Friday, December 13, 2013

I think if you were to rank foods in order of how intimidating they are to cook, at the bottom of the list would be stuff you throw together any night of the week without a recipe, the top would be basically anything Grant Achatz has ever made and then maybe, just barely a notch below would be a dish that someone you love and respect makes so perfectly that you consider it to be “their” recipe. It feels almost wrong to make someone else’s signature dish, to meddle. It’s their thing, not yours, thus there’s clearly no way you could do it justice. I mean, sure there’s something else you could contribute to the holiday baking curriculum, maybe one of your favorites instead?

And this has been my feeling about linzer torte for all of the years since we first met at this url in 2006. I am lucky enough to join a high school friend for Christmas Eve dinner every year, and her mom always includes squares of incredible linzer torte in her array of Holiday Baking Wonders. Her mother is an excellent cook and baker, and the one that introduced me to Maida Heatter. from whom you should buy every book. immediately, without questioning me because her recipes are detailed without being irritatingly so, charmingly written*, and will never lead you astray. Truly. I mean, remember when she showed us how easy Dobos Torte could be to make? Dobos Torte. Imagine what she could do with a black truffle explosion !

My friend’s mom’s linzer torte is indeed Heatter’s linzer torte, which automatically means two things: It won’t be terribly hard to make because the directions will tell you everything you need to know and it will be the best linzer torte you’ve ever made. And for me, a third thing, which was that I was terrified that whole time I finally baked it at home this week, worried that I would not do a favorite recipe from one of my favorite cooks justice.

But what I hadn’t considered is that about halfway through the baking time, my apartment became filled with the aromatic blend of walnuts, cinnamon, cloves and lemon zest that is distinctly, wonderfully December to me. It was strange and cozy to have it in my own home instead of someone else’s and the resulting tortes were everything I remember about them — delicate and spiced, firm but fragile, not overly sweet and absolutely stunning. Consider this a warning: I don’t think anyone only makes these once.

“Happiness is baking cookies. Happiness is giving them away. And serving them, and eating them, talking about them, reading and writing about them, thinking about them, and sharing them with you,” — Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies .

Cookie Week! This week is all about the cookies. Monday, we talked about Cigarettes Russes (Piroulines). Tuesday, Sugared Pretzel Cookie s (made, in part, with rye flour), Wednesday, Eggnog Florentines and then Thursday, I completely abandoned you to go do some holiday-ing with my mom, rather rude, I know, but I think this Linzer is worth the wait and hope it becomes a regular December favorite.

Signed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks: Copies of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook can be ordered with custom inscriptions — i.e. not just the usual signature but anything you’d like, be it Merry Christmas! or Congratulations on your engagement! (Now bake me some cookies.) or No matter what anyone else tells you, you’re my favorite reader. No seriously. It’s you. all of which have happened because you guys really are that funny and awesome, through McNally-Jackson, an independent bookstore in Soho. This year, we have a hard deadline for Christmas shipping (i.e. you’d pay standard and not rushed shipping and the book will reach you by Christmas) of tomorrow, Saturday, December 14th. Thank you! [Order Custom Inscribed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks from McNally Jackson]

Linzer tortes hail from the city of Linz, Austria. There are many variations, but almost all include a very buttery base mostly comprised of ground nuts — there are versions with almonds and hazelnuts, too. Read more here.

Yield: 2 9-inch round tortes, 2 8-inch square tortes, 1 9×13-inch or 1 11- to 12-inch round torte. The round shape is traditional, and served in wedges. (8 wedges from each 9-inch round). The square shape can be cut into bar cookies (16 from each 8-inch square or 32 from a 9×13 rectangle).

Base and lattice
4 1/2 cups (1 pound or 455 grams) shelled walnuts
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I halved this, using only 1/4 teaspoon)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon table salt (Heatter says 1/4, I really prefer this with 1/2)
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces or 285 grams) cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 2/3 cup (330 grams) granulated sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup (about 20 to 25 grams) fine, dry breadcrumbs
2 cups (about 575 grams) seedless raspberry jam

To finish
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
2/3 to 1 cup (75 to 115 grams) to slivered almonds (julienne-shaped pieces) (optional)

Make base: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round layer cake pans (preferably with removable bottoms if you plan to serve this in wedges, like a cake), two 8-inch square pans (what I used, then cut each into square bars, like cookies), one 9×13-inch rectangular pan (again, for bar cookies) or one 11- to 12-inch round cake pan (again ideally with a removable bottom). Line the bottom of each with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit, then butter then paper.

In a food processor, process walnuts and 1/2 cup of the flour (reserve remaining 2 1/2 cups for next step) for 15 seconds, or until the nuts are finely ground but have not formed a paste.

Place remaining 2 1/2 cups flour, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a large, wide-ish mixing bowl. With a pastry blender, work the butter into the dry mixture until it forms coarse crumbs. Stir in the sugar and walnut-flour mixture. In a small dish, beat the whole egg, yolk, and lemon rind utnil combined, and stir into crumb mixture. Stir the mixture in as best as you can with a spoon, then work the rest in with your hands. Knead the dough a few times inside the bowl until a cohesive mass, one that holds together, forms.

Divide dough into quarters if making two tortes, or halves if making one.

Place one portion into the bottom of each pan, and press evenly and firmly over the bottoms and then about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches up the sides with your fingers. Don’t worry about making it smooth or level on the sides; it gets filled in later.

Bake shell(s) for 15 minutes, or until it barely begins to color at the edges.

While the shell(s) bakes, roll remaining piece(s) of dough between two pieces of waxed paper, until 1/4- to 3/8-inch in thickness one inch bigger than your pan size. [I.e. for each 9-inch round torte, you’ll want a 10-inch diameter circle; for each 8-inch square torte, a 9-inch square, etc.] Transfer to freezer until the dough is well-chilled, about 20 minutes.

Remove shell(s) from oven and let cool slightly; reduce baking temperature to 350 degrees.

Make filling: If you’re using panko or another coarse dry breadcrumb, you can pulse it in a food processor until it is fine powder. I found I needed almost double the volume in panko (7 tablespoons) to yield 1/4 cup of a fine breadcrumb powder.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons finely ground breadcrumbs over each par-baked shell, or all 1/4 cup over your single large one. If jam is not already soft, stir it until it is, then spread 1 cup over each shell. Cut dough(s) into 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide strips, cutting through the bottom of the waxed paper at the same time. Lift each strip-and-waxed paper over the jam and reverse it onto the jam, then peel off waxed paper. Cut the ends of the dough by pressing them onto the sides of the pan. Arrange strips 1/2- to 3/4-inch apart, crisscrossing them on an angle to make a lattice top with diamond-shaped openings. [Note: I neither “wove” my lattice or ended up making “diamond-shaped” openings. Oops.] Use leftover pieces to fill in any gaps between lattice-strips and tall sides of shells. The two doughs will blend together in the oven.

To finish: Mix egg yolks and water. Brush it all over lattice top and border. Sprinkle with almonds, if using. (I prefer to use 1/3 cup per smaller torte, instead of the 1/2 cup Heatter recommends. I only sprinkled them on one.) Bake torte(s) for 45 to 60 minutes (Heatter recommends 60, I find it perfect, but ovens and baking pans vary, check yours sooner if you’re nervous), until crust and almonds on top are well-browned.

Remove from oven and place on racks. If you’ve baked it in a cake pan and wish to serve it as a “cake,” i.e. in wedges, Heatter recommends that you remove it from the pan while still warm by cutting around the torte carefully (the crust is very fragile) with a small, sharp knife and loosening the torte in the pan, before reversing it onto a cooling rack, and then back again onto another rack to finish cooling. If using a pan with a removable base, you should safely be able to remove it once it has fully cooled. Personally, I had no trouble letting my cool fully in the square pan but the first square did not come out cleanly.

Once fully cool, Heatter recommends you let the tortes stand overnight (covered with foil) before serving for best flavor. You can decorate the tortes with powdered sugar before serving in wedges or squares.

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