Tucked back into a corner of downtown Weisbaden’s shopping center, the tiny bakery is far from the bustle of nearby shoppers. It is not one of the numerous stands that lines the pedestrian zone, selling piping hot pretzels for fifty pfennings. Nor is it the corner bakery case that offers bright fruit tarts and our favorite, fluffy dampfnoodles, steamed buns with a salty, crispy crust. Far away from the hip clothing stores that entice my teenage eyes with the latest Euro fashions and Spice Girlesque boots, the bakery is saved for trips downtown with my mother. We always travel deeper into the shopping district, near the giant cuckoo clock store and the linen shop where she often buys new table cloths. There, the tiny bakery awaits, full of wonderful poppy seed brotchen, rich apfel strudel, and buttery, jammy, linzer cookies.
It is always at this bakery that I ask for the linzer. Big round cookies, filled with bright raspberry jam and topped with powdered sugar, I rarely leave the cookie in it’s bag long enough for the grease to mark the paper. The cookies are the perfect mix of spicy, sweet and delicious.
Back in the US, several years after my European adolescence, memories of those linzer cookies still connect to shopping trips with my Mother. Thoughts turned to her Valentine’s Day gift, the idea of baking these cookies swirled in my mind. Traditionally made with ground nuts, spices, butter, sugar and eggs, the cookies are a form of the Linzer Torte. Home to Linzer, Austria, the dough that forms both the torte and the cookies is said to date back as far as 1696. As I searched for the perfect recipe, I found many variations from this traditional dough. Each used brown, white, or confectioner’s sugar, a variety of different nuts and a mixture of spices. Some called for chemical leavener’s, other’s did not, and many included variations for the jam filling, including using any kind of store bought flavor. At first I thought traditional:ground almonds with cinnamon and nutmeg, and perhaps Apricot jam, but I needed a recipe. Mulling around with the ratios for linzer’s that I found, I decided finally on one egg to one yolk, and dark muscovado sugar for it’s deep molasses flavor. With a good base linzer cookie recipe created, I decided to play around with the ingredients. Pistachio linzer with cherry jam. Punched into hearts and topped with confectioner’s sugar, these cookies were quite attractive all boxed up and tasted almost as wonderful as the linzer’s I remember eating with my mother in Germany. For Valentine’s Day or any day that needs something special, these Linzer’s are a great way to go.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Pistachio Linzer Cookies
1 pound unslated butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes, room temperature
8 oz dark muscavado sugar*
1 tbsp orange zest(zest into the bowl over the butter to garner all orange oils)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 oz honey**
1 tbsp Grand Marnier
1 pound All Purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 star anise
1 pound pistachios, toasted, cooled, and very, finely ground(a food processor works well)
*muscavado sugar is an unrefined, dark brown sugar available at Whole Foods and specialty baking stores
**orange blossom honey is wonderful, but use your favorite honey
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, use a paddle attachment to cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest on medium speed for five minutes, or until the butter looks fluffy.
2. On low speed, add eggs and vanilla. Scrape down.
3. Add honey and Grand Marnier, mix and scrape down. Combine until incorporated.
4. Using a microplane or fine grater, carefully grate the star anise into the flour. Sift the salt, baking soda, ground star anise and flour together three times. Slowly add the four to the butter mixture and mix until just incorporated.
5. Add the ground pistachios. Mix until combined.
6. Roll the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 Farenheiut.
8.Divide the dough into four pieces. Spray two pieces of parchment or baking paper with nonstick spray. Moving quickly but carefully, roll the dough between the paper, removing the paper ever other roll on either side so that dough does not stick to the paper. This dough is very wet and difficult to work with when it becomes warm so you must work quickly. If the dough sticks to the paper, place it back in the refrigerator and work with another peice. Roll all four pieces to 1/8 inch, placing each in the refrigerator after rolling.
9. Remove one rolled out sheet of dough and take off top piece of parchment. Spray this parchment again and place on a sheet tray. Working quickly, cut out desired shapes and place on sheet tray, using an off set spatula to help remove cut-out shapes if necessary. Place excess dough back into refrigerator to be rolled out for future use. Cut a second shape into half of the cookies to create an “eye” for the linzers.
10. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the tray around and bake for an additional 5-8 minutes. Cool the cookies and spread jam on half, creating sandwhiches. Sift confectionar’s sugar on top of sandwhiches and enjoy.
Port Cherry Spread
14 oz dried cherries
10 oz port
2 star anise
2 cardamom pods
1. Toast the spices to release oils.
2. In a heavy bottomed small sauce pot, place the cherries, port and whole spices.
3. Heat on low heat until the liquid is reduced to 1/8.
4. Remove spices. Place cherries in food processor and grind until very fine.
5. Push the pureed cherries through a fine mesh strainer.
6. Spread on linzer cookies.