Cookbook Profile

(Ashkenazic Cookie Crescents or Rugelach)


Kipfel are flaky, crescent-shaped rolls as well as crescent cookies.

Origin: Austria

Other names: America: butterhorns; southern Austria: kipferl; Czech Republic: kifli; Hungary: kifli; Germany: kipferln; Romania and Serbia: kifla. Sigmund Freud, in an 1885 letter from Paris back to his native Vienna, noted: "I did at last manage to say 'croissants,' since I always get kipfel with my coffee."

Encyclopedia of Jewish Food


The introduction of sugar to Persia led to the emergence there in the seventh century of numerous small pastries and eventually throughout the Arabic World. Then as sugar became more commonplace in Europe, every country adopted cookies.

1. Iran—hadgi badah, klaitcha, naan-e berenji, naan-e nokhodchi

2. Iraq and Middle East—ghraybeh, kourabie, ma'mamoul, travados

3. Turkey—marunchi-nos, mustachudos, biscochos de raki, masas de vino, foulares

4. Syria—ras-ib-adjway

5. Tunisia—makroud

6. Morocco—kaab el gh'zal, debla, raricha

7. Greece—biscochos, reshicas

8. Italy—amaretti, biscotti, impade, sfratti

9. Hungary—pogàcsa, kindli, kranzli

10. Poland—kichel, hamantaschen, reshinke

11. Russia—kaletzin

12. Austria—kipfel, nusskipferln, polster zipfel

13. Germany—geback, lebkuchen, mahltaschen, mandelbrot, plaetzcehn, pfefferneusse, zimstern

14. Netherlands—boterkoeke

15. Denmark—jodekager

The idea of small crescent-shaped breads appears to have emerged in Austria during the late seventeenth century, then spread to France. Many believe that after Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI of France in 1770, she so missed kipfel that she arranged for a Viennese baker to travel to Paris to instruct his French counterparts on how to make it, and the roll soon become the croissant. By this point, the kipfel was about a century old and indelibly implanted in central European gastronomy. In addition to savory kipfels, central Europeans enjoyed a variety of crescent-shaped sweet treats as well.

According to legend, the origins of these crescent-shaped baked goods date back to 1683, when the three hundred thousand-strong Ottoman army laid siege to the walled city of Vienna, Austria. The Turks undertook to secretly dig a tunnel under thc barricades in the darkness of night. City bakers, at work in the wee hours of the morning in their underground chambers, heard the noise of the construction, alerted the authorities, and foiled the underground attack. Finally, with the timely military intervention of the Poles, Bavarians, and others, the Turks were repelled.

Purportedly, local Viennese bakers fashioned special small breads and cakes in the shape of a crescent, the symbol displayed on the Turkish flag, to honor the end of the Ottoman siege, in which they had played a role. These pastries proved perfect to serve in a second prominent Austrian institution engendered by the Ottoman invasion, the coffeehouse, which emerged as a result of chests of coffee beans left behind by the Turks. Others suggest that the bakers had actually concluded that the situation was so dire that they baked crescent-shaped breads to curry favor with the Turks, then sold them to a grateful populace afterward. A third group dismisses any connection between the bread and the siege, maintaining that it was a venerable local baked good shaped to represent animal horns, and that the Turkish connection was merely a myth conjured up later.

In any case, Austrian bakers originally called the little pointed loaves of white bread zipfel (German meaning "corner/tip"), also spelled ciphel. Zipfel is still used, in conjunction with polster (cushion/padding); polsterzipfel refers to a jam-filled Austrian cookie, also known as Vienna kipfel and in Germany as hasenörchen (little rabbit ears). Meanwhile, the Viennese took to mispronouncing the pointed breads as kipfel, and the word soon becoming a synonym for the German hörnchen (crescent). Variations of the Austrian pronunciation spread throughout central and eastern Europe.

A crescent-shaped variation of this yeast pastry called Pressburger kipplach is named after Pressburg, the German name for Bratislava, one of the oldest and most important European ]ewish communities and commonly considered the dividing line between eastern and western Ashkenazim. Today, Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. To complicate matters further, this pastry is also called Pozsonyi kifli after the Hungarian named for Pressburg/Bratislava.

To further confuse the situation, the term kipfel was also applied to small crescent cookies (zuckerkipfel), including those made from various unleavened doughs and yeast kuchen dough, and one similar to kugelhopf but enriched with topfen, a cheese that the Gcrmans call quark. The topfen type of kipfel is traditional on Shavuot and other special dairy meals. In the nineteenth century, Hungarian housewives sometimes substituted mashed potatoes for the butter in the dough.

In Yiddish, the word kipfel came to specify crescent cookies, both leavened and unleavened, and not the croissant bread. One form of the cookies, nusskipferlin (nut crescents), still ranks among the favorite Ashkenazic cookies. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Jewish immigrants brought the kipfel to America. Thc American cookbook Aunt Babette's (Cincinnati, 1889), includes onc of the earliest records in English of the word in a recipe for "Wiener Kipfel," which consists of yeast dough triangles filled with "beaten whites of eggs, raisins, almonds and citron," and with the edges pinched together. The first edition of The Settlement Cookbook (Milwaukee, 1901) contains several recipes for kipfel, some with yeast and others without, but all made with butter. In the twentieth century, vegetable shortening and margarine were sometimes substituted for the topfen and butter in kipfel, expanding its usage in kosher households. In Procter & Gamble's 1933 booklet Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife, written in Yiddish and English, a kipfel is made, of course, with vegetable shortening. In late twentieth century America, kipfel, particularly with an unleavened cream cheese dough, became better known as rugelach.


Ashkenazic Cookie Crescents (Rugelach)

32 large, 48 medium, or 64 small cookies

Cream Cheese Dough:


1. To make the dough: In a large bowl, beat together the butter, cream cheese, and sour cream until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the salt and, if using. sugar and vanilla. Gradually beat in the flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, form into balls, flatten into 1-inch-thick rounds, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or use ungreased sheets.

3. Let the dough stand at room temperature until malleable. On a lightly floured surface (or a surface sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar), roll out each dough piece to a 1/8-inch-thick round, about 9 inches in diameter. Brush with jam and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge. If using, sprinkle with the currants.

4. Cut each round into equal wedges—12 for medium cookies, 8 for large cookies, or 16 for small cookies. Starting from the wide end, roll up the wedges toward the point and gently bend to form a crescent.

5. Place the crescents on the prepared baking sheets, pointed side down, 1 inch apart. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with the sugar.

6. Bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the cookies stand until firm, about 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.


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This page created December 2010