I sat down with Sandra Henderson, ZisBoomBah’s writer and editor, to discuss her winning Vanilla Crescents recipe (Vanillekipferl) from our first annual Staff Holiday Cookie Bake-Off. I ended up learning not only about the cookies, but a lot about Christmas traditions from Southern Germany, the joy of baking and the importance of family at holidays.
RM: Why did you choose this recipe for the holiday cookie contest?
SH: Vanillekipferl were my favorite Christmas cookies as a child—and I still love them today. My mom always makes them from scratch. Some years, she has tried to send me some in the mail from overseas, but they always arrive as a tin full of crumbs.
RM: Tell us a little about the recipe heritage—is it something your family used to enjoy while you were growing up?
SH: Yes. I grew up in a small, historic town, Dinkelsbühl, in Bavaria, Germany. As is tradition in Southern Germany, my mom had a set of special cookie recipes (maybe a dozen different ones) she only baked at Christmastime. Vanillekipferl was one of these special recipes.
In the days leading up to Christmas, we made a batch of each of the recipes. My sister and I got to help make the cookies, but only if one broke did we get to try the cookies. Of course, we always made sure one broke. Then all the cookies were put in old-fashioned cookie tins that were handed down in my family. The tins were stored away in my parents’ bedroom where it was cool.
In Germany, the highlight of Christmas is Christmas Eve, not Christmas morning. It is very secretive. The tree is not decked or put up until that day, and the children are not allowed to see it until it is time for the big Bescherung (the gift giving), which happens after dinner on Christmas Eve.
Each year on December 24, my parents would lock us out of the living room for the day so they could trim the tree, put the presents under it and so on. Of course, our old-fashioned house in the center of an over 1,000-year-old town had a distinct living room you can lock, not an open floor plan like modern homes here. So after a simple, traditional dinner of brats and sauerkraut, we waited in anticipation while Papa (my father) put final touches on the festive living room. He lit the candles on the tree (real candles!), put on classical Christmas music and then he rang a special bell, a porcelain angel. This was our sign that we were finally allowed to enter the candlelit living room and see the tree with the presents under it.
And there they were, on the living room table—the special Christmas cookies we had helped Mama bake days before but weren’t allowed to touch or taste since then, beautifully arranged on special holiday platters. And out of the variety of cookies, guess which one I always ate first? Vanillekipferl.
RM: What do you think about this recipe makes it so appealing to kids?
The recipe is very simple, with only a few ingredients and without any “weird” holiday flavors (like anise or ginger etc.); they simply taste sweet and vanilla-y, a flavor children are very familiar with. And, hey, did you see them? They are rolled in vanilla-flavored confectioner’s sugar—what’s not to love?
RM: How would you recommend our readers enjoy this treat?
SH: Vanillekipferl are best enjoyed with tea or hot cocoa around the Christmas tree or after the children come in from sledding or ice skating with their frozen noses.
See Sandra’s winning recipe, and be sure to check out all the ZisBoomBah staff family favorite holiday cookie recipes!