Saturday, February 15, 2014

Linzer Cookies - celebrate Valentine's day with some reduced butter cookies :-)

Some of you atleast know my perspective of the valentine's day, it is not to be celebrated for a day if you are generally not expressing the emotion throughout the year or conversely, make every day a celebration. Granted there are days where you pull your hair out and yell at your valentine but that is part of the grand scheme of life. So, personally I do not subscribe to do anything special on the Valentine's day :-). Now, before you write me off as the middle aged (which I may be), unromantic person(not a chance) there ever was/is alive, let me tell you I am much in love and look forward to stay that way for years to come. And despite all my personal opinions on the matter, I seem to be making something special for this day as part of my obligations in this virtual world :-).

I was out shopping yesterday (nothing exotic, just the boring groceries) and every store I went to from a departmental store to a pharmacy had people crowded around either the flower bouquets and chocolates or the greeting cards. And also, the majority of people in these aisles were male. For laughing out loud (no LOL for me, I really am showing my age today in more ways than one), I don't know what to make of this gender bias in the stores ..
After that contradictory opening, here I am with some delicious, sweet cookies to appease you all today. I know the post is coming a day after the Valentine's day, but like I say always, every day is special if you want to bake something for your loved one(s), so go ahead and enjoy these precious bites albeit with a little restraint since they have much butter than I normally use in my cooking :-).

Today being the 15th, this post is part of my monthly Baking Partner's challenge that is conceptualized and hosted by Swathi. She gave us a choice of 2 types of cookies for the challenge and let us pick one. Infact, I made both of the cookies but missed taking pictures of the first one. And without pictures, what is a blog post?? I thought of making them again for the sake of pictures but decided to instead try the other choice and here I am with some delicious Linzer cookies. I am not a cookie person myself but these crunchy bites with some apricot jam sandwiched in between made for a delicious bite. Linzer cookies are of European origin and are 2 cookies sandwiched with a layer of jam or marmalade (choose any fruit flavor that you love). These cookies are flavored with both citrus and spices to wake you up. I would recommend experimenting and finding out the combination you like best. I added some tangerine and meyer lemon zest, you can easily replace them with orange or lime or regular lemon zest if that is what you have/like. I also added some cinnamon and cloves. Since you add all these flavors, the cookie dough is kept aside for a few hours (I refrigerated mine overnight for about 30 hours) so they seep into the dough and give you a burst of flavors on biting into a cookie. The original recipe says it can be refrigerated upto 3 months but I don't see the point of it, it is not like you are making a fruit cake :-). So.. I will leave the determination of resting period to you intelligent souls.
Now there was another reason I didn't refrigerate it too long, yes, Valentine's day was around the corner and I had to bake it quickly :-) but I also made mine a reduced fat cookie by slashing the amount of butter to half and wanted to see how my substitute ingredient worked. Sure, I hear the collective gasping of all you cookie connoisseurs hating me for bringing shame to the world of cookie making and also proudly bragging & blogging about it. Hear me out a little bit, will you? I have done this trick before while making some of my other cookies and haven't found my cookies lacking anything at all. I know it sounds hard to believe but it is definitely not a story of denial. Butter in cookies are over rated according to me, if you can make paneer butter masala without the butter or Dal Makhni without the makhan then why not cookies with reduced butter? Beginning to sound reasonable? I know I can convince (most of you atleast) with this argument, so read on..

I shy away from making traditional cookies for the amount of fat they seem to claim as needed. Once during a girl scouts bake sale, we made dozens and dozens of cookies and my hands I am sure got the best moisturizing like never before or after as I was handling the dough. A few years back, when DD was in elementary school, I used to meet another mom in her Taekwondo class. This super sweet lady and I became friends and she invited me to a cookie exchange during the Holiday season. In those days, I was very hesitant to bake anything, let alone experiment with traditional, butter laden cookies. I called her ahead and explained my predicament and she sweetly suggested I could bring in something else if I was not comfortable making cookies. I ended up taking some fruit punch to that gathering but the point of Christmas cookie exchange is to literally exchange your best, favorite and handed down the family cookie recipes with each other and I got a bunch of index cards with cookie recipes on them and every one of them spelt butter in substantial amounts and so I just kept them aside. If cookies have to be baked, I look for options that I like - added nuts, spices, fruits to bring out the flavor.

Back to the reduced fat cookie, I already told you that I slashed the amount of butter by half but that eliminates the moisture content in the recipe, so how did I make up for it? I added 1.5 Tbsp (for the quantity of ingredients I am giving below) of milk and made the dough. If someone doesn't tell you about this or if you haven't grown up rolling in Paula Deen's recipes all your life, you will not notice the reduction and there is nothing in the taste that tells you otherwise. The surrounding flavors make you forget about the lack of full on butter and lets you enjoy the cookies feeling a little better :-). So go ahead and try these delicacies at half the guilt or indulge yourself in the original version itself.
What do you need to make Linzer cookies? 
Makes about 1.5 dozen sandwiches
1  cup + 2 tablespoon All purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds and/or hazelnuts
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 Tsp salt
1 Tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 Tsp ground cloves
4 Tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature, original recipe says 8 Tbsp butter)
1.5-2 Tbsp milk
1/8 Tsp almond extract
1 Tsp grated lemon zest
1 Tsp grated orange zest
2 Tbsp jam/jelly/fruit preserves (I used apricot jam)
1 Tsp + extra Powdered sugar for dusting

How do you make Linzer cookies?
  • Soak almonds in warm water for about 45 minutes to an hours, remove the outer peel and pat them dry.
  • Make a powder of almonds along with 1 Tsp of powdered sugar in to a fine consistency.
  • Prepare cinnamon and cloves powder and keep ready. 
  • Wash, pat dry and grate the rinds of lemon and oranges to get the required amount of zest. 
  • Bring all ingredients together (except butter and milk) in a wide bowl and working with your fingers mix them well for a couple of minutes.
  • Cut the butter into small pieces, add them to the bowl and mix them well. As you knead, the natural oil from the almonds also helps as a source of moisture.
  • The dough starts to come together within 3-4 minutes, if it is very crumbly and falling apart, slowly add milk (room temperature) and knead it in. I used only 1.5Tbsp of it, so go by what your fingers are feeling in the dough bowl and adjust the milk.
  • Once you have a firm ball of dough in hand, pat it into a slab (dimensions doesn't matter really), wrap completely with a cling wrap and refrigerate it (3 - 24 hours).

  • When you are ready to bake the cookies, prepare 2 cookie sheets by laying out parchment sheets on them.
  • Spread another parchment sheet on the working surface, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit out for 10 minutes.
  • Mean while, preheat the oven to 325F and set the racks to 1/3 distance from the top and bottom. 
  • Remove the plastic wrap and place the slab on the parchment paper, Lay another parchment sheet on top (this avoids the dough and excess butter sticking to your hands and the rolling pin) and start to roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. 
  • Remove the top sheet, use the cookie cutters to cut different shapes. You get Linzer cookie cutters in the store which makes cutting the center piece easy but if you do not have them, just use different shapes to cut an outer shape and a smaller inner shape. 
  • You will make equal number of solid halves (without center cut) and center cut halfs to finally assemble the sandwiches. I hope the pictures tell the story better than I am able to do :-). 
  • Lay out the cut shapes with 1/2 inch distance between the two and bake them for a total of 14-15 minutes, open the oven once midway through, rotate the cookie sheets and also by interchanging the top and bottom cookie sheets - this insures even baking without burning. 
  • Watch the cookies towards the end of baking time and take them out once the edges start to brown slightly.
  • Let them stand for a few minutes to become firm before you assemble the sandwiches.
Assembling Linzer cookies (Do this when you are ready to serve, else the preserve layer tends to soften the cookies):
  • Take a solid half, spread a thin layer of jam or preserve, top it with the other half with the cutout.
  • Take a Tsp of powdered sugar in a thin sieve and sift it over the top.
  • Time saver tip - You can use store bought almond meal instead of soaking, peeling and grinding the almonds.
  • As you cut out the cookies, bring the scraps and the center cuts back into a ball and repeat the process. You can also bake the center cutouts separately but they cook faster because of their size.
  • You can serve these cookies without making them into sandwiches if the cutouts pose a problem. Slather some jam on top and bite in :-)


Sangeetha Nambi said...

Perfectly done !

beingFab said...

I agree, Valentine's Day is getting bigger and bigger every year!! The cookies are beautiful!

NamsVeni Pothas said...

very nice cookies with perfect recipe.

Suja Manoj said...

Perfect cookies for valentine,looks so yummy