Saturday, February 11, 2012

Linzer Tarts with Herbed Strawberry Filling

A great welcome to new subscribers Linda and Al. It’s great to have you here!

Holidays and cookies have a way of going together, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. And for cookies that are fun, romantic and, most important, delicious, it’s hard to beat a Linzer Tart. Today’s recipe - Linzer Tarts with Herbed Strawberry Filling  - puts two cookies with a hint of almond around a special strawberry filling and tops them with confectioner’s sugar to add a great tasting touch to your Valentine’s Day. (To any other day too, but this is supposed to be a Valentine’s Day post.) No one has to know they’re also reduced-fat, and quite easy to make.

An added bit of goodness for these cookies is the fresh strawberry preserves we’ll use to fill them. A while back I was going through some old cooking notes and saw an idea from Michael Chiarello, one of my favorite chefs, to add a touch of rosemary to strawberry preserves. I’m glad I’d written it down. You’ll be amazed at how well the strawberries and rosemary complement each other.

To make the preserves, this recipe describes using a candy thermometer to know when the strawberry mixture had cooked long enough. If you don’t have one, another way you can check hot preserves for doneness is the frozen plate method you’ve seen used here in other recipes. That’s also described in the recipe.

When cutting out the cookies and making the cut-outs for the top half of each Linzer Tart, admittedly I went a little overboard making the Valentine Man shape you see in the photos. You don’t have to get quite so elaborate when cutting out your cookies. In fact, I recommend that you keep the shapes and cutouts to simpler shapes you can make with cookie cutters; you’ll save a lot of time. The custom cut-outs on the top layer of the Valentine Man were made mostly with a paring knife and were very time consuming.

This recipe makes about twelve filled cookies. It will also give you an added bonus: about a cup of preserves left over after the cookies are filled.

If you’re going to use the frozen plate method to check the preserves for doneness, place a small glass plate in the freezer.

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees.

Place ¾ cup of whole almonds or ½ cup of chopped or sliced almonds on a baking sheet; toast for a few minutes until the almonds are slightly browned and aromatic. Turn off the oven when done.

Let the toasted almonds cool, then pulse in a food processor or mini food processor with 1/3 cup granulated sugar until finely ground. (Be careful not to over-process the mixture or it can become pasty.)

Whisk the following together: 1-2/3 cup all-purpose flour; 2/3 cup pastry flour; ½ teaspoon baking powder; ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg; ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon; and ¼ teaspoon salt

in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat 8 ounces of cold, firm-textured butter substitute and 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 1-1/2 minutes. Beat in ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract; 1 egg-substitute egg; and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest until well-combined, about another 30 seconds. (Zest the entire lemon; we’ll use any remaining zest when we make the preserves for the filling.)

Add the ground almond mixture and the flour mixture, stirring with a spatula just until incorporated. Be careful not to over-mix.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces; place 1 piece between 2 lightly floured sheets of wax paper and roll into about a 10-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Put both rolled doughs, covered with the wax paper sheets, in the freezer until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Working one dough at a time, cut the top shapes (including any special cut-outs) and the bottom shapes, collecting, re-rolling, and cutting the scraps. Place the cookies, about 1 inch apart, on a baking sheet and chill in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Bake the cookies until the edges are golden, about 16 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. Cool on wire racks. While the cookies are cooling, make the filling. (See separate recipe below.) If you prefer to use a jar of prepared preserves instead, spoon about 1 cup of prepared preserves into a small saucepan and warm until a thick liquid.

Once the cookies have cooled, turn the bottom cookies over, flat side up. Spread the warm filling over the surface and let it cool.

Sift confectioners' sugar over each top cookie. (Using a strainer is an easy way to get a nice, even distribution.)

Place the top cookies on top of the filling-covered bottom pieces to complete the cookies.

To make about 1 pint of the preserve filling:

In a medium saucepan, combine 1-1/2 cups of granulated sugar, and the juice of 1 large lemon. Add any lemon zest left over from the making the cookie dough. Stir till combined, then cook over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 10 minutes.

Add 1 pound of hulled and chopped fresh strawberries, a pinch of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of dried rosemary, and continue to cook over the low heat. Mixture should be at a low boil in about 20 minutes.

The strawberries will gradually break down as the mixture cooks and thickens. Cook with very little stirring until a candy thermometer reads 220 degrees or until a small amount of the liquid gels on the frozen plate.

Using a teaspoon, carefully put the hot filling onto the bottom cookies and add the top cookie as described above. Save the rest as a topping for your toast that no store-bought preserves will ever match!

And there you have it: delicious, fresh-made reduced-fat Linzer Tarts with a very tasty herbed strawberry filling. Be sure you share them with people you love, and don’t forget to include yourself!

See you next week with another tasty, reduced-fat recipe for something special. (I know what it is, but I’m not telling!) Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

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