Friday, February 22, 2013

Blackberry-Hazelnut Linzer Cookies

I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day (do I really need to list the reasons why?), but this year I felt compelled to celebrate, even if in just some small way.  Perhaps it's because there was a third person this year (who is technically not here yet) and my emotions got the better of me and convinced me that Valentine's Day is in fact important.  The end result was a simple baking project, so it's not as if I went all out, but it definitely meant more to me this year than it has in years past.

Although this recipe is adapted from one from King Arthur flour, the inspiration for it was the two taglines of the newish Bouchon Bakery cookbook - it's all about memories and it's all about childhood.  I was lucky enough to meet Thomas Keller and the extremely talented (and kind and sweet) Sebastian Rouxel several months ago when the book was released, and although they signed everyone's copy of the book the same way, mine had a little something special in it.

I love how Chef Keller addressed the inscription
I spoke with Chef Rouxel for a few minutes about baking from this book with my yet-to-be-born son, and the way his face lit up when he talked about baking with his own children brought tears to my eyes.  I've always known that I want my children in the kitchen with me as soon as they're old enough to be in there safely, but speaking with Chef Rouxel about his own experience made it suddenly seem tangible and not all that far off.  Some of my favorite memories are of helping out my own mom in the kitchen, starting with a task as simple as beating eggs on Sunday mornings for omelets (which is not bad for a three-year-old) to, as a ten year old, making our monthly pan of eggplant parm (save for the frying, because even now that I'm older I don't love doing it and occasionally get splattered).  Doing the same with my son is inevitable given how much I loved doing so with my mom and given how much of my time is spent in the kitchen.

I had seen the recipe for these cookies a while back and it got stuck in my head, so of course I had to make it at some point.  And what better occasion than Valentine's Day for little heart shaped cookies.

Most linzer cookies I've had have been almond cookies with raspberry filling, which is a combination I love.  But blackberry and hazelnut is my favorite fruit-nut combinations, so much that it was one of the flavors of my wedding cake, so I had to go with it.

As I rolled out the dough and cut out the little hearts, I couldn't help but fast forward to a few years from now and picture myself doing so with my little baking assistant.  It kept me going through the process, which was much more tedious and took longer than anticipated but somewhat soothing from the repetition.  (Although the next day my back was killing me.  Lesson learned: don't stand for 2.5 hours straight when you're 39 weeks pregnant.)  And I won't deny that I had fun painting them with red glitter at the end (yes, it's edible).

The hours of work I put into these paid off - Matt loved them, as did I, so I've decided that they're going to be our annual Valentine's Day treat.  I can't wait for the first year when I make them with my son - I know they'll be the best ones yet.


Blackberry-Hazelnut Linzer Cookies
(makes approximately 60 1 1/2" sandwich cookies)

3 ounces hazelnuts
4 ounces turbinado sugar
3 1/2 ounces granulated sugar
8 ounces unsalted butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
11 ounces all-purpose flour
8 ounces seedless blackberry jam

Special equipment: 4 Silpats or baking sheet-sized pieces of parchment paper; 1 1/2" shaped cookie cutter and another, smaller one of the same shape


Toast the hazelnuts until they are fragrant and just barely starting to turn golden brown.  You can do this one of several ways, but  I prefer the microwave oven method because it requires me to wash the smallest item afterward.
  • Heat them in a microwave oven in 30 second bursts - this usually takes me 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
  • Toast them for 4-5 minutes in a dry skillet set over medium heat.
  • Toast them in an 350 F oven for about 10 minutes.
Let the hazelnuts cool completely, then remove as many of the skins as possible by rubbing the nuts in a clean dish towel.  Don't worry if you can't get all the skins off - we're not serving these cookies at Bouchon Bakery.  Put the skinned hazelnuts in a spice grinder or mini chopper and pulse until the nuts are finely ground.  Don't let it turn into a paste!

Put the turbinado sugar into a spice grinder and pulse a few times until the sugar is finely ground.  (You can also do this in a mortar and pestle.)  Add the ground turbinado sugar, granulated sugar, and butter to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle and beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.  Add the baking powder, salt, and vanilla, and mix for 10 seconds on medium speed.  Add the egg and mix for 30 seconds on medium speed.

Add the ground hazelnuts and flour and mix on low speed until just combined.  Separate the dough into four chunks, turn each one out onto a large piece of wax paper or plastic wrap, flatten each one into a disk, and wrap tightly.  Refrigerate the dough until firm, 2-3 hours and preferably overnight.

Heat oven to 325 F.

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge and place it on a Silpat or a piece of parchment paper cut to fit a baking sheet.  Place the wax paper or plastic wrap on top and roll it to slightly thinner than 1/4".  Cut out shapes using a cutter that is approximately 1 1/2", then use a smaller cutter of the same shape to cut out a small hole from the center of half the cookies.  Don't pop out the cookies just yet!  Put the Silpat/parchment on the baking sheet and place it in the freezer for 10 minutes.  [Note: This dough is really soft and delicate, which is why I freeze it before popping the cutouts out of the slab of dough.  I tried to lift them off with an offset spatula and they kept getting messed up.  Anyhow, you would need to chill the dough again before baking, so you're not really losing any time by doing this.  Trust me, it helps a great deal.]

Remove another piece of dough from the fridge and repeat the process above.  Remove the first pan from the freezer and replace it with the new one.

Gently pop the cookies out of the frozen piece of dough (this is SO much easier than trying to lift them off the Silpat with an offset spatula while the dough is at room temperature) and place them onto a new Silpat or piece of parchment that is set on a baking sheet.  Gather the scraps and set them aside.

Bake the cookies until the edges are just starting to turn golden, about 10 minutes.  Keep an eye on the cookies starting at 7 minutes - they will go from golden to very brown very quickly!  Let the cookies cool on the pan for 1-2 minutes, then use an offset spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.

Repeat the rolling/cutting/freezing/baking process with the remaining pieces of dough, making sure to use the scraps from each round.

To fill the cookies, put the jam in a small bowl and stir gently to break it up into a smooth, sauce-like consistency.  Put a small dollop - about 3/4 teaspoon - onto the centers of the backs of the cookies that don't have small cutouts in them, then place a cookie with a cutout on top of the jam and press down slightly to spread the jam.  (If you're making hearts, I found it helpful to drag the jam into a slight V shape so that it doesn't ooze out of the bottom near the point of the heart when the top piece gets pressed on.)

Store the cookies in an airtight container with a piece of parchment or plastic wrap between each layer of cookies (this keeps the jam from the center hole from getting stuck to the backs of the cookies on top).  The cookies actually taste better the next day when they have absorbed some of the moisture from the jam and have softened up a bit.

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