Winter is back. Might as well celebrate it and take a gastronomical trip to Austria while the snow falls to the ground. Austria, also known as the "Eastern Kingdom", is a European mountainous country known for being located in the Alps. Being completely landlocked, Austria is surrounded by eight other countries including Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. The cultures and cuisines of Austria are inevitably influenced not only by its altitude and climate, but also by its neighbours.
You may be familiar with a few of Austria's beverages such as schnaaps, bocks or coffees, and you may be familiar with some of her savoury dishes such as wiener schnitzel, but Austria is also credited for several famous desserts, too. Flaky apple strudel and Viennese Chocolate Sachertorte (with the scripted 'Sacher' garnish) are probably the most recognized sweets. My personal favourite, the Linzertorte, is the inspiration for the recipe I'm sharing today - Linzer Cookies.
Put away the snow shovel and preheat the oven - it's time to do some baking.
What is Linzertorte?
The Linzertorte is native to Linz, Austria, and typically eaten at Christmas. Thought to be one of the (if not the) oldest cakes in the world, recipes for the dessert have been dated back to the 1600's. The Linzertorte is a very short, crumbly pastry made of flour, ground nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds), butter, egg yolks, lemon zest, and cinnamon. A filling of red currant jam or, alternatively, plum, raspberry or apricot is spread over the cake then it is covered with a lattice of dough strips. The dough is rolled out in very thin strips and arranged to form a criss-cross design on top of the preserves. The pastry is brushed with egg whites, baked, and sometimes decorated with sliced almonds.
Linzer cookies take inspiration from the Linzertorte and use the same flavour components to create a tender sandwich cookie. Using a sandy, crumbly, almond pastry, the dough is rolled and cut out into scalloped-edged rounds. The top rounds have a small hole cut out to replicate the lattice crust of the torte so the jewel-like preserves can show through. The cookies are baked, cooled, spread with a thin layer of jam, then dusted with powdered sugar. A little more jam can be placed in the cookie top hole to fill the space and cover up the dusted sugar. If you prefer a crisp cookie, assemble the cookies on the day you are serving. For a softer cookie, allow the preserve-filled cookies to sit for at least a day.
Linzer Cookies - Recipe Tips
Just like any other pastry dough, the more you stir, knead, mix, or roll the cookies- the tougher they will be. These cookies are meant to be tender, crumbly, and sandy (the word sablé in French means 'sandy'- remember this when you see it on a menu or in my blog). To help with the shortness and tenderness of the cookies, the dough also uses a high ratio of butter to flour. Unbleached pastry or all-purpose flour is suitable as it doesn't have a high gluten content. (Gluten is what gives dough strength and structure - good for bread; bad for these cookies.) Another ingredient that helps ensure a tender cookie and that is the addition of ground nuts for part of the flour.
To make your own ground nuts for this recipe: lightly toast the nuts in the oven for a few minutes until they begin to smell fragrant and develop a little bit of colour. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. (If the nuts have skins, rub with a cloth to loosen before cooling.) In a food processor, chop the nuts with some of the sugar and pulse until finely ground. Don't over-pulse or you might make nut butter instead.
After rolling/cutting/portioning any pastry dough (cookies, pie dough, etc.), always chill it in the refrigerator or freezer for at least 15 minutes before baking. By doing this you allow any of those gluten strands that may have formed during mixing to relax and also help prevent spreading. If time is an issue, make and roll the pastry ahead of time then keep covered in the freezer up to a month. When company is coming over or you feel like a little treat, bake your cookies from frozen.
I chose to substitute orange zest for lemon in my cookies as I filled them with Elgin Harvest's Raspberry & Orange jam. I wanted the mellow orange spice flavour to echo the bright citrus flavour in the jam but the choice is yours. You can use whichever preserve you prefer as well. With all this snow, the memory of picking pints of raspberries under the blazing hot sun is a welcomed thought.
Linzer Cookies - Recipe
Makes 40 sandwich cookies
Recipe adapted from The Joy of Baking
1 c sliced almonds
2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t kosher salt
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or orange (about 1 T)
1 c unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c sugar, divided (1/4 c for pulsing nuts, + 1/2 c)
1 t pure vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks (freeze the whites for another recipe - I have future uses!)
1/2 c raspberry jam
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.