Sunday, December 21, 2008

Grandaunt Naka's Vanil Grancle

In the past, I've blogged about these exquisite little jam-filled Serbian sandwich cookies that are a family heirloom. See:

Those posts told the story of my attempt to recreate, from memory, my Grandaunt Naka's Vanil Grancle (VAH-neel GRAHNT-sleh).

Today I share the exciting news that I managed to get the original recipe! My grandaunt had written down her recipe.

In Western genealogical terms, I guess she's not really a grandaunt to me, as that refers to the aunt of one's parents. But it's the only term that seems to make sense. Yulia (b. Joanovic) Pecic, whom we all called Naka, was my aunt's mother. More specifically, she was the mother of the wife of the brother of my mother. The mother of my mother's sister-in-law. Get it?

Born in 1913, Naka was from Kikinda, a municipality in what's today the Serbian Banat, part of a larger historical and geographical region known as the Banat, which happens to be extraordinarily well suited for the cultivation of apricots.

The Banat overall straddles three nations, as the borders are drawn today: Serbia, Romania and Hungary. The word can be loosely translated as "province," and whereas once there were lots of banats within the Austro-Hungarian empire and within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, this is the area that's meant when you just say "Banat" or "The Banat." It's more or less identical to a region called "The Banat of Temeswar" that was circumscribed by an 18th century treaty between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, by which the area was within the Kingdom of Hungary but controlled by the Ottomans. Or something like that.

Kikinda is also in the Voivodina, a word that means a sort of duchy (a "voivod" would be a duke), which has historically been an autonomous region relative to the succession of empires, kingdoms and nation-states that have surrounded it. Or something like that. The Voivodina encompasses at least the Serbian part of the Banat, as near as I can figure.

But don't take my word for all this. Poke around on Wikipedia and the many other sources available on the Net and in print, and if you can figure it out better, let me know. I'm no expert. (And by the way, the experts disagree.)

At any rate, when Naka's mother was born, in 1870, Kikinda was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

These cookies represent the intersection of the horticultural tradition of apricot growing in the Banat with the sophistication of Austro-Hungarian cuisine, especially its culinary tradition of baked sweets.

* * *

Earlier this month, I tried out the recipe and sent a batch of grancle east to Baltimore, where my cousins and my uncle and aunt sampled them just this weekend. They report success! The recipe yields a cookie that's true to the original.

The only thing yet to work on, though, is the thickness of the cookie. The pictures you see show a cookie about twice as high as the original. The instructions below will yield cookies that are thinner and have a more favorable jam-to-cookie ratio than the ones in the photo. Also they'll be less of a Dagwood experience to get your teeth around.

Over the decades, I had misremembered the name of Vanil Grancle as Vanilice (vah-NEEL-eet-she). Vanilice, or vanilitse, it turns out, is a different Serbian cookie altogether. In fact, my uncle Sava's favorite cookie from his boyhood was my grandmother's Vanilice. Fortunately, I was able to get the recipe for that from my aunt, via my cousin. I'll give that in a different post

Here's my cousin in early 2008, comparing the photo and description of my 2006 cookies to Naka's grancle.

your vanilice look just like my grandmother naka's granzle (grantsle) except her top round circle cut out was smaller. they were my favorite cookies growing up and haven't had them since she passed away 5 years ago. she used to make them up until the time she died, despite the fact that her hands were almost crippled from arthitis and i used to eat each one slowly and carefully thinking of her crippled fingers making them lovingly for us.

mama never did make these herself, again the apricot jam connection to naka's recipes, wonder if they are austro-hungarian influenced because banat was occupied by austro-hungarian empire.

baka's recipe that mama recalls is the crescent. i just realized that if you remember a friend of our family saying they baked hundreds of these and froze them each year those are definitely my naka's recipe!!!!! she would make hundreds each year, they were among her specialities and i think i mentioned i really think she was a master baker among serbian women who are really mostly master bakers.

i've been to many slavas where people serve "sitni kolaci" that can't compare to these cookies.

Vanil Grancle
Yield: about 60 sandwich cookies

200 grams (1 cup minus one teaspoon) sugar
200 grams (1 stick + 6 tablespoons) butter at room temperature
1 whole egg + 3 separated eggs
1 tablespooon lemon rind, grated and minced
400 grams (2 1/3 cups) flour
1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
* * *
powdered sugar
about 2 cups walnuts, chopped into small bits
about 1/2 cup apricot jam

Forming the cookies

* Mix whole egg and three yolks with sugar.
* Mix in butter, sour cream and lemon rind.
* Add flour and mix to make a soft dough. If exceedingly soft and sticky, add a bit more flour.
* Shape dough into two logs. Wrap in parchment paper or plastic cling wrap and chill. Slice into 1/8" rounds.
* Alternately, shape dough into two or three disks that are 1/8" thick. Chill several hours on a platter, separating the layers with parchment paper or clear clingfoil so they don't get stuck together. Punch out with a cookie cutter into 1.5" rounds.
* Using a thimble, cut a hole into the center of half of the disks. If you don't have a thimble, use any cylinder into which your middle finger will just fit. I used a bit of copper piping.
* Re-roll any dough scraps left over and repeat as necessary until you've made all the dough into bottoms (solid rounds) and tops (rounds with holes).


* Bake cookie bottoms at 300 F. They should be pale when done, with just the lightest browning on the bottoms.
* Paint tops cookie tops with egg white. I did this by putting the egg white in a tray, and then placing all the tops in the tray.
* Sprinkle cookie tops with powdered sugar.
* Sprinkle cookie tops with walnuts.
* Bake cookie tops at 300 F. Like the bottoms, they'll be pale when they're done, just barely browned underneath.

Unfortunately, I didn't write down the baking times when I did this. Next time, I'll take notes and add it to this post. All I can say for now is, start checking your oven at 10 minutes. Go by sight and by the aroma of baking. When done, they will have puffed up a little. Like most baked cookies, they will feel a little underdone when they are perfectly done -- they continue to bake and dry out after you pull them from the oven -- but they'll have a light brown cast underneath, where they rest against the baking sheet.

I think the bottoms took 20 minutes and the tops 25.


Let cool. Place about 1/4 teaspoon apricot jam on each cookie bottom. Top with the cookie top. Press and twist together just enough to distribute the jam evenly to the edge of the cookies. These will be squishy and slidey at first, but the jam will set up after a few hours and the sandwich construction will be sturdy.

Here's a tip I got from Cook's Illustrated: give your jam a quick whiz in the food processor. This will break up the big chunks of apricot and distribute the fruit more evenly throughout the jam, making it much easier to sandwich the cookies.

Now here's the original text of the recipe that my cousin sent me. Note that the non-metric amounts are different from those given above. I re-translated the metric into non-metric, and used what I came up with, rather than the non-metric amounts below. Also, instead of an entire lemon's zest, I used a tablespoon, after checking with my aunt that indeed this made sense. These are not exceedingly lemony cookies.

here is the granzle recipe. the ingredients are straight from naka's recipe as are the instructions on how to assemble the cookies but the directions on mixing ingredients come from my mother and me trying to make sense from how the ingredients would go together.

apparently naka never wrote down how she makes the cookie dough and mama never witnessed it or made the granzle herself. so here goes:

20 dkg (1 cup) sugar
20 dkg (1 cup) sweet butter (unsalted) 1 1/2 sticks
1 whole egg plus 3 eggs separated (small eggs would probably be most accurate)
lemon rind to taste (mama thinks about 1 whole medium lemon)
40 dkg flour (2 cups)
1 heaping tblspoon of sour cream
powdered sugar
chopped walnuts (small pieces)
apricot jam (sorry, no info on quantity for these last 3 items, we'll have to experiment)

combine 1 whole egg and 3 egg yolks and sugar. add softened butter and add sour cream and rind, combine.

add flour and if too soft, add some more. (i'm not kidding, that's what it says)

note --naka used to roll the dough out and cut out the shapes but mama says she does know that naka changed that technique because the dough was always so sticky. i think her solution sounds brilliant.---
form the dough into a long roll like a salami, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until hard. (no info on how long) dough should be like sugar cookie dough you buy at the grocery store---slice and bake---similar shape and thickness.

then, remove wrap and slice the dough into 60 disks. cut 30 of the disks with a hole in the center (these will be the tops) using a thimble. (mama fortunately remembers naka using a thimble, i thought i remembered the hole was pretty small, i love this kind of historic detail and thanks to you, i bothered to get it from mama finally!!!!)

bake the bottom 30 disks at 300 degrees until done (again, no details sorry) and cookies should be pale, not browned.

take the 3 egg whites, whisk with a fork and then paint tops (the disks with thimble hole)with egg whites. dip the tops into powdered sugar and chopped (small pieces) walnuts. then bake at 300 until done, again pale and not browned.

when cookies have cooled, assemble as sandwich cookies using apricot (we always had only apricot but of course any jam will do) jam.

my editorial comment is that i would sprinkle the cookies with powdered sugar and walnut pieces but you might want to dip.


  1. Vesna, thank you for your Serbian recipes. I found your blog while googling for Vanilice. I remember making a similar cooking with my Baba when I was a child, and they were exceedingly small, but she dipped both ends into the egg white and chopped nuts and would lay the cookies on their sides to serve. They were really not more than a mouthful. Do you think this is the same cookie?

    My Baba also made an extremely hard bar cookie that she baked in a rectangular pan and then cut after baking. They were so hard, she had to lean heavily on the knife to get through them. I recall they had a lot of dried fig in them, but I don't remember much else. Do you have a memory of such a cookie?

    Again, thanks for posting these recipes. I don't want to lose the Serbian cookie tradition.

  2. Paula, thanks for posting! I recently learned that "granzle" is German for "wreaths," so it would seem that the ring appearance of the cookie is critical to its identity. But maybe it's related.

    When was your Baba born? What part was she from, do you know? My aunt's family is from Kikinda in The Banat, which is famous for its apricots. I think this recipe is from there.

    The first cookie you describe, what shape was it? I'll ask my aunt about them and see if they seem familiar to her.

    I have some more family Serbian cookie recipes that I got last year that I will be posting. I hope to post them in time for Serbian Christmas coming up soon!

  3. My Baba was from near Belgrade. On my mother's side, we are Licani and Bosanski. My heart is broken to think that my mother's family are no longer in their villages!

    This cookie was two tiny round cookies with a thin layer of apricot jam between them, and both flat sides dipped into egg white and chopped walnut. I wish I had a picture. My aunt has her recipes, but is somewhat reclusive, so I don't know my chances of getting copies. It may be that the cookie you have here is the same recipe, but a different shape from the one I remember.

    I will try your recipes that you have here for my Slava January 20th, Sveti Jovan. Do they freeze well?

  4. Paula, yes, there is tragedy aplenty. My father was from Lika and my mother from Srem, near Belgrade but on the other side of the Danube, so overall almost the mirror of your description.

    Your cookie does sound similar, just without the hole on one side, and with both sides nut-covered. I really wonder how similar the doughs are. Thanks for the additional info, I'll ask my aunt if she has any thoughts on it. Maybe you can give it a try, getting the recipes from your aunt to share with the world, it would be so wonderful.

    The Vanil Grancle definitely freeze well. Naka would make and freeze hundreds every year and they were always fantastic. I think she made them months ahead of time. The vanilice in my Baka's recipe have frozen well for me this year. The other vanilice/vanil grancle, the ones I made up from memory and posted about earlier, I imagine would freeze well, but I haven't tried.

  5. My aunt wrote to say that she believes your Baba's cookies are the same as her mother's. I've incorporated some of the other info she sent into the background portion of my post above. No word on the fig bars yet, though.