By Betty Gordon
© 2017 text and photos. All rights reserved.
In a panic about what to get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day? Is your budget too fragile for pricey long-stemmed red roses, a decadent box of imported chocolates or expensive sparkly jewelry?
Is another bottle of perfume or cologne too blasé? Do you really want to bring yet another attention-diverting electronic gadget into the house?
Not to worry. There’s a simple and much more personal solution: Bake.
Many years ago, I began making these linzer heart cookies to share in the newsroom where I worked and to send to friends. They garnered universal praise for their delicate, melt-in-your mouth crumb. As I would go around the office handing them out, I often had to turn down requests for seconds and thirds because other co-workers hadn’t had even one cookie yet.
The recipe makes at least 48 cookies, but you’ll possibly have more, depending on how thinly you roll out the dough. I’ve tinkered a bit with the filling, but the basic cookie never fails to please.
I’m posting this with plenty of time left leading up to February 14 because you may want to do a trial run of the cookies by making a half-batch.
Also, be warned that they are very time-consuming to undertake, which is why I rarely make them more than once a year. The steps are easy and there is extended resting time in between them, so read the recipe carefully and plan your activities/errands/other cooking around this dough.
Stored in a tightly covered container, the cookies will keep for at least two weeks — not that they’ll be around that long. A friend I sent them to last year recently discovered five stowed and protectively wrapped in her freezer. She reports that they retained their yumminess after all that time in the extreme cold.
Enjoy them alone or alongside a piping hot cup of freshly brewed tea.
Hands on: 3 hours
Total time: 4 hours, plus extra time for chilling dough
Makes: 48 cookies (each cookie is a sandwich, so total baked is really 96)
3/4 pound (3 sticks) sweet butter, softened
1 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
2 cups shelled walnuts, finely grated (or pecans or almonds)
1/2 cup red raspberry preserves (or seedless raspberry jam)
To make the dough: In a large bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix well.
Sift together the flour and cornstarch; add to creamed mixture and blend well. Mix walnuts in thoroughly. The dough will be very stiff. (These steps can be done by hand with a sturdy mixing spoon, in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer.)
Gather dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper and chill for 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.
To shape the cookies: Cut off about a quarter of the dough and leave remaining ball in the refrigerator while you work. Between two pieces of waxed paper, roll out dough to about 1/4-inch thickness.
Using a small heart-shaped cookie cutter about 1 1/2 inches long, cut out cookies. Peel carefully off the waxed paper. A small offset spatula may help in this function. If you rip the heart or the cookies aren’t a pleasing shape, just add the misfires to the other leftover scraps and reroll and recut.
If the dough is getting too warm and harder to work with, rewrap in waxed paper and return to the refrigerator. Proceed with a chilled section of dough.
Place each heart on an ungreased cookie sheet. The cookies do not spread while baking or rise, so you can place them fairly close together on the sheet.
Repeat rolling and cutting with rest of the dough until no dough is left.
Chill cookie sheets in refrigerator for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bake cookies for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are evenly lightly browned. About halfway through, rotate sheets from front to back and top shelf to lower shelf. Remove and let cool completely on a rack.
Spread half the cookies with raspberry preserves (or seedless jam), using 1/4 teaspoon for each. You don’t need to measure, just eyeball it for a thin layer. Use the slightly less pretty hearts on the bottom and the best-formed ones for the top.
Sift the remaining 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Dunk the front of the top cookie in the sugar and shake off excess. Gently place on the jam-topped cookie and match up the edges. Some jam might ooze out the sides.
Adapted from “The Silver Palate Cookbook: Delicious Recipes, Menus, Tips, Lore from Manhattan’s Celebrated Gourmet Food Shop” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins with Michael McLaughlin (Workman Publishing, 1982, $9.95)
Notes: To make a half-batch, simply cut the ingredients in half, except for the egg. The dough will be thick. It should be fairly dry, even with a whole egg, but it will hold together. If it seems too wet, add a little more of the finely grated nuts.
You can use a larger cookie cutter for bigger cookies. Or use a large one for the base, cut a second of equal size and then with the smaller heart shape, cut the center out of the second cookie. That way, when you’ve put in the jam filling, it’ll peek out the top.
I’ve made the cookies substituting margarine for butter and that works fine also.
Pecans are my nut of choice, though I’ve also made these cookies with almonds, sold in stores as almond meal (or pecan meal). It’s best to buy the nut meal; grinding your own can result in an oily, wetter meal that doesn’t work well in the cookies.
For the sandwich filling, I’ve also melted semisweet chocolate chips mixed with a tiny bit of canola oil for smoothness (use a light touch with the oil; you don’t want to taste it).
Using a small, offset spatula, spread a thin layer of chocolate on one cookie, then the jam as above and top with second cookie.
You can also pipe decorative lines on top of the cookies or use your favorite icing.
As with all recipes, it’s up to you to make these linzer heart cookies your own.