I use a marble-sized piece of dough. For a larger cookie, use walnut-sized pieces of dough.
Once cool, sprinkle generously with confectioner’s sugar or dip the cookies in a bowl of confectioner’s sugar to coat completely.
What is the texture of walnut crescent cookies?
These cookies have a very crispy texture. They should ‘snap’ when you break them in half, and have a distinct ‘crunch’ when you take a bite. Because they have a high butter/low moisture content, these cookies will stay crispy for a few weeks, stored in an airtight ti.
You can vary the flavour of these cookies by using different nuts. Try using chopped almonds, hazelnuts or even brazil nuts.
For the essence, you could swap out the lemon with almond, orange or even cherry essence. I wouldn’t swap out the vanilla though – this is essential to the flavour of these cookies.
To vary the shape, why not try rolling the dough into a ball and flattening slightly with the prongs of a fork. Top with half a walnut (or other nut) before baking.
If you prefer a less sweet cookie, just omit the final coating of confectioner’s sugar.
Can I freeze walnut crescent cookies.
You can freeze these cookies, packed in a rigid plastic container to prevent breaking, indefinitely.
Let them come to room temperature before eating.
You can also freeze the formed unbaked cookies. Just place them on the baking tray in the freezer until they are solid and then transfer them to a plastic container or ziploc bag.
To use – bake from frozen for the temperature given in the recipe, until they are golden brown. You may need to add an extra minute to the cooking time.
Can I make these cookies in advance?
You can leave the prepared dough, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
When you are ready to bake them, leave the dough on the kitchen counter until it is soft enough to handle, then form into cookies and bake as per the recipe instructions.
If you enjoyed these walnut crescent cookies, you may also like these other baking recipes.
Or check out all my cakes and biscuits on this sweet treats page.
Convert grams to cups
To help you convert your recipes, I have created a handy Cookery Conversion Calculator which will convert ingredients between grams, ounces, tablespoons, cups and millilitres. I hope you will find it useful.
If you live at a high altitude you may find you need to adjust your baking recipes to compensate for this. You can read about how to do this in this post on baking at high altitudes.
Pin for later
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Walnut crescent cookies recipe
Walnut Crescent Cookies (Vanillekipferl)
- Mixing bowl
- Baking sheet
- 2 cups (280g) plain flour (cake flour)
- ¾ cup (90g) confectioner's sugar (icing sugar)
- 1 cup (225g) unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt optional
- 1 cup (100g) walnuts finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 1 teaspoon lemon essence
- extra confectioner's sugar (icing sugar) for coating the biscuits
- Pre-heat oven to 180°C/350°F
- Place the flour and icing sugar into a mixing bowl and add the salt (if using).
- Cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour until the mixture starts to stick together. See note 1.
- Chop the walnuts into very fine pieces. See note 2.
- Add the walnuts and essence to the flour mixture.
- Mix with your hands until the dough comes together in a smooth ball.
- Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.
- Break off marble-sized pieces of dough and form into crescents. (See note 3).
- Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a silicone mat. (See note 4).
- Bake for 12 minutes in the pre-heated oven. (See note 5).
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then sprinkle generously with confectioner's sugar.
- Store in an air-tight tin.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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