I have to be honest. I haven’t exactly been glowing with holiday spirit this year. Last month we ate Chinese food on Thanksgiving. We don’t have a tree, just the same old plants. There is printer paper all over my desk, but no wrapping paper to be seen. I’ve kept my head buried in work while the tinsel and the lights have been strung up around me.
The whole season might have come and gone if it weren’t for gingerbread. The other day, I got to bake some for Mrs. Patmore. Do you know her? She is essentially Mrs. Claus reborn grumpy and British—my kind of visitor from Christmas Past.
The name Mrs. Patmore won’t mean much to you if you aren't a fan of Downton Abbey. Let me explain. She’s the lovable cook on the show. I’m into her schtick. She’s frumpy but adorable. Constantly exasperated. A tough cookie with a heart of gold. You know the type. I imagine I’ll be like her soon enough, fussing over the puddings and complaining about my swollen ankles. We’ll have to name our first-born Daisy so I have someone to boss around in the kitchen. I’ll also have to perm my bangs, again.
Last week I helped my friend and pastry chef Jason build a gingerbread replica of the Downton Abbey castle for Martha Stewart. Flexing my holiday cookie muscles in a big way. (Click here for a look at the house and a fun video of the assembly. ) Once the house was finished, complete with signage, sanding-sugar snow, and twinkling lights, Mrs. P popped round with Martha to check it out. I think we got a smile out of her.
All that gingerbread finally got me into the holiday spirit. The smell is unlike anything else. Pure holiday magic. It reminds me of baking... I mean opening the package of iced cookies that we used to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve when I was small.
This year, having gorged on architectural-size pieces of gingerbread already, I’ll be leaving these dainty and lovely gluten-free Linzer cookies near the fireside Christmas Eve. I hope the Santa in your house will love them, too.
Gluten Free Hazelnut Linzer Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and cooled completely
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold but not too hard, cut into pieces
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract
jam or melted chocolate, for filling
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine sugar and hazelnuts and process until the hazelnuts are finely ground. Add the almond flour, white rice flour, potato starch, baking soda, and salt and process until well-combined. Add the butter and pulse until mixture looks like coarse sand. Then add the egg and the vanilla and process until an evenly-moistened dough forms.
2. Tip the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper. Divide the dough in half. Wrap one half in plastic and refrigerate it until ready to use. Top the other half with another piece of parchment and roll it out to an even 1/8th-inch thickness. The dough is very buttery so it shouldn’t stick. With a 2 1/4-inch fluted, round cookie cutter, make cuts in the dough, but don’t lift the cookies out. The dough is too soft. With a 1/2 –inch cookie cutter (I used a heart and a star), make cuts in the center of half of the cookies. Transfer the sheet with the dough to a baking sheet and freeze for at least 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. Using an offset spatula, carefully lift the cut cookies out of the rolled dough. Remove the centers of half of the cookies. Set them on two parchment-lined baking sheet, at least 1 inch apart. At this point, if the dough has gotten soft, freeze it again until firm.
4. Bake until the cookies are just set, about 8 minutes. Remove them from the oven and carefully re-cut the centers out of half of the cookies. Return the cookies to the oven and bake until the edges are golden, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the cookie sheets to racks to cool completely.
5. Transfer the cookies with cutouts to one baking sheet. Sprinkle them with confectioners’ sugar. Flip the remaining cookies over and spread the with either jam or melted chocolate then top them with the dusted cookies. These cookies are lovely and crisp the day they are assembled. They turn into something deliciously reminiscent of fig newtons in texture a day or two after. You can make the cookies in advance and keep them frozen until assembly.