Upon being unexpectedly and unfortunately let go of my desk job as a PR consultant for a global communications agency in early March, I have allocated my energy and very valuable time to what I consider to be the true pleasures of life. (Of course I do this while I look for employment opportunities in this sometimes gloomy economic environment.)
Baking is definitely one of those pleasures. I have not officially attended culinary school (…yet) therefore I derive my knowledge in the culinary arts from The Food Network chefs and whatever I can read online. When it comes to my knowledge in baking, however, the credit goes to someone much closer to home… my grandmother.
If you have read Laura Esquivel’s Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) then you won’t have any trouble picturing my childhood in the kitchen. Before I continue, let me clarify that my mother’s water didn’t actually break in the kitchen and that there weren’t any nipples exposed while cooking with grandma. I did however, grow up nosing around the kitchen and trying to grasp the techniques and flavors that yielded scrumptious meals day after day.
I spent most summers at my grandmother’s house, where she taught me the basics of using a sewing machine and most importantly, what every baker in the making needs to know in order to make top-notch baked goods.
Lately, I’ve been baking quite a bit and of course I wanted to share with you the latest recipe I got my hands on. Below is the recipe for the Linzer cookies I baked yesterday. I posted some pictures of the cookies on my Facebook page and they were well received by my everyone, so I decided to share the recipe here with some of my own recommendations highlighted in italics.
Before you run to the grocery store or pantry to see if you have all the necessary ingredients to start baking these cookies, you might want to make sure you have the following special tools handy:
Linzer cookie cutter (I used my Wilton 7-pc Linzer Cookie Cutter with Assorted Cutouts, it was $5.99 at a kitchen store outlet)
Sifter (You should always sift sugar, flour and any other dry ingredients before mixing. For this recipe, you can also use the sifter to dust the cookies with confectioner’s sugar)
Electric mixer (I used my old-fashioned Oster hand mixer)
Cookie sheets, parchment paper, rolling pin and wire racks
From: The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book
Makes about 1 dozen cookies
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1tsp finely grated orange or lemon zest (I used lemon, that’s what my grandmother would recommend too)
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp pure almond extract
1/4 tsp dark rum (The original recipe didn’t call for rum, but I always incorporate it because it adds a lot of flavor to baked goods)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
About 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam (Instead, I used some marionberry jam I brought back from a trip to Oregon and an organic fig spread from Whole Foods)
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
In a food processor, finely grind the toasted hazelnuts using short pulses and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, cream the butter until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the granulated sugar and continue beating until combined. Add the egg yolk, orange (or lemon) zest, vanilla, and almond extract and beat on low speed until well blended.
Sift the flour, cinnamon, and salt together in another bowl. Add the ground hazelnuts and stir to blend. Add the flour-nut mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed or stir with a wooden spoon until well blended. The dough should be soft. The the dough out of the bowl, divide into 4 equal portions, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Lightly grease 2 baking sheets or line them with parchment paper (I prefer the latter). Remove 1 portion of the dough at a time from the refrigerator, place between 2 sheets of waxed paper, and roll out 1/4 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, cut out the cookies. Cut a whole in the center of half of the cookies with a 1 1/4 inch cutter (or use the cutouts that come with your linzer cookie cutter). Repeat to roll out the remaining dough portions, then reroll the dough scraps as needed to make 24 cutouts in all, cutting holes in half of them. If the dough becomes sticky, wrap it and chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes before rolling out.
Using a thin spatula, carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared pans. (Before I did this, I let the cookies hang out in the freezer for a couple of minutes. This really helps when trying to lift them up from the parchment paper and transffering them to the cookie sheets without them losing their shape.) Bake until firm to the touch, about 12 minutes. Transfer the pans to wire racks. Loosen the cookies from the pans with the spatula, but leave in place on the pans until cooled.
To assemble, spread the solid cookies with about 1 teaspoon of the raspberry jam to within about 1/4 inch of the edges. (I used marionberry jam on half the cookies and fig spread on the other half. You can use the jam/preserves of your liking.) Using a fine-mesh sieve (or sifter), dust the cutout cookies with confectioner’s sugar.