My family makes these Half Moon cookies every year during the holiday season. These are the cookies, along with Punchbowl Cookies, that we left out for Santa Claus. It never really felt like the holidays until I was in the kitchen making these with my mom. These half moon cookies are not overly sweet and have a wonderfully rich and nutty flavor.
Know I know that the shape of these cookies is more like a crescent moon than a half moon, but who am I to argue with tradition? After all, this recipe has been handed down in my family for four generations! From what I’ve been able to figure out, this recipe is kind of a mix between two traditional German recipes (both shaped like crescents or sickles and both containing nuts). One is called Mandelsichel (almond shortbread cookies shaped like a sickle) and the other is called Vanillekipferl (shortbread cookies shaped like a sickle dusted with vanilla sugar).
Even though my family has a lot of German heritage, we didn’t actually inherit the recipe from those German ancestors. The first person in my family to make half moon cookies was my great-great grandmother Ethel Francis Jolly. When Ethel was a just a young teenager, her dad died unexpectedly. Ethel was the middle child in a large family and her mom couldn’t afford to support all of the children by herself. A wealthy family in Salt Lake City, Utah offered to provide room and board and pay for Ethel’s schooling if she would do housework for them. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Ethel, but she said she wouldn’t go without her sister Dell.
While working for this family, Ethel helped them make half-moon cookies and punchbowl cookies for parties. To her, they seemed fancy and represented happy times. So when Ethel eventually had a family of her own, she always made these cookies for parties and to celebrate holidays. Ethel married a man who immigrated from Germany when he was a young boy. Throughout her life she did a lot of things to incorporate German culture into the lives of her husband and children. I’m not sure if she made these cookies more often because they happened to be German, but either way they’ve become a big part of celebrations and holidays in my family.
In my opinion, the trickiest part of making these half moon cookies is shaping them into their iconic crescent shape. My mom can shape these cookies so that every single one is identical and perfect. I’ve had to accept that I just haven’t had enough practice yet to gain that level of consistent perfection. So while I keep practicing I’ve decided that as long as they are roughly the same size and in a crescent shape that is good enough for me!
I also wouldn’t worry if the powdered sugar doesn’t coat the cookies perfectly or if it begins to fall off. You can always toss the cookies in powdered sugar a second time!
One final note. These cookies keep really well if stored in an air tight container. Personally, I actually think they taste better on the second day!
Half Moon Cookies
For the Cookies
- ½ cup butter
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg (well beaten)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ lb. finely chopped nuts (my family uses walnuts)
Powdered Sugar Toss
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350° F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and creamy.
- Add the beaten egg and the vanilla and beat until combined
- Add the flour and chopped nuts. Stir until combined. The dough will be very thick and crumbly.
- Split into 22 equal sized portions and roll each portion into a crescent shape.
- These cookies don't expand in the oven so you can bake all of them at once. Bake at 350° F for about 15 minutes. You will know the cookies are done when the tips of the crescents are just softly turning brown.
- While the cookies are baking, mix together the 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. When the cookies are done, carefully toss them in the powdered sugar until well coated.
- Serve while warm or wait until they're cool.