I know it seems crazy to post about Christmas cookies after rambling on about New Year's resolutions. I'd like to say that I planned it all along.
The truth is that I am so accustomed to clicking "Publish Post" right after I finish a post that I completely forgot that I wanted to wait until Friday to share my New Year's post. And once it was done I really didn't feel like going back and changing anything. Oh, well.
The (other) truth is that these cookies are, to me at least, more winter-inspired than Christmas-specific. Well, except for the Christmas tree cut-outs. And so we'll pretend that they're actually winter evergreens for the next few minutes.
I received Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours for my birthday and after only a while perusing it all I could think was Where has this book been all my life? I mentally bookmarked about half of the recipes just flipping through and vowed to try out (at least) one this holiday season.
The chosen recipe is these Walnut Linzer Sables. I've long wanted to make Linzer cookies and I was inspired by a Martha Stewart variation that used a small Christmas tree cookie cutter for the top cutter.
I really can't say enough good things about this dough. Ground walnuts lend a wonderful toasty flavor and traditional winter spices add warmth. After being rolled out the dough is chilled before being cut and baked.
Plain, the cookies are redolent of butter, sugar, toasted nuts, and just a hint of cinnamon. The cookies have a sandy texture like a sable (or French butter cookie) but they're sturdy enough to be topped with jam and sandwiched.
I opted to use a cranberry jam that we had on hand because it seemed particularly festive, and it adds a subtle tartness that is a good contrast to the sweet, spiced cookie.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this recipe, besides how easy the dough is to work with, was how versatile it is. As you can see from the photos, the sandwiches can be easily adapted for all sorts of occasions. Obviously for Christmas a tree cutter or any other holiday cutter would be great for making the top cookie. You could use hearts for Valentine's day or flowers for Easter or summer. In autumn, a leaf would do.
After rolling and cutting out all the cookies there will inevitably be some leftover dough. Rather than throwing it away, I opted to roll them into balls and make thumbprint cookies. Now that's what I call fabulous leftovers!
Walnut Linzer Sables
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
I doubled Dorie Greenspan's recipe and got about 30 or so sandwich cookies (of varying sizes) out of the recipe. Depending on the cutter size you use, you may get more or less. Instead of walnuts, you could use ground almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans. To finely grind the nuts, place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until the nuts resemble a coarse cornmeal. Be careful not to grind the nuts too much, lest you end up with nut butter (which is still tasty, just not what you're looking for). Instead of cranberry jam, you can use any flavor of smooth jam, such as raspberry or strawberry. If you opt to use a flavor that still has chunks of fruit in it, strain the jam before making the filling for the cookies.
Yield: about 30 sandwich cookies, depending on the size of cookie
For the cookie dough:
3 cups finely ground walnuts (see note above)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 large eggs
4 teaspoons water
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
For the jam filling:
About 1 cup cranberry jam
1 teaspoon water
Begin by making the dough. Whisk together the ground nuts, flour, cinnamon, salt, and cloves. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and water.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the egg mixture and beat for 1 more minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients slowly, mixing until they just disappear into the dough. Be careful not to work the dough much once the flour is incorporated. If the dough comes together but some dry crumbs remain in the bottom of the bowl, stop the mixer and finish blending the ingredients with a rubber spatula.
Divide the dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, put the dough between two large sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Use your hands to flatten the dough into a disk. Then, using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the dough (still covered in paper or plastic) to a cookie sheet and repeat with the remaining dough. Once all the dough is rolled out, transfer the cookie sheet to the refrigerator and chill for about 2 hours, or until it is very firm. You can also freeze the dough for about 45 minutes. (The rolled-out dough can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Just thaw the dough enough to cut out the cookies and proceed from there.)
Once the dough is firm, prepare to bake the cookies. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats (such as Silpat).
Working with one sheet of dough at a time, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Using a cookie cutter (I used a 1 3/4-inch size and a 2-inch size), cut out as many cookies as you can. Set the scraps aside for re-rolling or making into jam thumbprints (see below). Transfer the rounds to a baking sheet, leaving a little space between the cookies.
Bake the cookies for 11 to 13 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden, dry, and just firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature.
While the first batch of dough is baking, repeat with another sheet of dough, making sure to cut as many top pieces (with peekaboo cutouts) as bottom (non-cutout) pieces. Use any small cutter for the cutouts, which can be baked alongside the round cookies. Bake the second batch of cookies on the second baking sheet. Continue baking the cookies, one sheet at a time, until all the dough is used.
Once the cookies have cooled, make the jam filling. Place the jam and water in a microwave-safe bowl and stir to combine. Heat in the microwave until bowling, about 2 minutes. Let the jam cool and thicken slightly (it will still be pourable, though). To fill the cookies, place a bottom cookie flat-side up and spoon a bit of jam on top. Sandwich with a top cookie and let cool on a rack. If the jam layer is a bit thin, drizzle a little more filling into the cutout.
Cool, serve, and enjoy.
For the jam thumbprint cookies: If you have some remaining dough but don't wish to roll it out again, form them into about 1 1/2-inch balls. Flatten into disks about 1/2-inch thick and bake at 375 degrees F for 11 to 13 minutes, until golden around the edges and dry.
Remove the cookies from the oven. While they are still hot, carefully use your finger to form a small indentation in the center of the cookie (you could also use a small spoon). Transfer the cookies to a rack and cool to room temperature. Once the cookies have cooled, fill the indentation with any flavor of jam you like.