Linz is the third largest city in Austria. Beautifully bifurcated by the Danube River, Linz was originally founded by the Romans. Later it served as a provincial city of the Holy Roman Emperor. With a current population of nearly 200,000, Linz is diametrically known for its steel and chemical industry as well as its endorsement of music and art. It is also the home of the beloved PEZ candy. Originally marketed in Vienna in 1927, PEZ candy and the even more famous PEZ dispensers are popular worldwide. Indeed, the dispensers have become a notable collector’s item.
Linz has had a number of well known inhabitants including Johannes Kepler, the famous astronomer who pioneered the laws of planetary motion and defended Copernicus’s theory that the earth revolved around the sun. Another was Adolph Hitler who thought everything revolved around him.
On a more tasteful note, Linz is the reputed home of the renowned Linzertorte. A Linzertorte is a tart made of a rich buttery dough accentuated by almonds, lemon zest, and cinnamon. The tart is traditionally filled with black currant preserves and topped with a lattice crust. In America, raspberry has replaced black currant as the jam of choice. Linzertortes are a traditional European Christmas pastry, a custom that is now enjoyed in the US as well.
The Linzertorte is one of the oldest known tarts with a recipe discovered in an Austrian abbey from 1653. Johann Konrad Vogel (1796-1883) is credited with first mass producing it while Franz Holzlhuber, an Austrian émigré who worked as a baker, is recognized for introducing it to America around 1856.
Linzer cookies employ the same recipe as the Linzertorte but instead the dough is cut into cookies and two of them form a sandwich around the preserves. Moreover, the top cookie has a small cutout in its center (known as Linzer eyes), thus exposing the underlying jam and adding to the visual appeal. While the traditional cutout is circular, all sorts of shapes, such as hearts, are also popular.
I’ve been using the terms “jam” and preserves” interchangeably but technically they are not the same. Jam and preserves are both cooked mixtures of fruit, sugar and sometimes pectin. The difference is preserves contain chunks of fruit where in a jam the fruit is purred. And while we’re at it, a conserve is a cooked mixture of fruit, nuts and sugar. Jelly, is an uncooked mixture of fruit juice, sugar and sometimes pectin. Any one of these four concoctions can be used to make your Linzer cookies.
(makes about 18)
• 8 oz. (two sticks) butter
• 6 oz. sugar
• 2 egg yolks
• Zest of 1 lemon
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 ½ cups cake flour
• ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• Pinch of salt
• 1 cup ground almonds (or hazelnuts if you prefer)
• Raspberry jam, as needed
• Powdered sugar, for dusting, as needed
In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in the egg yolks, one at a time, then the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt together and then mix with the ground almonds. Gradually add the combined dry ingredients to the wet ones in the mixer until fully combined. Divide the dough into two balls, wrap with plastic and rest in the refrigerator for one hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roll out the balls of dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness, (depending on the size of your board you may need to divide the balls in half again and do four batches). Next, cut out 2-inch diameter rounds with a cookie cutter. With a smaller cutter, in the shape you desire, cut out the centers of half the cookies. These will be the tops. If you wish you can combine all the scraps and re-roll for a few extra cookies. Place the cookies on greased or parchment paper lined baking sheets and bake for 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Keep a close eye on them to prevent them from overcooking. Ovens vary and 12 minutes is a guideline. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Spread some of the jam on each solid cookie. Top each cookie with the halves with the cut-out center. Dollop a little more jam into the hole. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.
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