These are as delicate and delicious as any fancier and more complicated pastry in the Viennese baking repertoire. They are best when freshly baked - the freshness and vividness of the butter flavor starts to fade after a day.

Forty-eight cookies

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups (about 5 ounces) walnut pieces, finely ground in the food processor
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
Confectioners' sugar for finishing

Two cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment or foil

  1. Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
  2. Beat the butter and confectioners' sugar with the paddle on medium speed until very soft and light, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.
  3. Beat in the walnuts and remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a large rubber spatula to incorporate the flour by hand.
  4. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and form it into a rough cylinder. Use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Divide each piece of dough in half to make 12 pieces. Then cut each 1/12 of the dough in half, then in half again, to make a total of 48 pieces of dough.
  5. Roll each piece of dough under the palm of your hand to make a sausage shape about 1 1/2 inches long. Gently roll over with both palms to point the ends slightly and form the dough into a crescent shape. Place the crescent on one of the prepared pans and continue with the remaining pieces of dough, placing the cookies about 1 inch apart in all directions on the pans.
  6. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are very lightly golden and firm. Change the position of the pans from upper to lower rack and vice versa, also turning them back to front at least once during baking. If your oven gives strong bottom heat, stack 2 pans together for baking on the bottom rack to provide insulation against burning the cookies.
  7. Cool the cookies on the pans on racks and sift confectioners' sugar over them when they are still slightly warm.

Storage: Keep the crescents between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover. Serve them within a day or two before the butter flavor fades.