February 15, 2010

Linzer Cookies: A Very Special Treat

Linzer cookies are not just any cookie. Crunchy, rich cookies made with flour, ground nuts and spices are cut into ornate shapes and sandwiched between scarlet-red jam. The buttery and soft spice flavors, paired with the jam's zesty and sweet taste, makes for a truly memorable treat. I had been wanting to make linzer cookies for years after reading about Austria’s famous linzertorte dessert. Valentine’s day offered the perfect opportunity to make some dazzling heart-shaped treats.

Linzertorte is one of Austria’s most prized desserts, originating from Linz in the early 1700s. The torte crust is made up of a rich buttery dough with flour, ground almonds, sugar, spices, and citrus zest. The dough is slathered with currant preserves and then topped with a decorative lattice crust.

Linzer cookies use the same recipe but are presented in a different manner. Two cookies are sandwiched together with a layer of preserves. The top cookie features a small cutout of some sort, exposing the crimson-colored jam underneath, and is often dusted with confectioner's sugar. These special cookies have found their place in American holiday baking and the recipe has remained largely unmodified (because it’s SO good). The only exception is that most American cooks seem to prefer raspberry jam or preserves. (Currant products never really made it big here did they?). Some cooks also experiment with different types of ground nuts in place of the traditional almonds.

Below you will find a heavenly recipe for linzer cookies, adapted from the esteemed baker, Dorie Greenspan. This particular recipe didn't have any lemon zest, but feel free to experiment. I was very pleased with the product and can’t wait to make them again, featuring different cutouts depending on the occasion.

Linzer Heart Cookies

1 1/2 cups finely ground almonds
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup good-quality raspberry jam or preserves (with a smooth texture)

Special equipment: a 2-inch cookie cutter and a 1- to 3/4-inch cookie cutter to make center cutouts*

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together ground nuts, flour, cinnamon, cloves and salt.

2. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla.

3. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Knead slightly to incorporate any dry crumbs that remain at the bottom.

4. Divide dough in half. Put one half between two sheets of wax paper and roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Repeat with second piece of dough. Place on a flat surface and freeze until very firm, about 45 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

6. Peel off top sheet of wax paper and cut out as many cookies as possible using the larger cookie cutter. With the smaller cutter (or by hand), cut out centers of half of cookies. Gather dough scraps, reroll and chill.

7. Bake cookies until golden, about 11-12 minutes. Cool completely on sheets. Repeat until all dough is used.

8. In a small saucepan heat jam with 1 tablespoon water until boiling. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

9. Spread jam on surface of solid cookies and and top with cutout cookies.

10. Use a sifter to dust with powdered sugar.

*I didn’t have a small cookie cutter on hand, so I attempted to make my own cutouts with a sharp pointy knife. It actually worked quite well.