Sweet Traditions

The tradition of baking holiday cookies runs several generations deep in my family. It’s true that not all the dough makes it to the oven, but when it does, the scents bring me right back to my earliest years of creating delicious memories in the kitchen with my mom, grandmother, sister, and my mom’s best friend.

These days my own children, friends, and the family members who are able to join in help me carry the tradition forward. Each holiday season, as the baking commences, I am reminded of family members past and the blessings I received from their presence in my life. I love sharing stories of my grandparents great-grandparents with my children while we do the holiday baking together and am pretty sure doing so infuses our cookies with extra love and gratitude.

The Linzer cookie was introduced to me by my husband while we were dating. He saw how much I adore the tradition of baking holiday cookies and was reminded of his mother’s holiday tradition of gifting these baked wonders to friends, service people and anyone else who showed their family kindness and grace throughout the year. He told me that she baked while the kids were at school and concealed the cookies in a secret hiding place, knowing full well that the confections would be devoured if discovered too soon. It was only when the time was just right that she would package them up and distribute them to all the lucky recipients.

Here’s to you, Debbie McErlean, in loving memory. We miss you and will always cherish your gifts of the heart.

Linzer Cookie Recipe (via epicurious.com)

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

Active time: 1 1/2 hr

Total time: 4 hr

Ingredients

2/3 cup hazelnuts (3 oz)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 12-oz jar seedless raspberry jam

Special equipment: a 2- to 2 1/4-inch fluted round cookie cutter and assorted 1/2-inch shaped cookie cutters or aspic cutters

Preparation:

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan until fragrant and skins begin to loosen, about 6 minutes. Rub nuts in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins (some skins may not come off), then cool to room temperature.

Pulse nuts and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a food processor until nuts are finely ground.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a stand mixer (preferably fitted with paddle) or 6 minutes with a handheld. Add nut mixture and beat until combined well, about 1 minute. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

With floured hands, form dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 5-inch disk. Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 2 hours.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll out 1 disk of dough into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick) between 2 sheets of wax paper (keep remaining dough chilled). If dough becomes too soft to roll out, rewrap in plastic and chill until firm. Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with larger cookie cutter and transfer to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging about 1 inch apart. Using smaller cutters, cut out centers from half of the cookies, reserving centers and rerolling along with scraps (reroll only once). Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are golden, 10 to 15 minutes total, then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies from second disk.

Spread about 1 teaspoon jam on flat side of 1 solid cookie and sandwich jam with flat side of 1 windowed cookie. Sandwich remaining cookies in same manner.

Cooks’ note: Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, chilled in an airtight container 2 weeks.