Walnut Crescents : Vanilla and Cinnamon

“Did you buy stock in a walnut farm?” asked my husband when I returned home from the market with a bag full of tawny colored nuts. I simply couldn’t resist them. The flavor is creamy and sweet, with hints of maple syrup and spice. What better way to finish a meal than with a glass of port, a handful of walnuts and a slice of blue-veined cheese?

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But the other evening, as my grandmother told me about her 40 pound walnut harvest, I was inspired to browse through my family recipe books for something Ukrainian themed. My grandmother’s walnut and honey torte and rich walnut roll are delectable, but they are desserts for times when you have a whole evening to devote to cooking. By contrast, I had just finished my work day and was too exhausted to tackle a complicated project. So, I settled on a recipe for walnut crescents that I knew by heart.

The inspiration for these cinnamon and vanilla perfumed crescents comes from Ukrainian Practical Cuisine (“Українська практична кухня”), a collection of recipes published in 1929 and reprinted by the Panorama publishing house in 2006. Compiled by Olga Franko, the book features dishes prepared in her household and those of her friends. Franko lived in Galicia, a region bordering Poland, and for a period of time until 1918, a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Today, it comprises western Ukraine, with cities like Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk as the regional centers.

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When you flip through Franko’s book, the melting pot of Galicia becomes instantly obvious. There are recipes for Italian pastas, French ragouts, Austrian cakes and Polish dumplings, but the majority of dishes are traditional Ukrainian. Unlike the stodgy cuisine of the Soviet brand, these recipes are sophisticated and nuanced. Vanilla, saffron and fragrant geranium leaves are used to scent desserts, while savory dishes are accented with allspice, chervil, lemon zest, and of course, dill, a beloved Ukrainian herb.

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The recipe that ultimately became my walnut crescents originally called for hazelnuts, and as Pani Olga commented, it came “from Pani Lilikova of Nadvirna.” I thank both ladies for this crumbly, aromatic cookie. I’ve made it with different nuts in the past, but walnuts give me the familiar flavor of my grandmother’s pastries, so that’s my favorite choice. While Pani Olga calls for jam, I selected the luscious nutty filling for a true walnut delight. To highlight their natural spicy-sweet nuances, I paired walnuts with a touch of cinnamon and vanilla.

The dough needs only a brief rest before you’re ready to roll, fill and shape the crescents. Put them in the oven, brew a pot of tea and 10 minutes later you can sit down in front of a snow covered window with a steaming cup and a plate of cookies. This is what makes winter more bearable.

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Ukrainian Walnut Crescents

You can substitute other nuts such as hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, and pecans. If you use hazelnuts and almonds, I recommend toasting them in the oven to pale gold. This will bring out the flavor, and in the case of hazelnuts, help you remove some of the tough skin. Instead of a nutty filling, you can use any thick jam. Apricot is particularly nice with walnuts.

Makes 40 small crescents

Dough:

300 g (2 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
100 g (7 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
100 g (1 cup) ground walnuts
80 g (1/3 cup + 1 teaspoon) granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
3-6 Tablespoons of milk or water, enough to make medium-soft dough.

vanilla flavored confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.

Mix ground nuts with flour and salt. Cream butter with sugar with a fork, and add the flour mixture. Rub butter into the flour with your fingertips till the dough looks crumbly. Add the egg yolks and enough water or milk till the dough comes together. It will be soft and pliable, but not sticky. Be sure not to overmix. As soon as the dough comes together, form it into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge, while you prepare the filling. You can also make the dough in the morning and bake cookies in the evening.

Divide dough into four pieces. Roll each between two pieces of waxed paper to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut each round into 8-10 triangles, fill them with about 1 teaspoon of filling and roll up, starting from the wide edge.

Place crescents 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake until barely golden, about 10-12 minutes. Coat liberally with vanilla sugar while warm.

Filling:

100g (1 cup) ground walnuts
75g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix walnuts with sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Whip egg white to soft peaks and fold into the walnut mixture. The filling should be thick but soft.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Extra: Fragrant Holiday Baking

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83 Comments

  • rosarita: These sound delicious! I’m a big fan of walnuts especially as you said, nibbled with cheese but also in desserts. We have lots of black walnut trees in the Midwest and I love their flavor but they are so hard to shell – I had an uncle who would give me a small jar that he had painstakingly cleaned and shelled every year, truly a labor of love! December 4, 2014 at 7:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Your uncle is amazing! I once bought a bag of black walnuts from a farm in New Jersey and it was such a pain to crack them. The flavor is incredible, though. December 4, 2014 at 8:37am Reply

  • Sofie: It sounds (and looks!) an absolute delight!
    As it so happens, I’m baking at this very moment, speculaas and brownies for a small gathering with friends, on the 6th. As I was putting the walnuts in the brownies I was thinking about how careful you have to be with nuts these days. And baking in general… But this household loves it’s nuts and it’s sweets so I will definitely give it a go soon! Thank you for the background too, it makes these posts even more enjoyable I find. December 4, 2014 at 7:19am Reply

    • Victoria: I bought a big bag of fresh peanuts the other day, and I was thinking that too. You can’t offer them to people without asking in advance about their allergies, etc. And not to mention baking. Even in France, I encounter more and more people who don’t eat gluten, sugar and fats. Gluten-free baguettes are not unheard of.

      I really love pastries and baking, though. When I was growing up, desserts were an occasional treat, but it makes the memories of my grandmother’s baking even more special. December 4, 2014 at 8:42am Reply

  • Therése: They sound so yummy, I will have to try and make these one of these days. December 4, 2014 at 8:05am Reply

    • Victoria: They’re quite easy to make, and as you can see from my photos, I didn’t aim for some crescent perfection. If some filling comes out and get a bit caramelized, even better! Those dark, chewy bits are so delicious. December 4, 2014 at 8:43am Reply

  • rainboweyes: This will be my weekend project! Sounds really delicious, this recipe. And seems quite easy to make. My mother comes from the Lviv area, by the way, and my grandparents were born as citizens of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
    Pani Olga sounds rather Polish to me, though… December 4, 2014 at 8:15am Reply

    • Victoria: I have never been to Lviv, and I hope to go next year with a friend. Whenever I visit my grandmother, I never feel like making long journeys away from her, but at the same time, I’d love to see more of the country.

      Pani is an honorific title, which means Lady in Ukrainian. It’s used in the same way in Polish too as well as a couple of other Slavic languages. December 4, 2014 at 8:47am Reply

      • rainboweyes: I baked this walnut tart using a traditional Swiss recipe some time ago. The chopped walnuts are caramelised with cream, sugar and honey here. It’s another very delicious (and simple) cake:
        http://www.essen-und-trinken.de/rezept/260290/engadiner-nusstorte.html December 4, 2014 at 2:54pm Reply

        • Victoria: I have this recipe bookmarked! Thank you. December 4, 2014 at 4:07pm Reply

      • AndreaR: Ahhhh, elegant Lviv with it’s wonderful culture of coffee houses. December 4, 2014 at 3:40pm Reply

        • Victoria: Coffee houses and cakes! As my grandmother says, “those Galician ladies sure know how to bake!” December 4, 2014 at 4:12pm Reply

          • AndreaR: Too cute. Both my Galician babas were great cooks and bakers. The baking gene didn’t come my way, but I’m going to try my hand at these walnut crescents and hope for a “Tah Dah”. December 4, 2014 at 5:29pm Reply

            • Victoria: Good luck! 🙂 I hope that you will like them. December 5, 2014 at 7:16am Reply

  • Kat: This reminds me of the Hungarian chcolate walnut rolls my Austrian grandmother used to make – she had brought many Austrian and Hungarian recipes in our family as she had worked in Budapest during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was a fantastic cook. The recipe is still in our family but sadly I have to stay away from nuts. December 4, 2014 at 8:24am Reply

    • Victoria: I would love your recipe for chocolate walnut rolls, Kat. If you’re ok to share, of course! The combination sounds delicious. Your family history must be fascinating. December 4, 2014 at 8:50am Reply

      • Kat: I had to ask my sister for a copy but it’ll need some translating first. December 4, 2014 at 1:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: You don’t have to translate it, if it’s a hassle. I will manage! Thank you very much. December 4, 2014 at 3:34pm Reply

  • Karen: Yum yum yum!! Can I put in a request for your grandmother’s walnut honey torte recipe? I love baking and have been trying different torte recipes lately, but just the name sounds so delicious! December 4, 2014 at 8:42am Reply

    • Victoria: I was going to bake it for Christmas, so when I do, I will take photos and write down measurements. It’s very good, but it takes a bit of time, since you have to bake 6-8 layers and then fill them. She calls it a Royal Torte. December 4, 2014 at 8:52am Reply

      • Karen: Sounds wonderful! A great treat – thank you in advance! December 4, 2014 at 5:27pm Reply

  • Ines: Yummy! Thank you for the recipe. 🙂 December 4, 2014 at 9:08am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome, Ines! December 4, 2014 at 11:18am Reply

  • Julie: Victoria- Thank you for the lovely review & photos of these crescents! I am grateful especially for the recipe you included…I enjoy baking. After I walk my dogs this looks like a good idea. 🙂 Have a great day & thank you again. December 4, 2014 at 9:48am Reply

    • Victoria: Please let me know how it turns out! 🙂 December 4, 2014 at 11:18am Reply

      • Julie: Yes I will. Funny thing happened, I was looking through an old “Joy of Cooking” last night, thinking about trying something new 🙂 Thank you again… December 4, 2014 at 1:07pm Reply

        • Victoria: I love just to curl up with a favorite cookbook and imagine what I would make and what the rest of the menu would be. 🙂 December 4, 2014 at 3:42pm Reply

  • zari: Oh goodness, Victoria! These look so good and my weekend goal is to make them. A side note- if you can find walnuts still in their green soft outer shell, please try them! In Afghanistan, such walnuts are shelled and eaten with warm bread and sweet hot tea in the morning for breakfast and the taste is just so simple and so delicious. xo December 4, 2014 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Yum! That sounds so good. I think I might have to wait till next year to try this combination, but I definitely will. When I used to visit my father, we always got bread from an Afghani bakery for breakfast. Spread with butter and topped with jam (especially the jam of figs in thick syrup, also from the same shop), it was such a treat. December 4, 2014 at 11:20am Reply

    • Claire: I remember eating fresh walnuts like that in Iran. They were a pale white/green, fresh, and tender. We bought them at the small local outdoor bazar or market and they were kept in a fresh brine but were not pickled or sour.
      They were a real delicacy.

      But I love walnuts in all forms! December 4, 2014 at 3:24pm Reply

      • zari: Claire, yes! except in Afg. the nuts are eaten fresh only when they first come in season and not kept in brine, then people begin drying them to use for rest of the year. In the spring, for NowRoz (new year), we soak them in water with almonds, raisins, pistachios, etc. creating a syrupy liquid/nut concoction.TMI probably. Anyway, we are major dried nuts and fruits eaters. 🙂 December 4, 2014 at 10:39pm Reply

        • Victoria: This concoction sounds delicious and makes me think of khoshaf. How would you eat it? On its own or with something else? December 5, 2014 at 7:21am Reply

          • zari: It’s called haft meywa (seven fruits literally) and the syrupy-ness is a result of the raisins rehydrating and releasing their sweetness into the water. Families will usually make a batch for the NowRoz holiday season kept on the counter in a large container or maybe fridge I guess. You just go help yourself, or share it together, or when a guest comes over by ladling some into a bowl and eating it with a spoon. 🙂 You should make some this coming NowRoz Victoria! December 5, 2014 at 12:08pm Reply

            • Victoria: I will make it sooner. It sounds too good to wait for next spring. Online, I found that walnuts, almonds, pistachios, red and green raisins, dried apricots, and red dates are used to make it. Is that what you used in your recipe? December 6, 2014 at 8:07am Reply

  • limegreen: Not a baker, even if it’s “easy” — but wonderful visuals and thanks for sharing the backstory! (stomach starting to grumble) December 4, 2014 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: They’re not identical, but rugelach is another pastry with walnuts I like. Have you tried it? December 4, 2014 at 11:21am Reply

      • limegreen: Oh, yes, rugelach is wonderful (not as flaky I think). I don’t do much sugar anymore but walnuts are so healthy that I make things savory. I make a walnut dip (I call it paté when serving it to guests 🙂 ) by soaking it overnight and then blending it with celery, onion and whatever herbs I have on hand (tarragon is yummy, as is basil or cilantro or dill). A dash of ume vinegar really brings it together.
        I imagine you must have savory recipes for walnuts in Ukrainian cuisine? December 4, 2014 at 1:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: My grandmother makes a salad with baked beets, walnuts and dried plums, all dressed with lemon juice, garlic and sunflower oil. Or she makes savory pies with chicken and walnut filling, but it’s more of her own interpretation, rather than anything traditional.

          Your walnut pate sound great, especially with the addition of ume vinegar. December 4, 2014 at 3:37pm Reply

          • limegreen: Roasted beets and walnuts! I’m going to try that combo, thanks so much!
            Ume vinegar makes everything better — I’m afraid that the ume plum note is what I love in Plum Japonais, smoky and tart. 🙂 December 4, 2014 at 4:29pm Reply

            • Victoria: And I was just thinking that you can add ume vinegar instead of lemon juice to make my grandmother’s beet salad. That would complement the plums and beets perfectly. December 4, 2014 at 4:34pm Reply

      • zari: If you have a good rugelach recipe please share! My family is obsessed with rugelach but we’ve never made it at home; we get it only from a bakery. December 4, 2014 at 10:41pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also only bought the store-made ones. I mentioned it since it’s so popular in the US. I remember trying it for the first time when I came to Chicago and loving the combination of nuts, jam and raisins. December 5, 2014 at 3:35am Reply

          • Victoria: Here is a recipe I bookmarked:
            http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6649570

            Dorie Greenspan’s recipes never failed me. Except when I try it, I’ll add walnuts and raisins to the filling. December 5, 2014 at 7:45am Reply

            • zari: Nice, thank you! Best rughlach I’ve ever had comes from a Jewish bakery in Long Island – no idea which bc a friend has brought it twice for me. I will try this recipe. December 5, 2014 at 12:09pm Reply

              • Victoria: I miss these kinds of Jewish specialties here, so one of these days I will have to try making it myself. December 6, 2014 at 8:08am Reply

  • Bela: I adore walnuts (all nuts, actually), but can’t have any. I suffer from IBS: they mean ‘death’ to me, or something equally unpleasant. 🙁

    *moving away from this page* December 4, 2014 at 10:43am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, this must be very hard! But yes, with IBS, nuts are completely out of the question. So sorry to hear this. December 4, 2014 at 11:23am Reply

  • Fogdew: This is beautiful, thank you December 4, 2014 at 10:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you liked the post! 🙂 December 4, 2014 at 11:24am Reply

  • Annette Reynolds: Gorgeous, mouth-watering photos. Beautiful prose. You’ve done it again, Victoria.

    I’m not a very good baker. Okay, that may be an understatement. I’m a really lousy baker. (There. I said it.) But I would love to try making these some day.

    Right now the only thing I’ve mastered is “Empire Biscuits” (an English filled cooked that I find absolutely irresistible) and I’m gearing up to make them as soon as I’m done with this cold that Michael thoughtfully gave to me. 😉

    Thank you for the beautiful post today! December 4, 2014 at 11:48am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Annette! I love digging through the old recipe books for inspiration, and invariably you find something interesting.

      What are Empire Biscuits? 🙂 December 4, 2014 at 12:58pm Reply

  • Tatiana: Thank you!! This recipe brought back a flood of memories from my childhood. I can remember making cookies very similar to these during the holidays with my mother and grandmother. I suppose it’s because my grandmother emigrated from eastern Poland. I think I need to make the time to dig out my recipe and make the cookies with my daughter. December 4, 2014 at 12:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: Baking with your daughter sounds like a fun activity. I bake year around, but winter evenings especially inspire me. Plus, it’s a chance to warm up the apartment. 🙂 December 4, 2014 at 1:03pm Reply

  • Fogdew: Victoria what didi you think of the YSL Black Opium? Didnt get a chance to find it nearby, is it any good? December 4, 2014 at 12:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: If you like fruity gourmands, it’s quite good. It’s has a very nice peachy top note and the rest is a trendy woody gourmand. A bit too sweet, maybe, so definitely try it on skin first. December 4, 2014 at 12:59pm Reply

      • Fogdew: Thanks! December 4, 2014 at 6:58pm Reply

  • Mel: I can’t wait to make these! But substituting pecans for walnuts. My mother sends me pecans from Georgia every year which she buys from the church lady up the street. Georgia is known for its pecans – not to mention they are significantly less expensive there. Would you recommend toasting the pecans before using in the recipe? Thanks!!! December 4, 2014 at 1:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t think that it’s necessary to toast pecans. I’d use them the same way as walnuts, raw. And lucky you to get them from your mom. I usually ask mine to bring a big bag when she visits, because the ones sold in Brussels are the imported American ones anyway. December 4, 2014 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Joy: Victoria,

    Beautiful, neutral toned photos! Gorgeous in their simplicity. They remind me of photos in an old, pastry cook book that I have stashed somewhere.

    I have walnuts on my oatmeal every morning. They are such a healthful staple.

    Thank you. December 4, 2014 at 1:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Joy! It’s hard to do anything but neutral in the murky light we have been having lately. 🙂

      I usually have a handful of walnuts and some dried apricots first thing in the morning, while I make the proper breakfast. Simple and very good. December 4, 2014 at 4:02pm Reply

  • Christina: OMG these look DIVINE! Thank you so much for providing us your special recipe! I think I may need to give these a try for the upcoming holiday season. Silly question as I not much of a baker (into cooking dishes more). Can I get away with hand-beating the mix, or do I need to use a proper electric mixer? December 4, 2014 at 2:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: You don’t need a mixer to make this dough. The only implement you need is something to grind walnuts. But for the dough itself, it’s best to use your hands and work very quickly. You don’t want to overwork this dough, or it will get tough. If the amount of liquid I provided is not enough, add a little more. Different flours absorb different amount of liquid, so you might have to adjust that.

      And to whip the egg white, a fork or a whisk would suffice. December 4, 2014 at 4:04pm Reply

  • Andy: I have not gotten a chance to do any Christmastime baking yet, but this post has me primed and ready to go. I’m especially tempted to try this recipe using hazelnuts as originally suggested in the cookbook, just because I love the flavor so. We too have lots of native black walnut trees where I live though–if they weren’t so darned impossible to crack open, I’d have pounds and pounds of them for free! December 4, 2014 at 2:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also haven’t baked as much this season yet, because I’ve been too busy, but I love to have a small selection of different treats when people drop by during holidays.

      Hazelnuts would be great, and pistachios make a beautiful looking cookie! December 4, 2014 at 4:06pm Reply

  • Aurora: I am so impressed: baking in the evening! On a week day! What a lovely recipe with its familial and cultural background story and the photos are per usual such a treat.

    I am usually a little shy of something involving dough but I am reassured by your clear indications and the fact that it can be used after 30m. December 4, 2014 at 3:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s not a difficult recipe. I suppose that you can also roll out the dough into a rectangle, fill it, roll it up and cut the log into small pieces. This could be even easier. I just like the crescent shape.

      The dough becomes easier to work once it relaxes a bit, but in this case, 30 minutes would be plenty. December 4, 2014 at 4:11pm Reply

  • Claire: Victoria, thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe and other walnut inspirations! December 4, 2014 at 3:25pm Reply

  • Chilloften: Yum! I have been thinking about these all day. I’m back to see if I have the ingredients, haha. I don’t need the carbs but I need some baking in my life and I love nutty doughy the best. December 4, 2014 at 5:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also love pastries with nuts the best, and here on the blog, there are already several variations of various nutty cookies. I find them irresistible. December 5, 2014 at 7:17am Reply

  • Austenfan: I must have stock in tea plantations then! Another of your great recipes. You know, I sometimes avoid reading them fearing that they will make me too hungry 🙂 December 5, 2014 at 11:04am Reply

    • Victoria: Stock in tea plantations would be great idea, given how much tea I drink. 🙂 December 5, 2014 at 11:38am Reply

      • Victoria: P.S. Thank you! 🙂 December 5, 2014 at 11:39am Reply

  • Elena: I meant to say “as good as they look”. December 6, 2014 at 9:55am Reply

    • Elena: Sorry for being cryptic, but something has happened to my previous comment, the one I was trying to correct above. Let me try again.

      I’ve made these yesterday and they taste as good as your pictures of them look.

      I very much enjoyed the post and the discussion too – so many little tasty things I would have otherwise never known. December 6, 2014 at 10:01am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you so much for letting me know, Elena! I’m very happy that you liked them and the baking turned out so successful. They also last well, or so Pani Olga says. But I wouldn’t know, because in my house they disappear within a couple of days. 🙂 December 7, 2014 at 12:43pm Reply

        • Elena: The pleasure is all mine.

          I’ve also made your plum jam for the second time already. I have to agree your husband – it is the best plum jam I’ve ever tasted. Only I chickened out on adding the nutmeg.

          You have such a beatiful website. I have been reading it for years, but never dared to comment. So I was thrilled to get a reply 🙂 December 7, 2014 at 5:11pm Reply

          • Victoria: It’s always a pleasure to meet another perfume fiend, so I’m glad you commented.

            My grandmother is an expert jam maker, so I pick up all sorts of tips from her. Glad that you like the plum jam! You don’t have to add nutmeg, of course. Plums + vanilla on their own are luscious enough. December 8, 2014 at 8:07am Reply

  • Rose Pepper: Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe! I made these this weekend. They are delicious! I make gingerbread and sugar cookies every Christmas with friends, and I usually try a new cookie or two as well. These were the favorite this year. I used my food processor to mix the dough, since it was already out from grinding the walnuts. I will definitely make these again – I love the walnut filling, but apricot jam would also be amazing!! December 16, 2014 at 8:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Glad to hear that they turned out well! Yes, you can change the filling easily. The dough is not too sweet, so the jam or even chocolate filling would be good. Or even apricot jam mixed with ground walnuts (this will prevent it from leaking out, although I love those crisp, caramelized bits too). December 22, 2014 at 6:40am Reply

  • Hannah: I’m going to make these with the walnut filling tomorrow, but with apricot jam sounds really good. There’s a quince jam that I keep looking at but I never buy it because I don’t use jam very often and I have absolutely no idea what quince tastes like. Would quince work with these? December 26, 2014 at 3:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: It would be perfect! Quince has nuances of apple, pear and violet, so it’s a complex aroma. But it will definitely work with walnuts. In many classical desserts with quince, there is often a walnut garnish. December 26, 2014 at 3:16pm Reply

      • Hannah: I made them already.
        First of all, I decided not to make the walnut filling. And then I tried a spiced cherry jam so I decided that would be the substitute. Then I started making the dough. I added cardamom to the dough because I can never resist throwing cardamom in. Then I decided to just leave out the eggs. The only baking I do are tahini cookies and shortcrust pastry and neither use eggs so I stayed in my comfort zone. Then it came time to make the crescents. I would say I moreso made walnut envelopes? After they came out, I used a cardamom/cinnamon/sugar mix instead of vanilla sugar. For the second batch, I opted not to roll them out, and instead I just made thumbprint cookies.
        I had one of the envelopes and it tasted very good, although how this recipe became my cookies was quite a leap. December 26, 2014 at 11:36pm Reply

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