It’s official: Walnuts have won me over. I was never a huge fan; at most I found them tolerable, if not mildly irritating. But as is the case with so many suspect ingredients, BAKED‘s recipes have changed my mind about the merit of walnuts. Past Baked Sunday Mornings recipes like Chocolate Velvet Walnut Fudge and Easy Candy Bar Tart, as well as these kinda-life-changing Walnut Shortbread Sandwich Cookies (a riff on Tout Sweet Pâtisserie’s WTF Cookies) have utterly transformed my previously uninspired view of the humble walnut. Particularly when toasted, it possesses a nice smokiness that pairs so well with chocolate and butter. When I first saw Mae’s Crescent Cookies in Baked Occasions, they did not elicit an especially enthusiastic reaction– okay, a powdered sugar-covered butter cookie in the “12 Days of Cookies” holiday section. We have to pepper all the holiday cookies into the baking schedule throughout the year, so why not? But after our last recipe, the labor-intensive (but super delicious) Mega Easter Pie, I was relieved to have an easier recipe this week. The thing is, these caught me completely off-guard. These cookies are made from a simple buttery cookie dough laced with chopped walnuts and vanilla… and I can’t get enough. They are lightly crisp, not overly sweet, and the butter/walnut/vanilla flavor trio filled my kitchen with a warm, intoxicating aroma.
Incidentally, the story behind them, as described in the book, is very charming. BAKED’s manager, Jordan Slocum (Hi, Jordan!) who is Jewish, grew up making these with a family friend for Christmas, with sibling powdered sugar fights among the festivities. As a Christmas-cookie-loving Jew myself, I can definitely appreciate the sentiment behind that. 🙂 However, it appears that many cultures the world over have a similar cookie, such as polvorones (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) and Russian Tea Cakes, most of which seem to include ground nuts (usually almonds or pecans) in the dough. Though Mae’s heritage is not named, the crescent-shaped iteration of these cookies can be found in China, Austria, and Italy, among other places.
The dough contains only 5 ingredients and is so easy to pull together. You cream cool (not cold) butter in a stand mixer, then add flour, sugar, chopped walnuts, and vanilla extract, and combine them to form a sturdy, speckled dough. Done. I made two tiny changes: I toasted the walnuts before chopping and used vanilla bean paste instead of extract because I like the vanilla seed flecks. (I might have been a lil’ touch heavy-handed with the vanilla…)
And this dough is a dream– it’s similar to a sugar cookie dough and is extremely easy to handle and shape. No sticking, no breaking, no chilling. You just scoop heaping tablespoons and roll them into short logs between the palms of your hands, then taper the ends and bend them into a crescent-moon shape. You then toss the crescents in confectioners’ sugar and bake. Mine took 27 minutes, during which they spread a bit and developed a crackled surface.
The first coating of confectioners’ sugar disappeared in the oven, and the second coating gets applied 5 minutes out of the oven, which got a bit melty and gummy, so I tossed the cooled cookies in a third coating, which stuck better.
The cookies melt in your mouth as soon as the powdered sugar hits the tongue; no wonder so many worldwide cultures celebrate holidays and special occasions with these– they are simple, delicious, and addictive.
The recipe for Mae’s Crescent Cookies lives at Baked Sunday Mornings, and I daresay they are just as tasty in April as they are in December! Take a peek at the other bakers’ half-moons while you’re there. 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.