05 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Day 5: Österreichische Weihnachten

As mentioned in a previous post, Austria is one of the places I have always wanted to see.  Since I was a small child growing up on Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals (The King & I, South Pacific, Oklahoma!, and The Sound of Music to name some familiar ones), I often wondered if life was really all it was made out to be by the Von Trapp family.  I spent a fair amount of my childhood thinking it would be just awesome to live in Austria...of course, that only seems awesome to me knowing I grew up in a time when the Nazis no longer in existed as a superpower in that region.  Moving on...

The challenge I had with this country was that their native language is German...and so it follows that you can assume plenty of their customs and traditions around Christmastime will naturally be those of Germany as well.  So...sifting through recipes and traditions got a little repetitive for me when Austria was up to bat.  But...there is one (I felt like Galadriel saying this to myself) cookie that they have for their Weihnachten celebration that is never mistaken for a German tradition or dessert item.  Linzer pastries.  Be it a torte or a cookie, Linzer is all Austria...all of the time.

Named so for the Linz region of Austria, the Linzer torte (which the Linzer Sablés are conceptualized from) dates quite far back into European history.  As early as the 17th century the Linzer Torte was being concocted and loved in Austria at Admont Abbey.  I am truly tickled when I find old Christmas recipes that were SO loved and cherished that they were passed down and given a special place on the table every year, countrywide as well.  At some point the Linzer Sablé was introduced as a hand held, portable morsel of yumminess.  The difference in appearance is slight...instead of a lattice topped jam filled torte, what you get is a cutout topped jam filled cookie.  Both are fabulous, both quite addicting.  Either way I hope that you have a Frohe Weihnachten; Österreich liebt dich.

**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given.  I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons.  You can thank me later.

Linzer Sablés
2 2/3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. sugar
1c. nuts, ground fine (hazelnuts are traditional but any nut works)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 c. black currant jelly
powdered sugar for dusting
parchment paper

In a bowl, combine the flour and spices, stir well to mix.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat together on medium speed the butter and sugar until soft and light, about 5 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and beat in the nuts (I used walnuts) and the flour and spice mixture, one cup at a time.

Remove the bowl form the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to finish mixing the dough. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape it into a rectangle about 1/2 inch think. Wrap and chill the dough until it is firm, about an hour, or up to several days.

When you are ready to bake the cookies center your baking racks in the center of the oven for even baking.

Cut the dough in half and roll out one half, making sure that for every cookie you cut with your cutter that doesn't have a center cut out, that you have one that DOES.  Every bottom needs a lid after you put the jam on it.  Press and pound the dough gently with a rolling pin to soften it a bit, then roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Line your baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Use a 2 1/2-to 3-inch round cookie cutter to cut the dough, unless you have a Linzer cutter set like I do. Just make sure if you aren't using a Linzer set that you have a miniature cutter for cutting out the centers of the tops of the cookies.  If you don't have mini cutters, you could use the backside of a piping tip.  It works...it makes a hole.  Place the cookies on the prepared pans, leaving about an inch around each in all directions.  Repeat with the remaining half of dough. Mass the scraps together and roll them once again to cut more cookies.

Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, or until they are a very pale golden color. Cool them on the pans on racks.

While the cookies are baking, prepare the jam for the filling. Bring the jam to a simmer in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Let the jam reduce until it has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.

After the cookies have cooled, dust the cookies with the cut outs lightly with the confectioners' sugar.

Invert the plain rounds and spread each with about 1/2 teaspoon of the reduced jam. Top with the cookies that have the cut outs, sugar side up. Use a small paper cone, a tiny spoon or the snipped corner of a plastic ziploc type bag to fill the window of the cookies with more reduced jam if you like.

Store the finished cookies between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

The black currant filling in these is the perfect compliment to the walnuts in the cookie.  I have seen recipes for these with almonds or hazelnuts but the recipe I adapted from my friend in Austria was walnuts, so that was the one thing I was going to keep for sure.  They are a loverly, oily nut so they are sure to help the cookie keep moist.  I love that I was able to use my own black currant jam that I made this summer for these.  It gives it all the more meaning to me when I give them to someone to know that from start to finish, these were made by me with plenty of love.

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