Every European house made these cookies at Christmas when I was growing up. My Slovak Mother made them, my Croatian friends made them, my German relatives made them. I don't know what my Mother used to call them I just used to ask her to make the half moon cookies. They are not too sweet and really taste like an almond shortbread cookie. Always sprinkled with lots of powdered sugar they are the perfect cookie to have with a big mug of coffee just when you need a little sweet pick me up!
These were always made with Dr. Oetker's Vanilla Sugar when I was a kid however, I have modified the recipe over the years because there are some new products available like Vanilla Paste which I love. They are quick to make and the recipe makes lots of cookies which you can bake all at once or freeze perfectly. I like to make some way before Christmas and then when we feel like warm cookies during the holidays I just take the dough out of the freezer and whip up a batch.
The house smells just like Christmas today!! I will put on the coffee!
You will need:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups ground almonds
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter (1 cup) - room temperature
- 1 cup icing/confectioners sugar
- 1 egg - room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla paste (or you can use pure vanilla extract -never use artificial!)
- 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
- more icing sugar to sprinkle over a sieve to top!!
Step 1: you can either buy ground almonds in a package in the baking aisle or you can take some raw almonds and grind them in a food processor. If you buy nuts always store them in the freezer because they go rancid quickly and they will keep longer frozen. I like the ground almonds because they are blanched but, I also like my cookies to have some of the little brown flecks from the skins so I use half of each. If you want a white cookie then use the ones without the skins.
Step 2: place 1 cup of each type of ground almond in a large bowl along with the flour, baking powder and salt. These are your dry ingredients. Set aside.
Step 3: use a stand mixer with the blade attachment or you can also use a hand held mixer. Add room temperature butter and icing/confectioners sugar. Start on low and then once mixed whip on high for 4 minutes until the butter and sugar is light and fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape down sides at least once to make sure everything is incorporated well.
Step 4: add your vanilla paste and almond extract. You can buy this paste at gourmet baking shops or often in HomeSense stores (in Canada) I must say I use a heaping tsp and I love the way all the vanilla seeds are in the paste. If you have vanilla extract you can use the same amount. Please don't use artificial vanilla which is made from wood and not vanilla at all. Mix on high for another 2 minutes. You will think that it will not come together and then it just does.
Step 5: add your dry ingredients all at once and just mix on low until it just comes together in a sticky mass.
Step 6: form a mass so it is all incorporated. You can use a bit of flour on your hands or not. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Roll out each piece with your hands to form a log approximately 12 inches long and 1 inch high (I created a square log) Place both logs on the outer edges of a long piece of wax paper and roll towards the center. This way you can roll up both logs with one sheet of wax paper. Place in fridge to chill 20 minutes before baking.
Step 7: I slice the chilled log into 1/2 inch slices and then each slice in half. With your hands roll out ropes approximately 4 inches long. You can use a bit of flour on your hands to avoid sticking but you don't want to add to the counter. These are full of butter so you want to move quickly.
Step 8: form a crescent shape and place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Place in fridge 10 minutes before baking in a 325 degree F oven for 16-20 minutes. I like them to be just lightly browned around the edges (not much) and the bottoms should be a nice light golden brown. Allow then to cool for a few minutes, sprinkle with powdered sugar and eat them!
The house smells of vanilla and all is right in the world!