Linzer bars make easy holiday party treats and gifts
No time to make a full-size Linzer torte like this? Use the basic elements for bars instead. (Fotolia / December 11, 2013)
One of my favorites, however, is the Linzer torte. A centuries-old specialty of the northern Austrian city of Linz, this pie-shaped tart features a base made from a rich, crumbly dough of ground hazelnuts, flour, butter, sugar, and sweet spices, topped with raspberry jam and then covered with a pretty lattice pattern of the same dough, through which the deep-red topping glistens like stained glass or a jewel. If a cafe offers a good one, as so many in Austria do, I can't resist a slice with a cup of coffee.
The same basic elements of a Linzer torte can also be transformed easily into cookies that, as pretty as they look and as delicious as they taste, are perfect to make for the holidays. My late mother, Maria, who sometimes worked as a professional baker and always baked wonderful things for my sisters, brother, and me, always made generous batches of Linzer cookies for our family's holiday table and to share as gifts.
Sometimes, she would go to the effort of crafting each cookie by hand. She'd cut out rounds of dough for the base, and others with holes cut out of their centers which the jam could show through when the she put the cookies together sandwich-style.
But as things got more hectic with Christmas approaching, my mother could simply turn the same elements into more efficiently made bar-style cookies. All that required was preparing a big rectangle of the dough (which home cooks today can prepare in minutes with a food processor); partially baking it; topping it with jam and a dough lattice she made easily using a piping bag; baking the assembly until golden brown; and finally cutting it into bars once it had cooled.
Try baking a batch of my mother's easy Linzer bars soon. If you like, you can also experiment by using different nuts or other kinds of jam, until you've come up with a version you prefer.
Store the bars stacked in single layers between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container at cool room temperature, where they'll keep well for a couple of weeks. Or place them way inside decorative airtight tins to give as holiday gifts your friends are sure to love.
Makes about 5 dozen bars, each 1 by 3 inches
1/2 pound shelled hazelnuts
1 cup cake flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 large egg
1-1/2 cups raspberry jam
Confectioners' sugar, for decorating