Every family has a heirloom. A jewel, a story, a secret...
I have a book of recipes. Compiled by my grandmothers and grandaunts and carefully perfected and written down by my mom. When I decided to cross the ocean forever, I took the book with me.
Nothing in the book is really a secret. We were never of a non-sharing kind. The food is to be enjoyed by everyone. The process of making the special foods is to be enjoyed by everyone. Happiness is to be shared. Thus, no recipe is more appropriate to open this blog than the most treasured of our recipes. Vanilice.
Vanilice (pronounced vah-ny-ly-tseh ) are tiny Serbian cookies made for holidays and special occasions. Vanilice (which means “little vanillas”) are bite-sized walnut cookie sandwiches with jam and vanilla scented powder sugar. Vanilice hold such a special place in the Serbian cuisine and tradition, that in good old days every self-respected lady of the house was expected to make a very special jam, usually rosehip or apricot, to be used for Vanilice.
There are many variations of the recipe. Thousand of them. My greataunt Cica was the creator of our family's version. She was so proud of it, that until the day she died, she supervised every family member in the process of making Vanilice. Including my grandmother.
* 300g lard (ideally leaf lard)
* 250g granulated sugar
* 2 egg yolks
* 1 whole egg
* Juice of one lemon
* 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
* 250g ground walnuts
* 600g all-purpose flour
* Rosehip or apricot jam
* 200g powder sugar
* 1 vanilla bean, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1. A couple of days before making the cookies, in a small bowl with a tight lid mix the powder sugar with the vanilla bean. Store in a dry place.
2. In a mixer fitted with paddle, beat the lard with the granulated sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg, egg yolks, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add the walnuts and flour and beat until uniform dough forms.
3. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 325°F convection bake (350°F regular bake). Place the dough on the work surface dusted with flour and roll it out to 1/4-inch-thick round. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small round cookie cutter (I use 1-inch or quarter-size cutters) stamp out the cookies and arrange them one inch apart on the baking sheets.
5. Bake for about 12 minutes, so that the rounds remain white. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack or flat surface to cool completely.
6. Once the cookies are cool, take a cookie round at a time, spread the jam on it and top with another cookie round.
7. Roll each cookie-sandwich generously in the vanilla sugar. Put the cookies into an airtight box and wait for two days before serving.
Makes about 60 cookies
p.s. Before you go to work, a couple of important things: 1) you must get the best quality lard -- not the super-processed waxy-looking one, 2) you must be patient and let Vanilice sit in a cool dark place for at least two days before serving -- not in the fridge, and 3) you must use a good quality firm jam -- unless you want your Vanilice running all over the place. Too many musts, but it will be worth it.