Friday, 1 February 2013

Empire Cookies

If butter tarts are the most traditional Ontario pie, then Empire cookies must be the most traditional Ontario cookie. I'm a little embarrassed that it has taken me this long to make them (and I still haven't made butter tarts!)

These can be found in just about every small town bakery, or at least they used to be there. I'm not sure many small towns have bakeries any more, alas. To be completely traditional these should be cut in rounds and topped with half a glace cherry, and the jam must be raspberry. I admit I am something of an iconoclast, since I did not cut all of them in rounds and I used blackberry jam. So sue me. They were still a real treat.

I was amused to discover that Empire cookies began as Linzertorte, a classic Austrian dessert. The original Linzertorte contained nuts, and was made as a single torte or pie with a lattice top, although it was often made as a sort of bar cookie as well. During the first World War, the name was changed. (Not by the Austrians. By the British and their hangers-on.) The recipe was also simplified, although it's not clear to me exactly when those changes happened. However, it is clear that the epicentre of British Linzertorte consumption was northern England and Scotland, and the recipe picked up a number of characteristics typical of the local shortbread as it made its way through the old British empire. Hence the high proportion of butter, and the rice flour.

16 large double cookies
2 hours prep time

Make the Cookies:
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla OR almond extract
1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Bring the butter to room temperature, then cream it in a mixing bowl and work in the sugar. When soft and well amalgamated, beat in the egg and the vanilla or almond extract.

Sift together the flour, rice flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix this into the butter mixture. It will be fairly stiff, in fact you need not aim for a dough so much as make sure that all the flour is moistened and forms large crumbs. Turn this out onto a floured board or piece of parchment paper to roll out.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Press the dough into a single mass, and flatten it enough to roll out. Roll it out as thinly as you can; about 1/8" thick. Cut with the cookie cutters of your choice, although a simple round is traditional. Re-roll any scraps of dough until all the cookies are formed, but try not to over-work it. Place the rounds or other shapes onto cookie trays lined with parchment paper, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until just showing very faint signs of colour around the edges.

Finish the Cookies:
3/4 cup raspberry jam
1 cup icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla OR almond extract
4 teaspoons hot (tap) water

Once all the cookies are baked and cooled, smear raspberry jam evenly over the back of one, and press the back of a second one against the first to form a sandwich.

Once all the cookies are joined, mix the icing sugar, flavouring and hot water in a small bowl. Ice the cookies evenly with the icing. I find it easiest to dab it on, then smear it with a warm, wet knife. Wrap the finished cookies loosely in parchment, and store in a cookie tin. They will keep well - they should not in fact be eaten until they have rested at least a day - and can be frozen if desired. However, be sure to store them with parchment paper between each layer or they will stick together.

Last year at this time I made Flan de Coco.

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