My Little Zagreb By 

MAGIC VANILLA CRESCENT COOKIE


fresh baked christmas vanilla crescents on a cooling grid with a mold

Depositphotos_59717631_m-2015

There is a special connection between the people of Zagreb and vanilla crescent cookies… I’m not claiming this as a historian, ethnographer or an expert in any scientific field; I gathered my modest knowledge as a confectioner in school, but I have gained plenty of experience during my many years as a passionate eater. Long ago, when I was a kid, when Christmas was not celebrated with all the elements we introduced later, Advent used to begin when our moms or grannies started baking vanilla crescents. And that’s a fact.

My mom started baking Christmas cakes as soon as December began. We are a large family so there was a lot to bake, but we are above all true lovers of food, gourmets and foodies. I knew I was a foodie before I knew other equally essential facts about myself, although the term “foodie” was not in use back then. The reason mom started baking so early (apart from the large quantity) was the fact that there had to be at least 10-15 varieties of crescents. There was always a whiff of uncertainty in the air when we waited to see if we did better than the neighbours or mom’s friend Mirjana…

vanilla biscuits are portioned and brought into shape, then laid out on a baking sheet

Vanilla biscuits are portioned and brought into shape, then laid out on a baking sheet

My eventful apprenticeship

Anyway, back to cake baking; sure I adored messing around with mom in the kitchen… In my early years I guess I did more damage than good, but when I grew up I began a soldier of the secondary errands unit… those that chefs hate, but which have to be done in any case. For instance, grinding walnuts until my right shoulder gets unhinged; blending creams over the stove to exhaustion or putting cookies together until my back could not sustain my body. And when was already stooped like a question mark, more pieces of cookies to put together would appear out of nowhere… Yippee!

However, vanilla crescents would always be baked first. They are better when they are left to sit for a while, although there is nothing more delicious than still hot crescents being rolled into icing sugar… It was extremely important that they should all be of equal size, smaller rather than bigger, but not too small. They had to remain white, but not as white as if they were raw, but God forbid that the pan burned!

In the initial years of my pastry making I would sit by the oven because we had a rather wild gas-powered one that burned everything and there was no better timer than my eye. As soon as the crescents started acquiring a golden colour, they had to be pulled out. When we bought a decent electric oven, I became a bit more relaxed, but the deeply ingrained fear has remained. Even today, when I do some serious baking, I employ an apprentice to mind the pans with the crescents.

These little, gorgeous, aromatic snacks full of rich flavours were the first cookies we kids would get our hands on. Our moms would allow us to eat our fill the evening they were baked and as soon as the cookies cooled down, they would store them in a box and hide them in a secret place, knowing that if we got hold of them, they would be gone before Christmas.

First baked – the last to go

In the meantime, new cakes were made, but the feeling that streams through my body before biting into my first Christmas cookie of the season and the pleasure overwhelming me after taking a bite is associated exclusively with vanilla crescents. Yes, I’d go crazy for chocolate cakes one year or hazelnut ones the next, but the aroma and the flavour of vanilla cookies are the beginning and the end. The essence. Ironically, the pole position they earned by the very sequence of baking cakes is also their handicap. When other cakes are served, no one eats vanilla crescents anymore. Compared to the showy, richly decorated cakes with chocolate and cream, they look so simple and plain.  

You have to admit it: they are the last to remain on your Christmas shelves. But, after the other cakes have been snapped up, and you feel like cakes, a vanilla crescent is there waiting just for you. When the holiday madness is over and the things settle down, you can return to what was at the beginning. Sort of sad, but also calming and relaxing.

So when you order your cakes this December, pay special attention to vanilla crescent cookies.

Fresh Vanilla Cookies With Powdered Sugar For Christmas

Fresh Vanilla Cookies With Powdered Sugar For Christmas

VANILLA CRESCENT COOKIES by Darling & Shegrts

Ingredients:

  • 250 g flour (mix smooth and coarse in 1:1 ratio)
  • 210 g very cold butter
  • 100 g ground walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 70 g sugar
  • 1 bag vanilla sugar (or more)
  • Icing sugar to roll the crescents into

Directions:

  1. Weigh all the ingredients and lay them on the table. This step may sound silly, but it happened more than once that the cake was already in the pan when I realized no one had weighed or indeed put in the sugar.
  2. Mix well the flour, sugar and walnuts/hazelnuts. Slice the super cold butter and place the slices into the combined dry ingredients. With cold hands knead the dough while crushing the butter slices. Knead it briefly, but long enough for the dough to come together. Wrap it in a transparent foil and store in the fridge for at least an hour. If possible leave the dough for longer, even overnight.
  3. After the dough has cooled sufficiently, form the crescents with cold hands. Make sure the tips (horns or whatever you call them) aren’t too thin or they’ll burn quickly. This is a phase when it’s terribly important for the Shegrts (i. e. Apprentices) to be completely sober, because if you let them drink cooked wine or a similar hot beverage, the results may not turn out impeccable.
  4. Heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius and bake for 8-10 minutes. Order one Shegrt to sit by the oven and watch that the crescents don’t get burned. It’s also essential that the Shegrt watching over the baking process is completely sober.
  5. When the crescents are done and while they’re still hot, roll them into the icing sugar one by one. It’s a delicate work but it’s the only way to make sure they won’t break (which may happen fairly easily), and it’s easier to roll them into the sugar this way.
  6. Decide in advance how many cookies you’ll sacrifice that night, store the rest in a dry box you have coated with greasy paper and put it on a highest cupboard, the most remote or the best hidden corner of your home.
  7. When you have finished, treat yourself to a cup of cooked wine, because your Advent has started. It doesn’t matter if you have already lit a few candles..

Words and Works: Darling&Shegrts

Translation: Ozren Podnar

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