Thursday, February 14, 2008


We had a bake-off at work today. Fifteen or so contestants brought in cookies, cupcakes, breads and such, and seven judges, also co-workers, sampled them all. Each wrote their two favorites on a slip of paper. The three entries that got the most votes were the winners. I didn't win, place or show, but I did get a lot of compliments! And I had a lot of fun.

I made vanilice, which I've blogged about before. Here's what I wrote in 2005.

Today (writing as quickly as I could during work time!) I updated what I wrote in that post, and made some corrections that I've learned of since. Below is what I printed and placed next to my platter of cookies.

Vanilice (va-NEE-leet-seh)
Serbian holiday cookies.

Tiny, elaborate cookies are a Serbian favorite around the winter holiday season, which, for Serbs in America, can stretch from the buildup to “American Christmas” on December 25 through Eastern Orthodox Christmas on January 7 and even Serbian New Year's on January 14! As a category, they’re called “sitni kolaci” (SEET-nee ko-LACH-ee), meaning tiny cakes.

These are based on my Grandaunt Naka's “vanil grancle” (VAH-neel GRAHNT-sleh). My cousin (her granddaughter) reminisced recently: “They were my favorite cookies growing up and haven't had them since she passed away five years ago. She used to make them up until the time she died, despite the fact that her hands were almost crippled from arthritis. I used to eat each one slowly and carefully thinking of her crippled fingers making them lovingly for us. She would make hundreds each year – they were among her specialties. I really think she was a master baker among Serbian women, who are really mostly master bakers.”

Naka and her daughter – my aunt – came to the US from a place called Kikinda in a region known as the Banat, an ancient term meaning “frontier.” The region is famous for is delicious apricots. My mother and her brother (my uncle) come from Ruma, a little town in Srem, which is renowned for its cherries. It’s in honor of these two branches of my own heritage that I make half my vanilice with cherry conserve, and half with the more traditional apricot jam.

Hardware note
You will need two sizes of cookie cutters to make the rounds and the windows in half of the rounds. Scrounge about the house for bottle tops that will yield pleasing results, as I did for years – or do yourself a favor and invest a few dollars in a set of round pastry cutters at a kitchen supply store or Web site, or a restaurant supply store. These will serve you well for the rest of your life!

1 1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla (2 for extra flavor)
2 cups all-purpose flour

Powdered sugar
Apricot jam, cherry jam, or other kind of jam

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Work in the flour. The result will be a soft, easily crumbled dough about the consistency of pie crust.

Roll out to about 1/8" thickness. (I use a ruler.) Use plenty of flour on the board, and sprinkle flour atop the dough so that the pin doesn’t stick. Cut the dough into rounds about 1 3/4" in diameter. Into half of the rounds, cut a hole of about 7/8 " in diameter. These will be the cookie tops. Keep re-rolling until all the dough is used. If the dough gets too sticky to work, refrigerate it for a while.

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 300° F for 10 minutes. They do not need to brown at all. Do not overbake. Let cool before handling. They are crumbly and fragile while still hot.

Spread about 1/4- to 1/2 tsp of jam on the solid rounds. Atop each round, place one of the rounds with a hole cut into it.

Dust each cookie with powdered sugar. To accomplish this, put about a three-inch deep layer of powdered sugar into a bowl or deep dish. Lightly drop each cookie into the sugar, first bottom down, then top down. Gently knock off any extra clumps of sugar.

I like to do the sugar dusting the day after the jam sandwiching. The cookie sandwiches are less likely to fall apart after the jam has had a chance to set up.

Don't worry about getting powdered sugar on the pretty jam centers. It'll be absorbed and invisible in the space of an hour.

Arrange on a platter. These are better at least a day later, when their flavor has had time to develop.

Yield: about 3 dozen cookies.


  1. Thanks Vesna. Now I can't stop fantasizing about these cookies. I can imagine how wonderful they are and I'm looking forward to making them myself the next time I get to baking!

  2. Hvala Vesna! I can't wait to make these.

  3. Molim, anonymous! Do let me know how they turn out.

    I have since learned that my aunt's mother used a thimble to poke the windows in the tops. It makes for a much smaller window. You might want to try it?

    In fact, I finally got the recipe from my aunt and cousin, and it's quite a bit different from my memory! So there's memory for you. I will be posting it after I have a chance to try them out. They're quite a bit more work, so it won't be terribly soon!