Plum + Hazelnut + Thyme Linzer Cookies

Plum + Hazelnut + Thyme Linzer Cookies

I don't know how it happened so quickly, but it's already August, and my son is five months old.  He has grown so much that I hardly recognize his newborn photos.  This past month he started eating solid foods - yay squash, boo broccoli!  He also immediately rolls over whenever we put him on his back (and then cries about it), and he squeals with joy whenever we dip him upside-down.  He's such a goofy, sweet, squirmy little human, and we're incredibly lucky to have him around.

With that in mind, finding time to bake is getting tricky.  Developmentally, he's at a tough spot where he's big enough that he gets bored easily and wants constant engagement, but he's still too small to cook with me.  When I can, I'll heave his behemoth jumper into the kitchen and let him bounce around while I whip something up.  But it's not always that easy.  Fortunately, this recipe is one that can be done in stages - I'm pretty fond of those lately.  So I can play with him between bouts of periodically working in the kitchen.

Linzer cookies are some of my favorites because they're tender, beautiful, and just sweet enough.  And if I'm being honest, they're also great for breakfast with a little coffee, an old band t-shirt, and under eye circles.  As you can imagine, my mornings are pretty glamourous.

Anyway, these little "windows" are miniatures of the traditional Linzertorte, an Austrian lattice tart filled with jam.  This time, I decided to forgo the typical black currant filling and make the most of the season with some fresh plums.  I made a kind of "quick jam," which can be used to fill cookies and cakes, spooned onto yogurt, or just spread on toast.  It's an easy way to use up fruit that's passing its prime.

I also decided to make the dough a little more complex by using toasted hazelnut meal (instead of raw almonds) along with some ground thyme.  Yep, thyme.  In doing so, I had to add just a bit more sugar to the dough to offset its new, heartier flavor.  But the finished combination of sweet, nutty cookies with savory herbs and tart fruit filling was truly delicious.  I tried to deny how many I'd eaten in the past three days, but the empty container betrayed me.

Plum + Hazelnut + Thyme Linzer Cookies

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies

Ingredients

Plum Quick Jam Filling
2 ripe pitted plums (about 185 g), chopped
25 g (2 T) sugar
2 tsp water

Hazelnut Thyme Cookies
160 g (about 1 1/2 C) hazelnut meal or finely ground hazelnuts
1 tsp dried thyme
180 g (1 1/2 C) all-purpose flour
28 g (1/4 C) confectioners’ sugar
3/8 tsp salt
170 g (6 oz wt; 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
150 g (3/4 C) granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temp
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/8 tsp almond extract
For assembly: approx. 1/2 C plum filling
For dusting: additional confectioners' sugar

Directions

Plum Filling
Roughly chop the pitted plums, and blend them in a food processor until a chunky paste has formed.  Pour the paste into a small saucepan and add the sugar and water.  Cook down the mixture over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened to a spreadable consistency, about 20 minutes.  Remove it from the heat and set it aside.  If necessary, blend it again until smooth.  It can be made a few days in advance and kept in the fridge. 

Hazelnut Thyme Cookies
Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spread the ground hazelnut meal onto a baking sheet and toast it in the oven for 5 minutes.  Stir the meal, continue to toast for another 3 minutes, stir again, then toast for a final 3 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from the oven, stir to release some of the trapped heat, and allow the meal to cool to room temperature.

Using a mortar and pestle, finely grind the dried thyme (alternatively, you can use pre-ground thyme, but the flavor may be stale).  Whisk together the thyme, cooled hazelnut meal, flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Set aside.  In a separate mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium high speed with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale.  Add the granulated sugar and continue beating until combined, another minute.  Then reduce the speed to low and add the egg, vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat until blended, another 30 seconds.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir with a stiff spatula or wooden spoon until blended. The dough will be very soft and tender.

Shape the dough into four balls, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate them until chilled, at least three hours or up to two days.  The dough is very tender, so it needs to be chilled properly and handled while cold.  Otherwise, the raw cookies will fall apart.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  Remove one portion of the dough at a time from the refrigerator.  On a well floured work surface, or between two sheets of wax paper, roll out the dough until 1/4 inch thick.  Keep adding flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.  Using sharp cookie cutters about 3 1/2 inches across, cut out an even number of cookies. Using a smaller cutter (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches across), cut a hole in the center of only half of the cookies.  Carefully peel away the excess, uncut dough and transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheets using a very thin spatula.  Re-roll the dough scraps as needed and repeat to make more cookies.  But if the dough gets too warm and starts sticking, place it back in the fridge for at least 10 minutes and roll out a different chilled portion of dough.

Place the filled baking sheets in the freezer for 10 minutes each.  This will firm-up the dough so that it doesn't spread out in the oven.  Remove the baking sheets from the freezer and immediately bake until the cookies are dry and slightly firm to the touch, about 12-13 minutes.  Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the cookies to remain on them for a couple of minutes.  Then transfer them to wire racks to finish cooling.  Repeat the rolling, cutting, freezing, and baking process with the other portions of cookie dough.  There should be approximately 40 individual cookies, making about 20 assembled sandwiches in total.

Assembly
Once all of the cookies have cooled, cover the solid cookies with a thin layer (about 1 teaspoon) of your cooled plum filling to within 1/4 inch of the edges.  Then place a “window” cookie on top.  Using a small sieve or sifter, liberally dust the stacked cookies with confectioners’ sugar, then add just a bit more jam to the center of each.  Enjoy them immediately and up to four days later when stored in an airtight container.

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