This recipe of my grandmother's comes to me from my aunt, who fortunately has kept the recipe all these years. These were my Ujka (uncle) Sava's favorite cookies when he was a little boy.
Just to give an idea of the timelines involved here, my grandmother Ljubica (b. Stefanovich) Jankovic was born in 1888, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My mother was born in 1920, and her brother (my uncle), was born in 1923. So, want to talk about an heirloom recipe, this is it.
A few notes: my grandmother, who we called Baka, did not use an egg. However, these cookies are very fragile without one. When my aunt (my Ujna) would make these for my Ujka, she started adding an egg for strength. I made these for the first time this month, specifically to ship to my Ujka and family for Christmas, and I didn't want to take any chances with shipping a box of broken cookies, so I used the egg variant.
These hyper-vanilified cookies use a whopping two tablespoons of vanilla in a batch. Not only that, but they're dusted with vanilla sugar. Baka would place a vanilla bean in powdered sugar for a week or so in advance of making these cookies, and have a wonderfully perfumed sugar to dust with. If you don't want to incur the expense of a vanilla bean, you can pour a teaspoon or so of vanilla into a container and then place two cups of powdered sugar right on top, and wait a few days or weeks for a similar effect.
I didn't plan ahead, and I found myself making the cookies the day before I needed to ship them. Not enough time to make vanilla sugar! So I placed vanilla directly into the resealable container in which I was packing the cookies, and packed the cookies in powdered sugar. The result: I had a great insulator for my cookies that protected them from breakage, and by the time the cookies arrived by UPS ground, and then were opened a couple of days later, the powdered sugar had become vanilla sugar!
Serbian vanilla crescents
3 cups all-purpose flour
10 tablespoons sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups walnuts, finely ground (use food processor or coffee grinder)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 whole egg (optional – will make cookies less fragile)
vanilla powdered sugar to garnish (directions below, you need to make this vanilla sugar in advance)
Mix together all ingredients except egg and powdered sugar.
Add egg, if using, and mix in.
When ingredients are combined, form a small ball, a tablespoon or so and then shape the ball into a crescent. I found that the prettiest crescents are made like this: Shape a tablespoon of dough into a ball. Roll the ball back and forth between your palms until it forms a rope the width of your palms. Roll the rope with a few more back-and-forth motions. The ends of the rope will extend beyond your palms, but will be tapered. Shape this into a crescent, with the points nearly touching.
Place the crescents on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 350 until just barely browned, about 10 min.
Remove from oven. Place on cooling racks.
Meanwhile, prep a pan, like a lasagna pan, with the powdered vanilla sugar. While still warm but no longer hot, drop several crescents at a time into the sugar and roll them around, shaking the pan, until they're well coated.
Make the vanilla sugar several days ahead of time by pounding a vanilla bean into the powdered sugar with a mortar and pestle. Or, put vanilla extract at the bottom of a container of powdered sugar several days ahead of time. The vanilla flavor and aroma will infuse the powdered sugar.