LINZER COOKIES or IS IT TARTS?

Are these rich, shortbread-like nutty pastries with their fruit filling, topped with a sweet powdery cookie called Linzer Tarts or Tortes … or Linzer Cookies … or are they Linzer Tart/Torte Cookies? Could they also be Linzer Augen or Linzer Eyes?  It’s so confusing.  I’ve looked all over the ‘web’ and I can’t seem to get a definitive answer.  I believe Linzer Tortes are the large lattice-topped, pie-shaped pastries, cut into wedges and served wit a dollop of cream.  Now to find out …

As with so many other dishes, the Linzer Torte is named for the city from where it was invented … Linz in Austria.  “Torte” is German for ‘a rich cake made with eggs, flour and nuts’.

Linz, Austria

According to Wikipedia, the Linzer Torte is said to be the oldest ‘cake’ in the world.  I think I’ve read that statement about most of the desserts I’ve researched. Although with an original recipe dating as far back as 1653, it does qualify as ‘old’.

This rich, fruity dessert was a hidden gem in Austria until a pastry chef started mass producing it around 1820.  From Austria the recipe was brought to the U.S. in 1856 by a young Austrian, Franz Holzlhuber.  It seems a very artistic and talented Franz had a job promised him in Wisconsin, so he packed up his things and traveled west. Unfortunately, between Austria and Wisconsin, not only did he lose his luggage, he lost the job. With nothing else to lose at that point, Franz went to work as a baker in Milwaukee and introduced America to the Linzer Torte.

Today, if you search online for Linzer Cookies or Tarts, you’ll see them referenced as Christmas treats.  I’m not sure why.  Could it be that they take a little more time and effort to make, and the only time we put any effort into baking is during the holidays?  Yes, these cookies take a bit more time, but not that much, and they are so worth it.  (William Sonoma sells a dozen of these cookies for $49.95 …. yikes!!)

My shortcut, unlike Martha Stewart’s recipe, is to use almond meal … which is simply ground almonds. If you want to use hazelnut meal, or any other ground nuts, feel free.  They are usually available in better grocery stores.

LINZER TORTE COOKIES
Preheated oven 350°.  Makes approximately 24 2-1/2″ cookies.
1 cup ground almond meal
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of one lemon
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 jar good quality raspberry jam (or any other flavor)
confectioners sugar to sprinkle

No need to preheat the oven until later because these cookies are easier to handle if the dough is chilled for an hour.
In a large bowl, sift and thoroughly mix together the dry ingredients.  In your stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy – about 3 to 4 minutes.

Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Reduce the speed of your mixer, or by hand, add the dry ingredients and the lemon zest.  Do not overmix or the cookies will be tough.

Dump the dough onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball.  Cut the dough into two even-sized portions.  Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate about an hour.  Now preheat the oven to 350° and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  No greasing required.

On a lightly floured pastry board, roll one portion of the chilled dough to about 1/8″ or 1/4″ thick.  The thickness actually depends upon you.  The thinner the cookie, the more crisp (and the more cookies).  I like them a bit thicker – 1/4″.

Using a 2″ to 3″ cookie cutter, cut the dough and place the cookies on the parchment-lined sheets. Flouring the cookie cutter helps to keep it from sticking.   Using a smaller cookie cutter – circles, hearts, stars, whatever you’d like – cut out the center from half of the cookies.  Remember, you are making tops and bottoms.  Gather up the cuttings and knead them back into the left-over dough and continue rolling and cutting.

Bake at 350° for about 10 to 12 minutes, until just cooked through but not browned. Gently transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.  Now roll, cut and bake the second batch of dough. While the cookies are baking, you might want to put the jam in a sieve to release any excess moisture. As Mary Berry says, ‘there’s nothing worse than soggy bottoms’.

When all the dough is baked and thoroughly cooled, turn the bottoms over so that you are assembling bottoms to bottoms.

Use a sieve to sift the confectioners sugar generously over the cookie tops before assembling the cookie.  Spread the jam on the bottom half of the bottom cookie.  Don’t be overly generous with the jam or it will ooze out the sides.  Place the top cookie on top of the bottom and you are done!

Rich, fruity, nutty whether you call them Linzer Tarts or Tortes or Cookies or Augen doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that whatever you do decide to call them, I’m calling them absolutely delicious!!!

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References:  Wisconsin Historic Society, Wikepedia

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