Let’s just say I’ll be eating my words.
All that stuff I wrote about not having any traditions for the holidays? Well, scratch that. Because every year, from here on out, in sickness and in health, ’till death do us part, our family will be making linzers. Because I had no idea that by never having made them before, I was depriving myself and my family of the World’s Greatest Cookie.
I think the only time I’ve had them before was way back in my days working the counter at a bakery in Athens. We could occasionally indulge in a treat at work (or maybe I was just sneaking them when no one was looking? can’t be sure) and when the case held linzers, I was reaching for them. Mainly because they were beautiful: delicate little cookie sandwiches with just a gem of jam peaking out from underneath a powdered sugar veil. Labor-intensive, I thought. A cookie worth my time and expenditure of calories.
And why have I never made them? Believe it or not, it’s because I just didn’t have adequate cookie cutters. You need a pretty round one (normal-cookie-size) and then a tiny one for the hole in the middle. I remember almost buying a set of linzer cookie cutters, at a gourmet store in Athens, a few years back. In classic me-fashion, I carried the ten-dollar item around the store for about 15 minutes, letting it warm in my hands, before putting it back and walking out of the store empty-handed. How useful is it — I mean, how often would I make linzers? I wondered. Silly, penny-pinching me.
But this year, on my wish list was this set of Martha Stewart biscuit cutters. A whole set, labeled with diameters. My sister Amy granted my wish, and I opened it early so we could get to the cookie-making, preferably before Christmas, and after the sickness left us (it finally left my oldest, enough so she could help with the cookie-making, while my other two succumbed to the virus — a Christmas to remember, indeed).
The cookies seem simple enough: butter cookies, dusted with powdered sugar, sandwiched with jam. I found a recipe here, and adapted it to my liking.
Words will fail me here. I love these cookies to that point of not wanting to eat them because that will mean they will be gone. They have remarkable complexity for a humble dessert: a textural delight, with the crunch of tiny flecks of almond, the delicate crumb of buttery shortbread, and sticky-sweet jam. Cinnamon and lemon zest in the cookie are a perfect complement to the tangy-sweet punch of raspberry, with the powdered sugar giving the slightest extra layer of sweet without being cloy. Like most butter cookies, these are the perfect side to a cup of afternoon tea, my favorite treat in cold months.
I made minor adjustments to take advantage of some whole grains and soaked almonds (soaking them renders them more digestible, and it also makes it easier to remove the skins, necessary since I had no blanched almonds on-hand). Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing, as perfection requires no alteration.
(adapted closely from this recipe at The Joy of Baking)
makes about 20 2-inch cookies
For almonds, soak 1 cup raw almonds in very warm water to cover for 7 hours (or overnight). Rinse well, then slip the skins off the almonds. Proceed with toasting in the oven (it will take a little longer to toast them since they’ll be wet).
- 1 cup raw almonds (soaked and skinned, or blanched)
- 2/3 cup sugar, divided
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or combo whole wheat, sprouted and/or unbleached all-purpose flour)
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 sticks (one cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tsp)
- powdered sugar (for dusting)
- 1/2 cup raspberry (or other flavor) jam
Toast almonds in a 350º oven until very lightly golden (about 8-10 minutes for blanched, or 15-20 minutes for soaked — see note above). Let cool completely.
Measure out the total amount of sugar for the recipe (2/3 cup) in a small bowl. Scoop out about 4 Tbsp (reserve the rest) and place in a food processor with the almonds. Process until very finely ground, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer) beat together the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, then the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Add the ground nuts, and then the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 rectangles about 1/2″ thick. Wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350º, and place racks in upper- and middle-center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and remove dough from refrigerator to soften a bit before rolling.
Roll one piece of dough to 1/4″ thick. Using the larger (2-3″) cutter, cut out the dough and place 1″ apart on baking sheet. Re-roll scraps, and continue to cut cookies until all the dough is used. Using a small (3/4″) cutter (or an apple-corer, which worked great for me) cut the centers out of half the cookies. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Repeat process with second piece of cookie dough. Cool completely on a wire rack.
At this point, the un-assembled cookies can be stored for a few days (it’s best not to assemble until the day they are served so the jam doesn’t make them soggy). When ready to assemble, dust the cookies with cut-outs with a fine layer of powdered sugar. In a small saucepan, warm the jam until it’s the consistency of thick honey, then let cool to room temperature.
On the bottom surface of a whole cookie, spoon about 1/2 tsp of jam. Top with a cut-out cookie, then spoon a little extra jam in the hole to fill it. Serve with a strong cup of tea.
This post is part of the Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS.