You missed me? I normally try to get all my festive baking done before Christmas day so that I can then relax and enjoy my bounty over the holidays. However this year was busy (plus I started late!) and I figured that it made sense to take a little break rather than rushing to complete everything by a self-imposed deadline. Was it the right thing to do? Of course! Less stress for me in the kitchen, and now I’m feeling a renewed sense of enthusiasm after my mini-hiatus.
So here is the final tranche of festive recipes. Today we have Kipferl. These are traditional shortbread cookies that appear across Germany, Austria and Hungary (plus other countries – borders and culinary traditions rarely match easily). They are shaped into crescents, baked and then, while still warm, coated in vanilla-flavoured icing sugar.
Kipferl are traditionally made with ground walnuts, but other flavours also work well. I’ve made these before with cardamom and pistachio, but this year I decided to add a twist by using a quintessentially Austrian ingredient – these cookies are Kürbiskernkipferl, or pumpkin seed crescents. Green pumpkin seeds are used in Austrian cooking and baking, sprinkled on breads and salads, and most famously, turned into oil.
Pumpkin oil is a speciality of the southern Austrian region of Styria. I’ve been on holiday there, and seen fields and fields of the things. I assumed they were grown for their flesh, but no – the prize is those seeds. They are pressed to extract their oil, which is deep green and has a delicious nutty flavour. Indeed, it is so valued that it is referred to as “green gold”.
I’ve also been warned by two separate Austrians that if you are travelling by plane with the stuff, you need to keep it in your hand luggage, and then open it mid-flight to release a build-up of pressure, otherwise the container with shatter and ensure that everything nearby is coated with a deep green oily stain that can never be removed.
Thankfully, you can also buy pumpkin oil it in delicatessens. And if you see it, buy it! It is wonderful in dips, and drizzled on salads, risotto or even ice cream.
You might be looking at the pictures and wondering whether these cookies really are that green? I thought the same thing. I assumed other bakers had added green food colouring to get the bright shade. This assumption appeared to be validated when I ground down some pumpkin seeds, as the mixture looked rather grey. Even when the dough the colour was still rather muted. But during baking, I was proved wrong. The colour appeared and I can only assume that the oil is released and that is what gives you this pretty shade of green.
One important thing to know when making this recipe is that the dough will seem quite dry. This is because I have added cornflour to help the cookie keep their shape and to give them a crumbly texture once baked. For this reason, when shaping the cookies you just need to form the dough into balls and then press them into a crescent shape with your fingers. The traditional way to do it is the roll the dough out between your hands and form a horseshoe shape, but this dough is too fragile for that. Just make sure you avoid adding any water to the dough – it will completely change the consistency and they won’t bake properly.
Once you have shaped, baked and witnessed the miraculous colour change, you need to finish your Kipferl. Traditionally this is by dipping them in vanilla-perfumed icing sugar. In fact, you want to dip them twice. The first time when they are warm, which means that the butter in the cookies mingles with some of the icing sugar to form a sweet coating. Once they are cool and you are ready to serve them, roll them again briefly so they look snowy-white and pristine. This is also a good way to disguise any cracked cookies, so if they come out of the oven and look less than perfect, icing sugar is going to cover it all up.
However, there is also an alternative. Show off that green colour by just dipping the ends into dark chocolate. They taste great, look pretty and have more than a passing resemblance to Swedish cakes that look like vacuum cleaners (really!).
To make Kürbiskernkipferl (makes around 20):
For the dough
• 60g pumpkin seeds
• 100g plain flour
• 25g cornflour
• 80g butter
• 50g white caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• generous pinch of salt
• 1 egg yolk
• icing sugar or dark chocolate
1. Put the pumpkin seeds into a food processor and grind to a fine powder. Mix with the flour and cornflour, and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth. Mix in the egg yolk, then fold in the flour/pumpkin seed mixture. Mix to form a dough. It should be firm and seem quite dry. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour in the fridge.
3. Preheat the oven to 175°C (345°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge. Divide into 20 pieces – each is around 15g – and roll briefly into a ball. Place on the baking sheet, then use your fingers to form into a crescent shape.
5. Bake the crescents for around 15 minutes until lightly golden (turn the tray around half-way to get an even colour and bake).
If coating in icing sugar…
6. Put icing sugar into a wide bowl.
7. Remove the cookies from the own. Allow to cool for a moment, then transfer a few of the hot cookies at into the icing sugar, ensuring each is completely covered. Remove when coated, then leave on a wire rack to cool completely. Keep going until all cookies are covered in sugar.
8. Re-dip the cookies in icing sugar just before serving.
If dipping in chocolate…
9. Let the cookies cool completely.
10. Melt and temper your chocolate (BBC Good Food will explain all).
11. Dip one end of a cookie in chocolate, allow the excess to drip off, then dip the other. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat until all cookies are done. Leave to set.