Despite Thanksgiving weekend and all the pre- and post-cooking that the holiday entailed chez Finger In Every Pie, I simply had to get in on the fun of cookie swap time (for those who are new to the game, read all about Is My Blog Burning, Sugar High Friday, and other monthly food-blogging events here).
Nope, can't have a cookie swap without me. Last year at this time I didn't yet have a blog, so I meekly emailed Jennifer my recipe for Orange-Almond Florentines, and participated in my first Is My Blog Burning -- the November 2004 Cookie Swap. What a difference a year makes: now I've got a blog AND a camera, as you can tell from the cookies pictured here. Today has been biscotti day, and my whole house smells like holiday time -- spices and nuts and jam, oh my.
I'm one of those crazed bakers who becomes even more wild-eyed around holiday time. In my own circles, I'm fairly well-known for the baskets and platters of homemade cookies I give as gifts and bring to various workplaces and parties. The thing about this mania is that it's contagious. It doesn't necessarily make other people bake, however; it just makes them anxious about whether or not I'm baking. As I detailed in last year's cookie swap post, I usually start to get nervous queries around October, to this effect: "You ARE baking the cookies this year, aren't you? And you're going to bake ______(fill in the blank with the questioner's favorite kind), right?" These questions probably have their genesis in prior years when, up to my chin in various doughs and batters, with the oven blasting and me cursing at something which wasn't turning out picture perfect, a friend or relative or workmate would call. "Oh, you're baking? I won't bother you..." they'd say as I mumbled about how I would never, ever do this again.
But every year as Thanksgiving rolls around and I start ruminating on pie, cookies begin to creep into my consciousness as well. Some years I've been superbly well-organized. That's when I make a point of shopping for cookie ingredients at some of my favorite sources over Thanksgiving weekend, and I make at least one batch of one of the "good keepers" -- the ones that stay fresh for a long time, or, in some cases, become even better with age.
Most years I bake anywhere from 10 to 14 different kinds of cookies. Each batch averages about 120 cookies, with some doubled recipes going more into the range of a yield of about 250. It all depends, like so many things in life, on popularity. On evenings after work and on weekends during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'm baking somewhere between 1500 and 2000 cookies. Most of my cookies have stayed in rotation for quite a while; each kind has its devotees who will not be disappointed. I occasionally make a new one, or retire one that I'm tired of. Last year I made apricot-date-walnut slices, triple-gingersnaps, pecan puffs, chocolate-dipped meltaways, chocolate-dipped espresso shortbread, orange-almond florentines, G's favorite oatmeal-kitchen sink cookies, peanut-butter/chocolate jewels, lemon gems, dulce de leche bars, triple-chocolate mint-chip, and the linzer biscotti of this post's title and picture. Last year was the biscotti's first year, their trial run; they made the cut by proving to be extremely popular, both in our own household and elsewhere. They were, in a word, delectable. I guess it was something about the crunchy, crumbly, nutty biscuit and the aroma of spices, combined with the chewy ribbon of thickened jam in the center. Last year I made only raspberry-filled ones; this year, in honor of the combined SHF/IMBB event, I branched out to apricot-filled as well.
The fact is, I adore linzertorte -- and it isn't easy to find. Sadly, what are often sold as "linzer cookies" at least here in my neighborhood are disappointing. Mostly they turn out to be just a butter cookie of questionable provenance, filled with jam of questionable quality. They lack the nutty crumble and the spice bouquet of real linzertorte, the flavors that set off the fruity jam filling. I've always wanted to make linzer bars or even linzer thumbprints for the holidays. The problem is that the bars don't keep long, and the thumbprints don't seem to retain the crispness of the nutty shortbread once they've been filled with jam. I'd also had the desire to try my hand at biscotti (or cantucci), since they were a new cookie frontier for me -- and in addition, they're known for their keeping qualities. Biscotti stay good for months, even butter- and egg-rich ones like these. I googled the word biscotti, found some recipes from which I could create a general template, and threw my ideas of what a linzer biscotti might contain into the mix.
We found them pretty addictive on their trial run, and we weren't the only ones. And they're at least as good this year as they were last year. Many thanks to Jennifer and Alberto for providing the impetus to make these early. The only downside is that we may eat them all before the giving and bringing begin, either depriving our friends or necessitating the baking of another batch...
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cognac
Grated zest of one lemon (organic preferred)
1 cup ground walnuts (you can also use hazelnuts)
2 cups toasted slivered almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons cocoa
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups raspberry preserves, mixed with 1 tablespoon eau-de-vie de framboise
1 1/4 cups apricot preserves, mixed with 1 tablespoon apricot liquer or Grand Marnier
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and sugar -- I do this by hand, since I actually don't have a stand mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add vanilla, cognac and lemon zest, and blend together. Mix in the nuts, spices, cocoa, flour, salt, and baking powder, and stir well. You should have a soft, sticky dough.
Divide the dough into 4 sections. Taking one section, divide it in half, and make a long sausage shape. Use wet hands rather than floured ones to work with the dough; keep a bowl of cold water handy. Pat the dough out flat on your baking sheet, and make a trench in the middle. Fill the trench with 1/2 cup of either the raspberry or the apricot preserve. Pat the other half of your dough section into a flattened long oval to match the shape that's already filled on the cookie sheet. Lay it carefully over the jam-filled section, and pat together with wet hands. Try to make sure that the jam is completely covered, and none is peeking through. Repeat with the three other dough sections, dividing each in half, filling with jam, and patting dough over the top to create a long oval loaf. The dough will crack somewhat during baking, and some jam may ooze out, but it doesn't matter -- the jam will help to keep the slices together. You should have about 1/4 cup of each flavor of jam left. You may need this later.
Bake loaves until set, 35 - 45 minutes. Let loaves cool for about 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F. Cut loaves into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Glue together any slices that fall apart with extra jam, and fill in any large gaps in the middle of the biscotti slices with more jam. Bake again, just to dry out, 15 - 20 minutes (depending on how crisp you like your biscotti).
These keep in a covered airtight tin for several weeks, and perhaps longer -- since they were one of our first tins to empty out last year, I'm not sure of the far side of their shelf life.