Linzer Torte Cookies

Image by Deb Garlick

Nothing says holiday like a sugar-dusted cookie filled with jam. Linzer Torte cookies are scrumptious and gorgeous in equal measures. Made of toasted ground almonds, sweet butter and a whisper of lemon zest, these dainty cookies sandwich a filling of raspberry preserves. An adaptation of Austria’s classic Linzer Torte, these cookies are one of the simplest in my holiday repertoire.

The dough comes together as quickly as any sugar cookie but for the extra step of toasting and grinding the almonds — a cinch in a food processor. I use a two-inch cookie cutter, with a heart cut-out, but they can be made any shape or size you wish — and filled with any sort of jam. Apricot preserves make a lovely alternative.

If you’re a stickler for uniformity, portion the jam with a  pastry bag or a plastic sandwich bag with a small hold cut from a corner. (This will help you fill the heart cut-out.)

If you like your cookies crisp, bake them a little longer and fill with jam the day you serve them. I prefer them on the soft side so I prepare them ahead of time. Either way, they don’t disappoint.

Recipe adapted from joyofbaking.com, one of my favourite online resources.

Makes about 30 – 2 inch cookies

1 cup whole almonds, outer skin intact
1/4 cup  granulated white sugar
1/2 cup golden (light) brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling the dough
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature**
Zest from one small washed lemon
1 large egg

Topping:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup Raspberry or Apricot Jam

Special Equipment
2 same-shaped cookie cutters, one smaller than the other (for the cut-out)
2 baking sheets lined with parchment or a non-stick baking mat
small piping bag or sandwich bag with a small hole cut from one corner – optional but handy

** To use butter is straight from the fridge, measure 1 cup, then grate the firm butter into a bowl. This will soften the butter without having to wait for it to come to room temperature.

Note: Before the cookies are baked, they’re placed on a baking sheet and firmed in the fridge. If you’re fridge looks anything like mine, you’ll need to make room. Alternatively, firm the unbaked cookies on a plate lined with parchment, then transfer them to a baking sheet when firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer, and bake until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. When the nuts have cooled, tip them into a food processor with the white sugar and process until finely ground.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of standup mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or a medium bowl, beat the butter with the brown sugar and lemon zest until the mixture is light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Beat in the egg, ground almonds and the flour mixture until well incorporated.

Scrape the dough from the bowl, divide in half, and shape each portion into a squat disk. Working with one portion of dough at a time, place the dough on a sheet of parchment lightly dusted with flour. Cover with another sheet of parchment or plastic wrap and, using a rolling rolling pin, flatten the disk to about 1/4” thick. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. (Properly covered, the dough will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator.)

Remove one portion of dough from the refrigerator and run a hand over the parchment to  make sure it’s rolled out evenly. Adjust if necessary with a rolling pin.

Stamp out the cookies with the larger cookie cutter and place half on the prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Refrigerate about 15 minutes before baking. Use the smaller cookie cutter to stamp out the centers from the remaining cookies. Place on the prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart and refrigerate for about 15 minutes before baking.

Re-roll any scraps of dough and cut out the remaining cookies.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges, rotating the pans once to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

The fun part:

Spread a thin layer of jam on the underside of the cooled full cookies (good side facing down).

Place the cooled cut-out cookies on a sheet of parchment (good side facing up). Place the powered sugar in a small sieve and dust the cookies with the sugar.

Carefully, so as not to mar the sugar, place the sugar-dusted cookies on top of the jam-layered cookies, pressing them together.

Using a small spoon, jam-filled piping bag or sandwich bag, fill in the heart cut-out with additional jam.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for several days.


Almond Chocolate Toffee

Image by Deb Garlick

The first time I made toffee, it turned out beautifully: a crisp sheet of caramel-coloured ice that snapped into shards of buttery bliss. The second time I made toffee, it crumbled in my hands. The third time, it turned a grainy mess ….  I’ve had my issues with toffee. Fortunately, I discovered a few tips and tricks along the way to help you get it right the first time — and the second and third.

Temperature plays a key role in candy-making. Here in Vancouver, we enjoy a temperate climate, with plenty of humidity. Candy doesn’t work best when it’s too humid so take this into consideration when making toffee. If it’s only slightly humid, cook the sugar a few degrees beyond the recommended 300 F (hard crack stage) for best results. You’ll want to read your candy thermometer at eye-level for an accurate reading. And, at the risk of sounding too pedantic, first test your thermometer in boiling water to ensure it’s properly calibrated (water boils 100°C or 212°F). If you’ve wasted as much sugar as I have, you won’t mind double-checking your thermometer for accuracy.

As with any recipe that involves cooking sugar, read the recipe from beginning to end before you start. Then read it again. You’ll need to have your ingredients measured and your tools in reaching distance before you start. And, make sure to use a heavy pot, otherwise, you risk burning the sugar.

It may seem like a lot of rules for a little treat, but the recipe is really easy, comes together quickly, and is sure to become a holiday favourite.

Recipe adapted from Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg

Makes about 1 1/2 pounds

2 cups (200 grams) sliced almonds
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp molasses
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
150 grams bittersweet chocolate (I use Lindt 70% dark), melted and cooled (but still spreadable)

Special Equipment
candy thermometer
baking sheet lined with parchment or a nonstick baking mat
lightly oiled off-set palette knife (a regular knife will do, but an off-set knife is easier)
a silicone pastry brush placed in a cup of water

Preheat oven to 375 F

Spread the nuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet, in a single layer.  Bake about 7 – 10 minutes until the nuts are golden and aromatic. Set aside. When they’ve cooled, ensure the nuts are spread evenly on the parchment as you’ll be pouring hot toffee directly onto them.

In a deep, medium-sized heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar, water, molasses and salt. Gently stir to combine then clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot, ensuring the thermometer does not touch the bottom of the pan. Once the mixture starts to boil, stop stirring. Brush down the sides of the pan occasionally with a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down any sugar crystals.

Cook the toffee until the mixture reaches a few degrees over 300F on a humid day and 295F when humidity is not an issue.

Remove the saucepan from heat, and working quickly, stir in the baking soda. This will cause the sugar to bubble up so be very careful.

Pour the mixture over the almonds. Use a lightly-oiled off-set palette knife to spread the toffee, if necessary.

When the toffee has firmed a bit and is still warm, spread on the melted chocolate. Allow the mixture to cool, then break into pieces.

Keep in an airtight container in a cool dry place. It lasts for several weeks.

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Root Vegetable Terrine

Root Vegetable Terrine

Photo by Caroline West

Potato pave, terrine, gratin — it’s all the same: layers of thinly sliced potato laced with cream, butter, a hint of cheese and baked until fork tender. In this recipe, I’ve alternated new potatoes with sweet potato for a striking presentation. Simple, decadent and well worth the splurge.

The process is perfectly straight forward but best suited to those blessed with patience in the kitchen — and a mandoline or vegetable slicer. If you enjoy the challenge of tile work or jigsaw puzzles, you’re going to enjoy assembling this terrine.

Once the terrine is made, it can be baked, cooled and kept in the refrigerator for days. The terrine can be reheated in its container or sliced as needed and placed in a hot pan until the edges are crisp and the center warm.

This recipe was inspired by a picture of Pommes Anna (a layered potato pie) found in the beautiful book, The Food of France: A Journey for Food Lovers.

Serves 10 – 12

Ingredients

  • 3 lb new or Yukon Gold potatoes, about 6 potatoes, peeled, rinsed, and held in cold water
  • 12 ounces of sweet potato, about 1 large, peeled and rinsed
  • ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
sweet potato and potatoes

Photo by Caroline West

  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup 35% whipping cream
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt
  • Earthenware terrine mould approximately 11” x 3 ½”
  • Parchment paper, cut to fit the mould

Preheat oven to 350°F

Brush the mould with melted butter (this helps the parchment stick to the mould). Line the mould with the parchment, leaving an overhang of a few inches. The excess parchment will help you remove the potatoes from the mould in one perfect piece.

Thinly slice one potato and one sweet potato approximately 1/16” thick using a mandoline, vegetable cutter or sharp knife. Slice more potatoes as you work or, if you wish to slice them all at once, keep them covered with water to prevent them from oxidizing and turning dark. Pat them dry before assembling the terrine.

To make sure the potatoes fit snuggly along the terrine edges, cut some of the sliced potatoes in half and place the straight sides against the terrine’s edge. This will help keep the layers uniform.

layering the terrine

Photo by Caroline West

Brush the potatoes with a thin layer of melted butter. (You will need to re-heat the butter now and then to keep it from firming.)

Layer the terrine (as follows), pressing on the terrine now and then to ensure the layers are firm, otherwise it will not hold its shape. Note: only the sweet potato layer is seasoned with salt to prevent the terrine from becoming over-salted.

Place 3 layers of potato slices, each brushed with a thin layer of melted butter, into the bottom of the terrine.
Drizzle third potato layer with 1 Tbsp cream and sprinkle evenly with 1 ½ teaspoons of Parmesan cheese.
Add 1 layer of sweet potato, brush with a thin layer of melted butter and sprinkle evenly with a pinch of Kosher salt.
Repeat until the terrine is filled.

Bake the terrine, covered, in the oven for one hour. Remove the cover and continue baking until the potatoes are tender when tested with a knife.

pouring cream over terrine

Photo by Caroline West

Allow the terrine to cool slightly and pour off the excess butter and cream before removing the potatoes from the mould. Carefully lift the parchment and potatoes from the mould and transfer to a platter, discarding the parchment. The terrine can be served immediately or cooled, wrapped and refrigerated for up to five days.

The terrine can be reheated in a warm oven or sliced and seared in a hot non-stick skillet until the edges are crisp and the centre warmed through.

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Minestrone with Pistou

Minestrone Soup

Photo by Caroline West

I love Minestrone soup but ordering it in a restaurant is dicey. Often the broth is too weak or tomato-y for my taste and if pasta is added, it’s soggy beyond recognition.

I prefer a robust broth made from tomatoes and roasted chicken stock. I’ve infused mine with Kielbasa sausage and a generous chunk of Parmesan rind. The rind has loads of flavour and the sausage imparts a smoky, garlicky punch that’s anything but timid.

Pasta is cooked separately and added to each bowl just before the hot soup is ladled over it.

I like lots of last-minute, fresh garnishes on my soup: chopped basil or raw spinach, shaved or grated Parmesan cheese and a generous dollop of “pistou,” a pesto-like sauce updated with piquant jalapeño peppers, shallots, lime and cilantro.

This soup packs a lot of flavour and gets even better over a day or two. It’s worth making a big batch.

Originally published in Eat Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2011 issue.

Serves 12 – 14

Soup

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed
  • ½ small green cabbage, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 10 cups roasted chicken or beef stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 – 1½ lb smoky Kielbasa sausage
  • 4 ripe tomatoes or one can (14.5 ounces) plum tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cups dry navy beans, soaked and precooked or one can (9 ounces)
  • 1 bundle of fresh thyme and parsley stems, tied with kitchen string
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Parmesan rind, optional but strongly recommended

Pistou

  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 – 2 jalapeño peppers, sliced in half (no need to remove seeds)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 large bunch cilantro, washed, stems removed
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • juice from 1 lemon or lime
  • salt to taste

Garnishes

  • 1 ½ cups small pasta shells, cooked
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach or basil, chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper, optional

In a large pot, sauté onions and bacon in oil until the onions are translucent and the bacon is cooked through. Add the cabbage and sauté it at medium-high heat until the cabbage takes on a bit of colour. (The browning of the cabbage adds to the flavor.) Add the garlic, carrots and celery and mix well. If your pan is dry, add additional oil to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, if there appears to be excess oil or rendered bacon fat in the pan, remove it with a spoon. Once the vegetables are sautéed lightly, add the stock, Kielbasa, tomatoes, cooked beans, herbs, bay leaves and Parmesan rind (if using).
Simmer the soup until the cabbage and the carrots are just tender, but not overcooked. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt, if required. Remove the herb bundle and bay leaves.

Pistou

In a food processor, purée the raw shallot, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, lemon or lime juice and cilantro. Add the oil in a slow steady stream. The sauce should be quite piquant; add additional lime juice and salt to taste.

Just before serving the soup, remove the sausage and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add a few pieces of sausage and a spoonful of freshly cooked pasta to heated soup bowls. Ladle the hot soup over the sausage and pasta, and to each serving, add a generous spoonful of pistou, shaved Parmesan and freshly chopped raw spinach or basil. Add freshly ground pepper, if desired.

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Shiitake Dumpling Soup

Consommé with Shiitake dumpling

My friend, chef Akemi Akutsu, taught Japanese cooking classes at French Mint. While rolling sushi and pleating gyoza dumplings, she shared stories of her life in Japan. Her family grew Shiitake mushrooms so school breaks were spent planting hundreds of Shiitake stems. She recalled neighbourhood parties where freshly picked Shiitakes were pan-fried over an open fire and served with soy sauce and butter. Akemi’s childhood was entirely food-centered; she was taught to brandish a cleaver and chop chickens before learning to write and has the scars from a reattached finger to prove it.

This dumpling recipe comes from Akemi’s family who own a restaurant in Tochigi, the dumpling capital of Japan.  They serve these dumplings in traditional gyoza fashion, pan-fried and steamed with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and rice vinegar.

I love these dumplings in soup, specifically a sparking consommé.

6 cups chicken consommé or very clear stock
2 pieces of ginger, about 1″ each
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom 4 inches only, bruised with the back of a knife
2 cloves garlic, peeled, bruised with the side of a knife and left whole
12 pork and shrimp dumplings (recipe below)
1 green onion, sliced

In a saucepan simmer the consommé with the ginger, lemongrass and garlic for about 30 minutes.  Check the seasoning; if you prefer a more pronounced ginger or garlic flavour, leave the aromatics in the consommé for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the ginger, lemongrass and garlic.

Just before serving, plunge the dumplings into simmering water* until cooked through, about two minutes. Transfer the cooked dumplings to the warm consommé and garnish with spring onions.

*If you’re wondering why I cook the dumplings in water, rather than the consommé, it’s because I don’t want to risk a rogue dumpling bursting and sabotaging my efforts. Once you’ve made homemade consommé, you’ll understand how crazy you can get about keeping your soup clear.

Shiitake Dumplings

There’s no way to make just a few dumplings; this recipe makes about 3 dozen (!) and yes, they freeze beautifully.

5 oz of ground pork
5 oz peeled and chopped shrimp
1 cup finely chopped Napa cabbage
8 chopped Shittake  mushrooms, stems removed
1 spring onion, finely chopped, including green part
1 tsp each finely grated ginger and garlic
1 tsp each salt and white pepper
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp sesame oil
36 gyoza wrappers

Combine all but the gyoza wrappers in a bowl and mix together.

Place a small spoonful of the mixture in the middle of a gyoza wrapper.  Dab a little water around the wrapper’s edge then fold the wrapper in two to encase the filling and create a semi-circle. Pinch or pleat the sides together and repeat with the balance of the dumplings.

Place the dumplings on a floured-dusted baking sheet.  Set aside enough for the consommé and freeze what you’re not using. (Freeze on a tray until firm, then transfer to freezer bags.)

 

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