Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Surprise for Valentine's Day

My husband Anthony loves Linzer cookies, a buttery sandwich cookie glued together with jam, and a peekaboo window cut out of the top layer, which is dusted with powdered sugar. I've never made them before, so I decided to try making them as a surprise for Valentine's Day.

I debated between two recipes. The first came from Martha, and called for several more ingredients (including ground blanched almonds). I was less daunted by the number of ingredients than I was by the fact that the dough seemed quite sticky from the recipe and required a great deal of turns in and out of the freezer.

Instead I chose a recipe from my Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking cookbook, called "Raspberry Jam Sandwich Hearts." It had only 7 ingredients, all of which I already had in stock.

The dough is a straightforward shortbread flavored with vanilla and almond extract (hence no need for ground blanched almonds). You refrigerate it for 40 minutes, and then roll it out and cut out your cookies. The book calls this an "easy-to-roll" dough, but I found it cracked almost immediately under a rolling pin, and I had to press it out by hand and then roll it smooth before cutting it.  I've noticed that with doughs that use confectioner's sugar rather than granulated, this is often the case.

Eventually, the dough came together and I was able to cut out several heart shapes, taking care to cut a smaller heart out of every other cookie once it was on the cookie sheet. I also baked off the small heart cut-outs and dusted them with red sanding sugar.

After the cookies were done, I brought half a jar of Anthony's favorite raspberry jam (Hero) to a boil, then let it simmer on low for 5 minutes to thicken it. The hot, runny jam passed easily through a sieve, allowing me to strain out the seeds.  I then stuck the seedless mixture in the freezer to cool.

When sandwiching the cookies, it's important not to spread the jam on the bottom cookie all the way to the edge, as the pressure of the top cookie causes the jam to spread a great deal.

The finished cookies were pretty and had a rich buttery flavor with subtle hints of almond. They'd be perfect with tea.

We'll see how Anthony likes them!

Linzer Cookies
(adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cookbook)


Ingredients:

Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for work surface
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup confectioners (powdered) sugar, plus additional for dusting
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon pure almond extract

Filling:
½ cup seedless raspberry jam or raspberry preserves
(or use your favorite jam and strain it as described above)


Directions:

Dough:
In a medium mixing bowl, sift flour and salt together. Set aside.


In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter and confectioner sugar; beat together until mixture is smooth. Add vanilla extract and almond extract; beat to incorporate. Add flour mixture on low just until incorporated.

Form dough into two flattened disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until well chilled, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Baking sheets may be ungreased, lined with parchment paper, or lined with a non-stick baking mat.

On a lightly surface, press down dough, then roll out using a lightly floured rolling pin, to a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut dough into hearts or other desired shapes using a 2½ inch cookie cutter.  Transfer to baking sheets and then, using a 1 inch heart shaped cookie cutter, cut out the center of half of the 2½ inch cookies. Re-roll the scraps, or bake the 1 inch heart shapes separately.

Bake:
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are set and the edges are very lightly browned. Let them sit on the sheets on a rack for 5 minutes.  Then remove cookies from baking sheets with a metal spatula and place on a wire cooling rack to cool.

Filling and Assembly:
Leaving a ¼ inch border uncovered, spread about 1 teaspoon of the raspberry jam over each cookie without the middle cutout.

Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the tops of the cookies that have the middle cutout with confectioner’s sugar. Place the cutout cookies on top of the jam-covered cookies.

(The recipe says this makes 16 sandwiches, but I barely
got 15...)

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