When the weather outside gets frightful, you start to hear about families getting together to make and decorate Christmas cookies, which is a fancy way of saying they’re making sugar cookies and using Christmas-themed cookie cutters. It’s all very charming and cute, and definitely not so Jewish.
In my family, we’ve long had the tradition of making Hanukkah cookies. As you might expect, these are very similar to Christmas cookies, but with Hanukkah-themed cookie cutters. However, we take our cookies another step away from Christmas, and towards my family’s Austrian-Jewish roots (my grandfather was Viennese). By poking a hole in one cookie, and sandwiching two cookies together with some jam, we make Linzer cookies–bite sized odes to the Austrian classic Linzer torte.
Careful, though. These cookies are addictive, and if you make a batch on the first night of Hanukkah, it will be a true miracle if you have any left by the eighth night.
A note on choosing cookie cutters: For the Linzer cookies, it’s best if you use cookie cutters that have a fair amount of surface area. I recommend Stars of David, menorahs, Torahs, and dreidels. It is nearly impossible to make a Linzer cookie out of the chai shape or any of the Hebrew letters that commonly come in packages of Jewish cookie cutters. I still like to use those smaller shapes, and set those cookies aside for decoration with sprinkles, icing, mini M&Ms, etc. Younger children love this kind of decorating, and I find the uglier the resultant cookie, the better it tastes.
1 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup orange juice
2 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
6 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Jam (raspberry preferred, but whatever you like is fine)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup ground walnuts
Using electric beaters or a food processor, cream the butter and sugar. Add the orange juice, 2 egg yolks, vanilla, and lemon extract. The dough will be very wet. Add the baking soda and 3 cups of flour. At this point the dough will probably be gumming up the beaters, so turn it out into a bowl and work in the remaining three cups of flour by hand. If the dough still feels very sticky, add another half cup of flour.
The dough will store for up to two weeks in the fridge if it is tightly wrapped in plastic.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Sprinkle your workspace with flour. Divide the dough in half, and place one half on your floured workspace. Sprinkle flour on your rolling pin, and begin to roll out the dough. You want it pretty thin–about 1/8th of an inch thick. Using your cookie cutters, begin to cut out shapes from your dough. Remember to have an even number of each shape you’ll be using for the Linzer cookies.
Line and/or grease your cookie sheets. Lay half of each shape of cookie down on the sheets (so if you cut out eight dreidel shapes, put four on the cookie sheet). Poke a hole about the width of your index finger in the middle of each of the remaining shapes. (You may be able to do this with your finger, you may use the mouth of an empty bottle of vanilla, or use the bottom of a Hanukkah or Shabbat candle.)
Dot the cookies on the cookie sheet with about 1 teaspoon of jam per cookie. Then stack one of the cookies with a hole in it on top of each jam dotted cookie. When all the cookies are stacked, brush each Linzer cookie with egg whites, and sprinkle with ground walnuts.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Note: This dough also makes excellent hamantaschen.