If you’ve ever visited the Balkan Peninsula you probably know how addictive desserts from this part of the world can be. As someone who extensively traveled the Peninsula, I can talk about Balkan sweets for days. If you would like to try to make some local sweets and bring some Balkan flavor to your home, there’s no better starting choice than the vanilice recipe. Vanilice are very popular sweets in this part of the world, they don’t require a lot of ingredients, and most important of all, are very easy to make.
In this post, we’ll share the authentic Balkan vanilice recipe and teach you everything there is to know about this simple yet tasty dessert, including its history, its variations, serving combinations, and more.
But first things first…
What Is Vanilice?
To put it simply, vanilice are delicious vanilla cookies but their taste is much more complex than just vanilla. The cookies are usually stuffed with ground walnuts and sometimes, apricot jam and release an aroma that will make your mouth water before even tasting these delicious cookies. The cookies originate from Serbia but are also very popular in other Balkan countries like Macedonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and some other Slavic countries too.
History of Vanilice
There aren’t many written sources about the exact origins of this delicious treat but most historians assume that they first appeared somewhere between the early 17th and late 18th centuries. The name vanilice translates to “small vanillas” and traditionally, these cookies are served around the Orthodox Christmas season.
In Orthodox Christian countries, it’s common for people to fast for 6 weeks before Christmas and this is the time of the year when these cookies are eaten the most (just to clarify: we mention eggs in the recipe but vanilice can be made without eggs too). Vanilice are also an irreplaceable part of the traditional Serbian Christmas Eve dinner.
But Serbians aren’t the only people who love vanilice and this brings us to the next point…
The traditional vanilice recipe has been passed from generation to generation and there isn’t a standardized version of the recipe which is why there are a lot of small variations in different regions and even different families. Each family has its own slightly different recipe that might differ slightly but all in all, it comes down to personal taste. In addition to this, these cookies also have different names in different regions. In some places, the cookies are also known as vormice or poljupci.
The three basic ingredients for these cookies are flour, vanilla sugar, and fat but there are plenty of optional ingredients. Some people like using walnuts, others like adding jam inside the cookies, and you can also add eggs according to your preference.
There’s also a completely vegan version that uses vegetable margarine instead of oil. Personally, I don’t think this version is as tasty as the original vanilice but it’s a great option for vegans who would like to try this delicious dessert.
What About Vanilla Sugar?
Vanilla sugar is the most important ingredient in the vanilice recipe. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you might not be familiar with vanilla sugar but this is a crucial ingredient for many European pastries. If you can’t find it in your local supermarket, don’t worry- you can easily make it at home. Just grab a jar of powdered sugar and add a split vanilla bean to it. Let the jar stay like that for a few days and don’t forget to shake it a couple of times a day.
As we previously mentioned, alongside dishes like tavce gravce, sarma, proja, ajvar, pogacha, kifli, zelnik, etc. vanilice is an irreplaceable part of the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. However, today things are different and vanilice isn’t served only around Christmas. People today can enjoy vanilice throughout the year. It’s a great dessert for any occasion and it can also be served as a snack alongside a cup of Turkish coffee, tea, or kompot.
If you make too many vanilice and have some leftovers, don’t worry. You can store these cookies for anywhere between a few weeks to 3-4 months. Just make sure to use an air-tight container and keep them in the fridge. If you want to, you can also freeze your vanilice (even though I prefer to keep the leftovers in the fridge and keep eating bits by bits). If you decide to freeze the cookies, make sure you thaw them and roll them in powdered sugar before serving.
- If you are allergic to walnuts, you can skip using them, just make sure you use some extra flour instead.
- If you would like to experiment with filling, jam is a safe choice but you can also try using Nutella or some other cream even though I don’t recommend this option unless you intend to it all the cookies right away; the cream might not be sticky enough to hold the two pieces together.
- For people who like a zesty flavor, you can use 2-3 teaspoons of orange juice (or any other citrus fruit).
- If you have some leftover dough, you can repeat the last steps of the recipe and make a couple of extra-tiny vanilice.
- Last but not least, feel free to get creative with the shape of the cookies. The most usual shape is a circle, but you can also give your cookies a crescent shape, star shape, flower shape, or even a heart shape.
A few other things you might need
- 3 cups Flour
- 2/3 cup Sugar
- 2 cups Powdered Vanilla Sugar
- 2 cups Walnuts/Pecans/Almonds (choose one)
- 3 sticks Unsalted Butter (at room temperature)
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 1 Egg (optional)
- Orange/Lemon zest or juice (optional)
- Apricot jam/preserve or Nutella cream for filling (optional)
Powdered Vanilla Sugar (if you need to make it by yourself)
- 1.5 pounds Powdered Sugar
- 1 Vanilla Bean
1. If necessary, prepare the vanilla powdered sugar before starting. To do this, place a vanilla bean inside a jar/container filled with powdered sugar and leave it for a couple of days. Once you take some sugar out for the vanilice recipe, add some more powdered sugar inside. The vanilla bean will continue to flavor the remaining sugar.
2. Place the nuts in a food processor and grind them.
3. Once the nuts are ground, keep them together with the sugar and use an electric mixer to mix until well blended.
4. Move the mixture into a bowl and cut the butter stick into 3-4 pieces before adding it to the mixing bowl.
5. Then add the flour, vanilla extract, and butter (and egg and zest if you’re using these ingredients) to the mixing bowl and mix for 2-3 minutes.
6. Place the dough in a plastic container and refrigerate it for 1-2 hours.
7. When the dough has chilled, add some parchment paper into your baking tray and start portioning some dough on the tray.
8. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and aim for a thickness of about ¼ of an inch (6 millimeters).
9. Portion out roughly 1 tablespoon scoop of the dough, shape it into a crescent (or if you are going for a circle shape, use a cookie cutter to form your cookies), and put it in your baking tray.
10. Here’s how to get a crescent shape: firstly, shape the tablespoon of dough into a boll. Then, roll the ball back and forth until it forms a rope roughly the width of your palm. Then roll the rope back and forth a few more times. By now, the ends of the rope should extend beyond your palms. Bring the two points as close together as you can (without touching) and do all other small adjustments necessary to get a crescent shape.
11. Preheat your oven to 350° F (180° C).
12. Repeat steps 7-8 a few more times and arrange five columns across and four columns deep.
13. Bake at this temperature for 10-12 minutes. In the end, the cookies should be soft and slightly browned on the bottom, but should not be browned at the top.
14. If you’re not sure if the cookies are done, lift the corner of the parchment paper and look under a cookie to check if it has browned.
15. Once done, take out the cookies and let them cool down for at least 6-7 minutes before rolling them in powdered vanilla sugar.
16. The cookies pick up the sugar best when they’re still warm but they should be served at least two hours after cooking but ideally, we recommend letting them stay in the fridge for a few days before serving.
17. Once the cookies cool down, serve them alongside a cup of tea or coffee, and enjoy!
*Alternative: If you’re making circle-shaped cookies, you can add some jam or cream on one cookie and add another cookie on top of it, making a sandwich out of them.
Serving Size:3 cookies
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 241Total Fat: 8.5gSaturated Fat: 2.5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0.5gCholesterol: 0.8mgSodium: 150mgCarbohydrates: 41gNet Carbohydrates: 41gFiber: 0gSugar: 22gProtein: 1.5g
Did you ever try vanilice? How did you like our vanilla cookies recipe? If you tried to make it at home, don’t forget to leave us a rating. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
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