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