Saturday, December 15, 2007

Linzer Love

In an appreciative bow to tradition, what would the season be without Linzer Cookies? These crisp spicy cookies filled with jam are a mini permutation of the Linzertorte, the oldest known torte that originates from the city of Linz in Austria. The first recorded recipe for the Linzertorte dates back to 1653 and comes from the archive of the Benedictine monastery Admont Abbey, renowned for its Baroque architecture and its vast library and art collection.

The basics of the Linzertorte are very simple: a thin layer of nut pastry filled with jam and then topped with a criss-cross lattice of nut pastry. The torte is most often filled with raspberry or red currant jam, but apricot is another favorite. The modern version is a sandwich cookie with the same elements.

This cookie is an easy mix that combines the earthy crunch of hazelnuts, the warmth of aromatic spice and the lusciousness of fruit all in one bite. Once you begin the baking process, the smell of roasting nuts and spices emanating from your oven will surely send you into a state of delight powerful enough to soothe any holiday angst. A light dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top reminds us of the snow-filled fairy tales that include our favorite fantasies. Take it to the next level by dipping a portion of each cookie in melted bittersweet chocolate and you have the dreamiest cookie in your midst. Resistance is futile!

Linzer Cookies showcase the best pastry traditions of Austria and will remind you just how easy it is to join in this season of giving. Share these delicious old fashioned cookies with your guests as they gather to celebrate the warmth of your table.

Bench notes:
- The secret to well shaped crisp cookies is chilling. Lots of chilling! Once the dough is mixed, roll it out to 1/8” and chill it so that it’s firm enough to make the job of using a cookie cutter a snap and so your cut cookies maintain their shape. Once cut, chill them again to be sure they hold their shape during baking.
- I added an egg yolk to the original recipe for added richness and tenderness. I also left out the almond extract and added a teaspoon of rum for a bit of holiday cheer as well as a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
- Unfilled, these cookies will store a couple of weeks in an airtight container. As with all pastries that contain a good measure of spice, they taste best the next day when all that goodness has a chance to co-mingle and become an even greater temptation.
- When cutting out cookies, handle the scraps gently and reroll.
- My cookies took about 17 minutes to bake. The test for doneness for most cookies is if they move easily when gently nudged. If they show any resistance, bake another minute.

Linzer Cookies
adapted from Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies
Makes about 20 3 1/2” cookies

2 C flour
1 C hazelnuts and/or almonds
1/2 C sugar
1/4 t salt
2 1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves
8 oz (2 sticks) butter cut into small pieces
1/4 t almond extract
1 t lemon zest
1 t orange zest
1 t rum (optional)
1 egg yolk (optional)
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Good quality fruit preserves
Powdered sugar for dusting

Place the flour, nuts, sugar, salt, spices and zest in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is finely ground. Add the pieces of butter, extract and/or rum and egg yolk if using and pulse until the mixture has a damp appearance and starts to clump around the center of the bowl. Remove the mixture and gather into a ball, gently kneading a bit if necessary to bring the dough together. Divide into two packets and using two pieces of plastic wrap for each packet, roll out to 1/8” thickness. Place on a sheet pan or flat surface and chill until firm, preferably overnight.

Using your favorite cookie cutter or a thin sharp knife for simple geometric shapes, cut out the cookies and place on a parchment lined pan. If you have a smaller version of your cookie cutter, cut out a center on half the cookies so the color of the jam can shine through. If the dough has softened at all, refrigerate again until firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake the cookies in the upper and lower third of the oven for about 13 – 15 minutes, rotating front to back and top to bottom half-way through the baking. The cookies should just start to take on a little color around the edges. The smaller cutout centers will only take 8 – 10 minutes.

Cool cookies completely before filling or storing. Dust the cookie tops with confectioner’s sugar, put a thin layer of preserves on the bottoms and sandwich together. If desired, skip the dusting of sugar, melt a bit of bittersweet chocolate and decorate as you wish. If you have not cut out a window, you can dip a portion of the cookie into the chocolate, scraping off the excess from the bottom and placing on a cooling rack or piece of parchment to dry. If you have a cut out on the cookie top, you can simply drizzle some chocolate across the surface.


Anonymous said...

Season's Greetings, Pastry Goddess

You may make a baker of me yet!! If the thoughts of the oral pleasures don't do it, the history may well draw me in. This is a wonderful site.


Tablebread said...

I just discovered your blog and how amazing! I would swear you are a professional! Your cookies look so delicious and wonderful.
You are now in my Google Reader list! I'm keeping an eye on you for more delicious recipes :)

FLATTEXT Database Scripts said...

Just now i have realize that its valentine month.. :(