The rain has stopped, but the sun is hiding.  The house is warm from baking.  There are cardinals in the garden.

The note that accompanies the recipe for Viennese Crescents says that when the recipe was first published in the New York Times, “one food authority wrote that it was, in her opinion, the greatest cookie recipe ever devised.”  I read this today, somehow for the first time, after having enjoyed these every Christmas since I was a kid.  I say to myself, “uh-huh,” and reach for my jar of vanilla beans.

They are toasted, nutty, fragrant, and really so perfect in their simplicity. The vanilla bean is macerated in the confectioners sugar that they roll in after baking.   They are rich, but delicate and crumbly.  The batter is more loose than short crust.  They are easy, once you get through forming the first dozen.  Although, I cant figure out how we used to make them without a food processor (which we never owned).  We must have chopped walnuts for eternity to get them fine enough.

Sometimes we learn the hard way to excercise patience when making Christmas cookies.  For example, my brother once made these with his big hands, and they were about twice the size as they should have been.  Which kind of ruined the whole “delicate” part, not to mention made them kind of tough instead of crisp and tender. (And not to mention, got him the wrath of my discerning mother, whose favorite cookie is pictured above.  I think we had to start over.)  It wouldn’t have been so bad, if he hadnt also chopped the celery too large in the Pennsylvania Dutch stuffing one Thanksgiving.  After this, he developed a reputation for this sort of thing.  (Sorry Cricket! I am entertaining my readers at your expense.  But we all know you are quite capable in the kitchen!)

These will dissapear fast, so you may have to make more than one batch.

Viennese Crescents

adapted from the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne, makes 6 dozen cookies

1/2 vanilla bean

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 cup walnuts

1/2 lb unsalted butter, chilled

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 1/2 cup all purpose flour (King Arthur)

1/4 tsp of salt

Chop the vanilla bean and then mash it in a tablespoon or two of the confectioners sugar in a small bowl.  You want to release the tiny vanilla seeds.  Add this back to the rest of the confectioners sugar.  Allow it to sit as long a possible to infuse flavor, overnight even.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Process the walnuts in the food processor until fine.  Add the butter, sugar, flour, and salt and process until the dough stands up on the sides of the bowl.  It will still be very crumbly, and will not come together or be as chunky as pie dough.

Dump the dough into a nice big bowl (my Nana’s porcelain bowl did the job) so you dont bump into the blade.

Use a tablespoon to keep the size consistent.  Put a spoonful of the crumbly dough into you favored hand and squeeze it so it clumps together.  Place it on the ungreased cookie sheet and press it into the shape of a crescent.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until light golden brown.  Allow to cool for 3-4 minutes, and then toss in the vanilla confectioners sugar.  If you try to do this too soon, the cookies will break, or too late, the sugar wont stick as nicely.  Tap off the excess sugar.  Save some for Santa.