Christmas snuck up on me this year. It’s the first holiday season in four years that I’m spending with my family, and I couldn’t be more overjoyed – looking forward to our traditional chaos of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve and gobbling up bakalar like there’s no tomorrow. I even managed to buy most presents on time, but there’s one thing I forgot: Christmas cookies!
Save for helping my mom with holiday baking while I was growing up, I’ve never really tried my hand at making my own Christmas (or any other) cookies. I’m sure this comes easy to a lot of people, but I shy away from working with any kind of dough (especially if yeast is involved – rest assured I did not partake in the bread-baking obsession at the start of the pandemic). This Christmas, however, I’ve been feeling ambitious and picked a few recipes to try out. I was even sensible enough to stock up on all the ingredients I’d need.
And then I forgot to plan for the actual baking part. The holiday schedule got hectic as it tends to do, and last night I realised Christmas is a few days away and I’d have no time for any baking shenanigans after the 22nd… So I thought to myself, let’s just make one kind of cookie. One, and I’d consider this holiday season a success. My amazing mom’s going rampant with holiday baking as usual so we won’t be facing a shortage of sweets any time soon – here’s her baking list for the next two days, featuring a few Croatian holiday hits:
Are the crossed out ones those you’ve already made? I asked.
Nope, those are the ones I’ve given up on, she said.
Still, there’ll be plenty to go around, and so I got back to the single thing on my to-do list. Should be enough to save face, if all goes well. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work – chaotic, messy work heavily relying on improvisation.
You’ve surely seen your share of dreamy food blogs with perfectly styled photos and a highly skilled baker behind the scenes. This is not one of those blogs. While I consider myself a decent home cook, I wouldn’t last two hours on the set of The Great British Bake-Off… but I’m not going to let that stop me. After all, it’s the holiday spirit that matters! Join me as I (attempt to) make linzer cookies, a Christmas staple in Croatia.
Linzer are buttery sandwich cookies filled with jam of your choice. I don’t remember a holiday season without an ungodly amount of linzer cookies in our pantry. It’s one of those things that taste better the longer you let them rest, so it’s prudent to plan ahead and double or triple the recipe to make sure you don’t run out before the season is through.
Out with the ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla sugar, lemon zest, butter and egg.
The recipe says to ‘combine all ingredients to make a dough’. This means nothing to me. Combine them in what order? Isn’t baking a precise art? It was too late in the day to call mama for instructions, so I did some googling and found out there seemingly was no single right way to start off. Some say to cream butter and sugar with a mixer until fluffy and then add the other ingredients, some opt to combine the dry ones first and then cut in the butter.
At past 11pm, I don’t think my neighbours would enjoy the first option, so I skipped the mixer. In with the butter! A bit of elbow grease later, what wasn’t looking promising at first quickly turned into nice smooth dough. We actually might be getting somewhere:
I popped the dough in the fridge to rest and went to prep the stuff I’d need for the next step. Thankfully, I recently bought a proper rolling pin – the last time I needed to roll out something, I ended up using an empty bottle of ginger ale. It was a nice glass bottle. It did the trick. I’m happy to have the rolling pin anyway.
However, I realised I’d overlooked a few crucial things in regards to the linzer project. One, I have a single baking tray, which isn’t a fun prospect knowing you’ll have at least 5-6 six trays’ worth of cookies to bake. Two, while I did pick up some festive snowflake-shaped cookie cutters, I forgot that linzer cookies feature a cutout in the top layer for the jam to peek through. Do I have anything at home to punch a hole in my cookies?
I fumbled through my kitchen drawers and found a metal tea strainer. This will do for the bigger cookies, what about the smaller ones? Too bad I don’t have a thimble, the reliable hole-punching tool that I’ve more often seen used in baking than sewing.
What I do have is a well stocked bar, so I snagged a tiny metal cap off of a mini bottle of Austrian schnapps. Consider this a nice homage to the Austrian origin of linzer cookies.
I promise these were not so ghostly pale in real life.
Not the most elegant solution, but needs must. It’s not too late to turn away, dear reader, because things only get more crafty from this point on.
The snowflake cookies turned out a bit difficult to handle due to their specific shape, and I wanted to make a batch of simple round cookies as well. You’ve guessed – no round cookie cutters in the household, but I learned a wine glass does the trick quite nicely:
A little test run – seems to work.
At this point, it’s 1am and I’m questioning my life choices. The last batch is in the oven and I still have the final step to complete: warm up some jam on the stove and assemble the little linzer sandwiches. The jam firms up as it cools down, acting like glue that ensures the cookies stick together and stay in place.
Let’s not forget some dramatic flair, a holiday-themed reenactment of Scarface with a mountain of powdered sugar covering every inch of my kitchen counters. Luckily I remembered to generously dust the top cookies with sugar before assembly, so that the jam peeking through the cutout remains nice and glossy. It’s a lovely pop of colour that gives linzer cookies their distinctive appearance. Success!
I’ve a talent for food photography as well.
A little uneven, but delicious – I was surprised how decent they turned out considering I MacGyvered my way through the whole affair. I have a bite to make sure they’re fine to serve to others, and I feel that unmistakable taste of the holiday season.
Oh, and a final tip. To ensure that people in your household don’t break into your stash of cookies too soon, store them where noone will think to look – in the sewing tin 😉
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season full of delicious treats. Happy Christmas!