I love the fact that most Christmas baking is steeped in tradition, connecting us to generations of bakers around the world. Take, for example, the classic Austrian dessert called linzertorte, a spiced pastry with lattice-work top, cradling a filling of raspberry jam. It originated in the northern Austrian city of Linz, along the banks of the Danube River, many generations ago. The aromas of this tart while baking - a heady combination of nuts, spices and fruit - are enough to conjure snow drifts outside the window and ice skaters on a frozen pond, even here in California, which makes it a perfect celebratory ending for the holiday season.
The name linzertorte links this dessert to others with similar attributes, as tortes are a type of cake that have most or all of the flour replaced by ground nuts. True to form, the dough in the recipe below has a measure of ground nuts – both almonds and hazelnuts - along with the flour. The addition of cinnamon, cloves and citrus zest round out the Christmas flavors, right down to the red filling peeking through the lattice top. I think the presentation of linzertorte is prettiest when baked in a fluted, removable bottom tart shell, though I’ve used a cake pan in a pinch.
The classic filling is seedless raspberry jam (and there is a variation for this in the introduction of the recipe below), but I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I love dried sour cherries and think they are the perfect partner to the richly spiced tart dough, so I’ve come up with a fabulous filling that sends this recipe over the top. The presence of these chewy, sweet-tart cherries pumps up the flavor and gives this classic pastry a fun, modern twist that is irresistible.
If you add a bit of extra flour (about 3 tablespoons), the linzer tart dough can be used to make pretty window cookies for your entertaining and gift-giving. Roll the dough quite thinly – about 1/8-inch - and cut it into simple shapes, like circles or squares. Use a small, similarly-shaped cutter to cut a peek-a-boo window into half of the cookies. Be sure to bake the tops and bottoms of the sandwich cookies on separate pans because the cookies with holes in the center will bake more quickly. Once the cookies have cooled, spread a thin layer of seedless raspberry jam across the solid cookies, then dust the window cookies with powdered sugar before setting them atop the jam. These are easily the prettiest cookies on a holiday cookie platter (and the first to disappear). I have to give these away as soon as I make them; otherwise, I keep nibbling away at the stash until they are all gone.More A Taste of Tradition ideas and recipes follow after the jump
Sour Cherry Linzer Tart
Makes 1 (9- or 9½-inch) tart, serving 8 to 10
A linzer tart is a lattice-topped Austrian specialty featuring a crust rich with butter, spices, and ground nuts enveloping a filling of raspberry jam. While a good-quality seedless raspberry jam would be delicious as the filling, you’ll love the way dried sour cherries add their bright, tart flavor to this modern take on the classic favorite. Feel free to substitute 1¼ cups raspberry jam for the filling if you’d like to make the traditional tart. Good any time of year, this dessert is especially welcome during the holidays, when the fragrance of cinnamon and cloves fills the house with the irresistible scent of winter baking.
Equipment: Stand Mixer Fitted with a Paddle Attachment or a Hand Mixer and a Medium Bowl, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Food Processor Fitted with a Metal Blade, Pastry Bag Fitted with a ³⁄8-inch Plain Round Tip, Small Saucepan, Fine-Mesh Strainer, Medium Bowl, Small Bowl, Whisk, Large Bowl, 9- or 9½-inch Fluted Tart Pan with a Removable Bottom, Cooling Rack, Large Metal Spatula (Optional)Dough
- 1½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened (65° to 68°F)
- ¾ cup (5¼ ounces) sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
- Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
- 1¹⁄³ cups (6½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¹⁄³ cup (1½ ounces) whole natural almonds
- ¼ cup (1 ounce) whole hazelnuts
- 1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (16 ounces) cherry or berry juice
- ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) sugar
- 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
- ½ vanilla bean
- 1 cup (8 ounces) firmly packed dried sour cherries
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon water
- Softly Whipped Cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving
- Mix the dough: Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy looking, 2 to 3 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, though you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Add the egg and egg yolk and blend well. Scrape down the bowl again. Add the vanilla, orange zest, and lemon zest and blend well; scrape down the bowl once more.
- Place the flour, almonds, hazelnuts, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of the food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add to the butter mixture and blend on low just until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
- Divide the dough: Split the dough into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. (The larger piece will line the tart pan, while the smaller portion will be piped in a lattice pattern over the top of the tart.) Wrap the larger portion in plastic and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes, until firm enough to press into the tart pan without it sticking to your hands. Spoon the smaller portion of dough into the pastry bag fitted with the ³⁄8-inch plain round tip and set aside at room temperature.
- Make the filling: Combine the juice, sugar, and cinnamon sticks in the small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the pan, adding the pod as well. Add the dried cherries. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cherries are plump and soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Pour the mixture through the fine-mesh strainer into the medium bowl. Return the juices to the saucepan and place the cherries in the medium bowl. Discard the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean pod. Bring the juices to a simmer. In the small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the simmering juice, whisking constantly. Cook until the liquid thickens, 30 to 60 seconds, then immediately pour over the cherries and stir to blend. Cool completely (to speed cooling, place the bowl of cherries in a larger bowl of ice and cold water and stir occasionally).
- Press the larger portion of chilled dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Chill in the refrigerator or freezer for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the lower third.
- Spread the cherry filling evenly in the chilled shell. Using the dough in the pastry bag, create an angled lattice: Pipe straight lines of dough about 1 inch apart across the surface of the filling. Then, pipe slanted lines of dough over the straight lines, crossing them at an angle to create a diamond pattern. (Note: You won’t need all the dough in the bag—you can roll and cut the leftover dough into shapes with a cookie cutter and make linzer cookies.)
- Bake the tart for 40 to 45 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the dough is nicely browned. Transfer to a cooling rack, making sure you hold the pan by the sides and not the bottom (remember, it’s a two-piece pan and can come apart!).
- Place the tart pan on top of a large can from your pantry (the 28-ounce tomato cans are good) so that the bottom balances midair as the rim falls to the counter. Use the metal spatula to transfer the tart to a serving plate or simply leave the bottom of the tart pan under the tart for support. Serve warm or at room temperature with a spoonful of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Storing: The linzer tart keeps, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Allow the tart to come to room temperature before serving, or warm in a 350°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
Getting Ahead: The dough can be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to 6 weeks. You can also press the bottom layer of dough into the tart pan, double-wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze for 1 month (freeze lattice dough separately). When you want to bake it, unwrap, add the filling, pipe the lattice (soften the dough quickly in the microwave on the defrost setting). Transfer directly to the preheated oven (add 3 to 4 minutes to the baking time). The cherry filling can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
What the Pros Know: Grinding the nuts with the flour keeps the nuts from getting pasty or turning into nut butter. The flour absorbs the oils that are released when the nuts are ground fine, resulting in feathery nut pieces without oily residue. If you purchase ground nuts, simply skip this step and stir them into the other dry ingredients.
Tools of the Trade:
- KitchenAid® Artisan Stand Mixers
- Cuisinart ® Mini-Prep Plus Food Processor
- Nordic Ware® Nonstick Quiche/Tart Pan
- Cooling Rack
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.