By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
“The ‘Linzer Torte’ is considered to have the longest history of any cake in the world” -Leo Jindrak II, Linzer Torte Baker
Austrian Linzer sables are my all-time favorite Christmas cookie. They look like stain glass windows and the flavors reflect the warm and generous nature of the holiday season. Not only are they incredibly delicious and beautiful but they are also a cookie with a luscious history.
The Linzer Torte recipe, which is the European mother of the Linzer sables, is the oldest known written recipe in history. A copy of this delightful cake recipe was found in the Veronese Admont Abbey’s journals, dated 1653. The confection, however, was made famous in the little town of Linz Austria in the early 1800’s. An industrious Linz baker, Johann Vogel, started mass producing this gem of a treat and made it famous around the world. Hence, its name, Linzer torte. (Torte means cake in German)
Now Linzer torte is basically a giant cookie or tart made with nut flour and filled with jam and baked till bubbling. (Nuts were way more plentiful than wheat in Europe a long time ago.) The Austrians fill it with red current jam but most cooks around the world prefer raspberry jam. (They are a great way to show off a lovely jam you made.) Linzer tortes are the crown jewels, shinning in the windows of all the Austrian and German bakeries during the Christmas season.
Linzer torte became a big hit in the United States, when Franz Holzlhuber, an Austrian immigrant, started a bakery in Milwaukee Wisconsin with his grandma’s recipe in 1850. Linzer sables or cookies were born here in North America. Leave it up to the Americans to make this ancient cake into something portable that one can eat on the go.
When making Linzer sables, I recommend you use hazelnuts because they impart such a wonderful flavor to the cookie and they are also traditional. Many bakers use almonds instead, which is fine. Nut meal of different types can be used in place of the ground nuts. You can get it through “Bob’s Red Mill” which is a good option if you do not have a food processor. But if you can, I recommend you make your own ground nuts for the cookies.
Roast your nuts till they just start to scent the kitchen and are turning golden. If you are using hazelnuts, let them cool a bit, then rub them together in a clean dish towel to remove the skins. (That chore is best done outside, believe me!) Then process the nuts in a food processor till they are ground but not superfine. This lends an exotic texture and taste to the cookie.
This recipe I am sharing with you is from one of my very favorite tattered cookbooks, “The Fiddlehead Cookbook”. This recipe is perfect with very little tampering by me. (I know, shock and awe.) These cookies are easily made gluten free by substituting your favorite gluten free flour mix for the flour and adding 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum to it. Leave some of these jewels out for Santa and he is bound to fill your stocking with something other than coal!
If you really want to get decadent, spread a layer of nutella under the jam. FYI, Amazon has Linzer cookie cutters sets. Makes about 12-16 sandwich cookies, depending on their size.
1 cup of butter softened
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 large orange, zested
1 large lemon, zested
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 1/2 cups of unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of ground roasted nuts such as hazelnuts or almonds
1 cup of raspberry seedless jam or other yummy jam you have
Put on some Christmas music and get out your favorite mixing bowl. Cream together with a blender, the butter and sugar till light and creamy. Beat in the zest, egg and vanilla. In another bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients, except the nuts, till well fluffed. On a medium setting on your mixer, carefully blend the dry ingredients into the wet till mixed. Slowly add the ground nuts till just blended. Pat the dough with wet fingers into a flat shape, (it’s sticky!) then cover the dough and set in the fridge for 30 minutes to overnight to chill.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and get your dough out to party! Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about a 1/8 of an inch thick. This is sticky dough so make sure and flip the dough a few times while you are rolling it out so it doesn’t stick to the counter. Cut out two cookies of each shape that will make up the sandwich Linzer cookie. Place them on a two lightly greased cookie sheets. Have all the top cookies on one cookie sheet and all the bottoms on another as the tops will cook faster than the bottoms. Then take a smaller cookie cutter and cut the center out of the top cookies for the “window” that will show the jam. Bake for 10 -12 minutes until golden brown. (Bake a little longer if you want a cookie that stays crisp.)
Let your little masterpieces cool completely then spread bottom cookies generously with the jam. Place the “window” cookie on top. Dust liberally with powdered sugar and have a joyous and delicious noel!