Biscuits de Noël aux amandes

Who invented butter-almond crescents, the sugar-dusted confections served at Christmas time in many parts of the world? Some say the cookies were invented by a Viennese baker who adopted the shape of the Ottoman flag’s crescent moon to celebrate victory over the Turks in the 17th century. But I’m not so sure, as crescent almond cookies exist far beyond Vienna. In North Africa, for example, they’re called gazelle horns…

Biscuits de Noël aux amandes / Butter-almond crescents

Butter-almond crescents are also French, as they are served in Alsace from Advent to Christmas. In the States, they were a specialty of my Jewish mother, and even more so of her mother, Hilda, who had roots in Vienna. Happily they both passed the recipe down to me — I have handwritten copies from each of them — and today I wanted to share it with you. It feels appropriate, at this parlous moment of world history, to mark a holiday that is devoted to peace on earth with a cookie enjoyed by Christians, Muslims and Jews alike.

Butter-almond crescents, known in the German-speaking world as vanillekipferl, are an almond shortbread flavored with vanilla and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, aka powdered sugar, icing sugar or sucre glace. Making them is both easy and fun. Butter, flour, sugar and vanilla are blended together to form a dough. The dough is chilled before being formed into crescent shapes, baked briefly, then dipped into the powdered sugar.

The dough may be formed into other shapes, such as disks topped with a candied cherry or a small bit of candied lemon, orange or lime rind. This makes for a colorful display when you bring the cookies out over the holidays. But beware — once the cookies come out of the oven, it can be hard to keep them around long enough to have any left by Christmas. This happened this year. I made the cookies early to be able to write this post. I had intended to save them all until Christmas Eve, but my daughter had another idea…

The remaining butter-almond cookies have now been stashed in the freezer along with another of my mother’s specialties, bourbon balls. I haven’t posted that recipe yet, but it’s similar to the recipe for chocolate truffles if you’d like to create a mixed plate of pretty sweets. I made the bourbon balls early this year, too, in order to be able to send both kinds of cookies to my brother and sister-in-law in California. Happy holidays, Ben and Mary!

With Christmas only ten days away, this is a good time to check out The Everyday French Chef‘s Holiday Menus, with ideas for festive meals with a French touch for omnivores, vegetarians and vegans. Here’s wishing you a joyous holiday season. And happy cooking!

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