Valentine's Day recipe: Linzer hearts

Nothing says Valentine's Day like cutout hearts. Traditionally filled with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powder sugar to finish, you can substitute cookie butter for a decadent alternative.

The Pastry Chef's Baking
Linzer cookies with a heart-shaped cutout make a cute Valentine's treat.

Last year I had done a mini series on treats you can make for Valentine’s Day, whether you make a dessert heart-shaped or add a heart or make it red velvet or just have some form of chocolate; it was Valentine's enough. This year I didn’t have the time to focus on Hallmark’s Cupid holiday but I did manage to sneak in these linzer cookies from Nick Malgieri’s "Cookies Unlimited" that I’d been meaning to try for a while.

I like and don’t like linzer cookies. I like the cookie part because I like the flavor and it’s really pretty with the bright red raspberry jam filling that marks a linzer cookie. But alas, I don’t like raspberry jam or jam in general so I don’t eat traditional linzer cookies from bakeries, available in a store or made by other people. But when I make my own, I can use any filling I want and that’s what I did with this recipe. Cookie butter!

But first, let’s talk about the cookies. For the nuts, I used a combination of toasted almonds and pecans, You can commit to one or the other but there’s nothing wrong with using both. Just toast them first to bring out the flavor and let them cool completely before grinding them up in the food processor. For this recipe, I highly recommend a food processor rather than a nut grinder as the food processor will grind the nuts more finely and that’s what you need for the linzer dough. Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches and beat until just combined. Don’t add the dry ingredients all at once or your dough will be dry and crumbly and may not come together without a lot of beating.

As it was, my dough took a little extra mixing before the flour was absorbed enough. It didn’t make a cohesive dough but I could squeeze handfuls of it together and it stayed together, so it was good to go. Here’s a simple trick for working with this kind of dough. If you have a pastry roller, use it. If you don’t, I am here to enable you. This may be one baking gadget that’s worth the investment. I dumped the dough into a small cookie sheet and used the pastry roller to roll it into a smooth rectangle. Much, much easier than trying to coax it into submission with a rolling pin and the nature of the pastry roller meant I didn’t have to worry about the sides of the cookie sheet. In fact, the sides were an asset because they helped the dough remain in the right shape.

Once the dough is rolled out nice and smooth, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or two. When you’re ready to bake, while your oven is preheating, cut out the cookies. The hallmark of a linzer cookie is the cutout on the top cookie so you can see the filling. My only concession to Valentine’s Day is I used a heart-shaped cut out. If you don’t want to bake the little cutouts, simply add them back to your dough scraps to reroll and cut out more cookies. You don’t need the linzer cookie cutter, just a round one with smooth or scalloped edges plus a little one for the cutout.

My only mistake was I should’ve used a large cookie sheet when I rolled out the dough. The small one I used didn’t allow me to roll out the dough as thinly as I should have or I would’ve run out of room. So my cookies, once sandwiched together, were a little, uh, hearty. That didn’t stop me from being generous with the filling because – you know – cookie butter. You can fill one of two ways: either simply spread the filling over the bottom, non-cutout cookie, mound a little more in the center, place the cutout cookie on top and press gently together, allowing the mounded center to rise up to fill the cutout space.

Or you can spread a thin even layer on the bottom cookie, press the cutout cookie on top, heat some of the filling slightly and “fill in” the cutout with the warm filling. The first method is easier, the second method probably gives you a smoother look. Either way, these cookies taste great. My prejudice against jam fillings aside, the cookie butter nicely complemented the cinnamon, nutty flavor of the cookies themselves. I skipped the traditional dusting of powdered sugar on the top cookie. That might make it look prettier but it adds unnecessary calories. You want to reserve your calorie budget for a generous helping of cookie butter filling. At least you do if you're me. Happy heart day.

Linzer hearts 
Adapted from "Cookies Unlimited" by Nick Malgieri

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 ounces (about 1 cup) whole blanched almonds, finely ground in the food processor
1 cup cookie butter (Speculoos or Biscoff spread)
Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling (optional)

1. In a bowl, combine the flour and spices; stir well to mix.

2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together on medium speed the butter and sugar until soft and light, about 5 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and beat in the almonds and the flour and spice mixture, one at a time. Adding the dry ingredients in 3 batches and beating until just combined

 3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to finish mixing the dough. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap or a cookie sheet and shape it into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap and chill the dough until it is firm, about an hour, or up to several days.

 4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

 5. Cut the dough into three parts and refrigerate two of them. Place one third on a floured surface and flour it lightly. Roll dough about 1/4 inch thick. Use small fluted cookie cutters to cut the dough. Use a smaller cutter (can be heart-shaped) to cut a center in half of the cookies.

 6. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and arrange cookies evenly. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes or until a very pale golden color. Cool on the sheets on wire racks. When completely cool, dust the center-cut cookies lightly with powdered sugar.

7. Warm cookie butter slightly, 10-12 seconds in the microwave. Pipe in the center of the uncut cooled cookies and place a center-cut cookie on top. Repeat with remaining cookies.

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Valentine M&M Sugar Cookies

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