Valentine’s Day Linzer Cookies


For an easy yet elegant Valentine’s Day dessert try these traditional Linzer cookies. The thin, almond-packed, slightly sweet cookie perfectly balances the tart raspberry jam filling, and a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar surrounding a brilliant red interior looks striking on a plate. Bake the cookies days in advance and assemble at the last minute for a simply delicious Valentine’s Day treat.

Linzer Cookies
Yield=2 Dozen

2/3 cup finely ground almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup almond flour*
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
raspberry or strawberry jam as needed
*another ½ cup of very finely ground almonds or ½ cup of all-purpose flour can be used in place of the almond flour

In a large bowl, whisk together ground almonds, flours, baking powder, kosher salt and cinnamon. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined and smooth. Add vanilla and beat till smooth. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the bowl and beat only until just combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and pat into two disks. Wrap each with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F and put oven rack in middle position.

On a lightly-floured work surface roll one of the disks to approximately 1/8 – inch thick. Cut out as many heart shaped cookies as possible and transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet spaced about 1 – inch apart. Place in the oven for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until lightly brown around the edges and golden on top (closer to 15 minutes). Remove from the oven then transfer cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.

Combine all scrap dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill while rolling out the next batch. For this batch, cut out the same number of large heart-shaped cookies but cut out the center of each with a smaller heart. Transfer the cookies to another ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, watching more closely as these cook more quickly.

I like to bake off the little heart-shaped centers as well, but if you prefer to make more Linzer cookies, combine the centers with the scraps, chill and reroll as many as you are able. Experts might advise to only reroll the dough once because rerolling could cause the cookies to become tough. This may be true, but I find Linzer cookies to be very forgiving in regard to this issue—I reroll until I’m completely out of dough. Note: If I am rolling and cutting cookies and transferring to cookie sheets, I place filled cookie sheets in the freezer or refrigerator until the oven is free.

When the cookies have cooled completely, spread jam onto center of each solid heart-shaped cookie. Don’t spread all the way to the edge—when the cookies are topped the jam will be forced out. Using a fine meshed strainer filled with ¼ cup of confectioners’ sugar (to start), lightly dust the open-centered cookies. Add more sugar to the strainer as necessary.

Carefully sandwich the cookies together (they are very fragile and will crack if pressed too hard) and serve immediately. The cookies can be made days in advance and stored in an airtight container. The assembled cookies can also be made a day in advance but the presentation will not be as beautiful: the confectioners’ sugar gets absorbed and smudged and it is hard to re-dust without disassembling the cookies. They are still delicious, however. Enjoy!

Grand Marnier Chocolate Truffles


Truffles, while not difficult to make, do take planning. With Valentine’s Day now two and a half weeks away, there is ample time to make these delicious, perfectly boozy bites of chocolate. This basic recipe can be adapted to satisfy all likings: toasted coconut, chopped nuts or confectioners’ sugar can replace the cocoa powder, as can any type of alcohol replace the Grand Marnier. Personally I find the classic cocoa-covered truffles to be the most satisfying. Paired with some fresh strawberries these bittersweet chocolate truffles are a truly delectable, if clichéd, Valentine’s Day treat.

Grand Marnier Chocolate Truffles
Yield 35

10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup Grand Marnier
12 oz candy-making chocolate disks (dark), Merckens brand works well (*see note in directions below)
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

Place the bittersweet chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30-60 seconds, stirring after the first 30 seconds. Alternatively, melt chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over (not touching) gently simmering water.
In a small sauté pan or saucepan, heat cream, corn syrup and salt until simmering. Pour over melted chocolate mixture and let stand 1-2 minutes. With a spatula gently stir mixture until evenly blended. Pour the alcohol, about a tablespoon at a time, into the chocolate mixture, stirring well after each addition. Pour mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish, preferably glass or Pyrex. (Glass or Pyrex is best because eventually you’ll be scraping the bottom of the pan with your truffle scoop, and these two materials won’t be harmed.) Let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a truffle scoop (also called a #100 scoop) or a melon baller, gently drag the balled end across the surface of the chocolate. Release the ball of chocolate onto the cookie sheet and repeat until all of the chocolate has been scooped. These balls should not look perfect—don’t worry if they look irregularly-shaped, and don’t try to reshape them into perfect balls—in fact, they should appear slightly misshapen. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least another hour.

This next step is the only tricky part. Chocolate seizes very easily. This means that if a drop of water happens to get into the chocolate mixture, the chocolate will form into a grainy mass precluding it from being able to coat the balls. So regulating the temperature of the chocolate is important: it needs to be warm enough to easily coat the balls, but it also cannot be overheated.
*Note: 12 oz of chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate can be used in place of the candy-making chocolate disks, but I find the candy-making chocolate disks to be more forgiving in regard to seizing and they also give a crisper coating than regular semisweet or bittersweet chocolate.
Follow these steps carefully:
Place the coating chocolate in a large stainless-steel bowl (larger than you think necessary for the amount of chocolate.) Fill a pot large enough to accomodate the bowl with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer and place the bowl with chocolate over the pot being sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. After a a few minutes stir the chocolate with a heat-proof spatula, not a wooden spoon (supposedly wooden spoons can carry moisture). Place the cocoa powder in a shallow vessel—a small rectangular-shaped Tupperware works well. Have a clean Tupperware ready for the finished truffles.
When the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Remove the chocolate balls from the refrigerator. Place a large stainless-steel spoon (not a dinner spoon but a large cooking spoon) in the bowl and using the spatula push chocolate into the spoon to fill. Working one at a time, place one ball into the chocolate-filled spoon. Quickly coat the ball using the spatula, then remove using a small stainless-steel “dinner” spoon, and transfer to the cocoa powder. Gently shake the vessel back and forth until the truffle is coated, and let sit while you move to the next one. Repeat with two more before removing the first finished truffle. After 3 or 4 of the truffles have been coated, remove the first completed truffle to the clean vessel. Eventually you will work out your own system, but the truffles do need to rest for about 15 seconds before they are transferred to the clean vessel—the chocolate coating needs to set briefly. Towards the end of this coating process, you may need to place the bowl back over the water to gently warm the chocolate again so it more easily coats the chocolates. Just follow the same procedure as above—the key is to melt the chocolate slowly and to keep moisture out of the inside of the bowl. Keep the un-dipped chocolates cool in the refrigerator while you reheat the chocolate.
Once all of the truffles are coated, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you prefer to eat them at room temperature, remove them from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving.
Note: After the chocolates have chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours and are firm, taste one. If the cocoa-powder coating is too strong, try this: set a cooling rack over a sheet tray and working with a few truffles at a time, shake them back and forth with your hands to remove excess cocoa powder. Return to the refrigerator in a clean Tupperware.
Note: You may have left over cocoa powder and coating chocolate. You can store the remaining coating chocolate in the refrigerator and use for another project or use in a recipe for chocolate sauce or hot cocoa. The remaining cocoa powder can also be saved for hot cocoa.

Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Balls


I have to say I am very excited about these homemade “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.” Many years ago, the mother of one of my parents’ students made these as a thank you gift for teaching her son, and I have been dreaming about them ever since. My memory did not deceive me either for these truly are delicious! For some reason–fear of difficulty or time or for having to use coating chocolate (something I’ve never used before)–I hesitated to make them. I discovered today, however, that my fear was irrational. This recipe, with a little bit of practice and patience (the whole process is sort of a long affair) is actually fairly easy and very rewarding. I’ve discovered another beautiful homemade gift for the holidays that I am really looking forward to giving to friends…a lot of friends: the recipe makes 165!

Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Balls
Yield: 165 ea

2 cups (5.5 oz) vanilla wafers
1 lb confectioner’s sugar
1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened
12 oz smooth peanut butter
1 lb bag candy-making chocolate disks (dark) Merckens brand is good. (I found mine at Fante’s)

Fleur de Sel
paper petit fours wrappers

Using food processor with metal blade, combine vanilla wafers and confectioner’s sugar. Pulse until well blended. Add softened butter, and pulse again until well blended. Add peanut butter, a little at a time, pulsing after each addition until well blended. Once smooth, transfer mixture to a separate bowl. At this point, you can either wrap the mixture in plastic wrap and chill for an hour, or you can start forming the balls. I found it easy to form the balls immediately, and then chill them afterwards. (You will ultimately develop a method that works for you.)
I used a scale to weigh each ball. Each ball should weigh 1/4 oz or be approximately a rounded 1/2 teaspoon in size. When you have portioned the desired number of balls you wish to make (you could portion all at once, but this would take a very long time), chill the balls in the refrigerator until firm (at least one hour). Wrap the remaining dough and store in the refrigerator until ready to use again.

Meanwhile, slowly melt the chocolate (estimate how much you will need) in the bowl of a double boiler. When the balls are firm, remove only a few at a time (I was working with 12 at one time). When the chocolate is melted, whisk until smooth and turn off the heat. Drop a ball into the chocolate, move gently around with a fork, and when completely coated remove ball with a toothpick. Gently lower ball into paper petit fours wrapper and gently twist the toothpick–it should ease out slowly. This process will take a little bit of trial and error, but you will eventually develop a method that works for you. Don’t worry if there is a little blemish revealing some peanut butter on the top of the ball. You can fix that at the end by spooning tiny tiny amount of chocolate over the holes to touch up the open spots. When the 12 balls are coated and in the paper cups, sprinkle a tiny amount of Fleur de Sel on top of each peanut butter ball. Chill balls in freezer for 5 minutes to firm. Transfer to a stationary box (I ordered mine on-line), wrap, give and enjoy!