Day 2 of our 12 Days of Cookie Recipes is from a maven of baking, Rose Levy Beranbaum, a woman who wrote the book on Christmas cookies--literally.
At the end of October, Beranbaum released her latest cookbook, The Baking Bible and it's in those pages that her favorite cookie can be found. Below is a note from Rose Levy Beranbaum about what makes this the cookie above all others for her, followed by the recipe. Come see us tomorrow for the next cookie to try.
I first heard of the Ischler when I learned to make strudel at the Zauner bakery in the town of Bad Ischle where the cookie originated. I also learned of the story of emperor Franz Joseph and how he claimed to be visiting this bakery while instead clandestinely rendezvousing with his mistress nearby.
I researched different versions of the cookie in cookbooks and on line and came up with my own version. Rather than dipping the apricot-sandwiched cookies in chocolate the way all the other versions do, I spread a thin layer of it over the apricot filling so that one would have the crisp fragile almond cookie, the tang of apricot, and the bittersweet chocolate with every bite. I also love that the Ischler speaks to my Austro-Hungarian heritage. My great great grandfather, Adolf Lansman, fought in Franz Joseph's army. He later came to America and brought the now ubiquitous Heckel's and Wusthof knives to this country. He taught my father the art of knife sharpening and my father passed this valuable skill onto me. -- Rose Levy Beranbaum
Makes Forty 2. inch sandwich cookies
Oven Temperature 350°F/175°C
Baking Time 6 to 10 minutes for each of four batches
This Austrian cookie ranks as one of the finest of all time. It was created in the wonderful Zauner Bakery in the spa town of Bad Ischl, which was said to be the favorite vacation spot for Emperor Franz Joseph. The classic method is to sandwich the fragile, thin almond cookies with apricot lekvar or preserves and then to dip the cookies halfway into melted chocolate.
Because I am one-quarter Austro-Hungarian (my great grandfather fought in Franz Joseph’s army), I feel I am qualified to adapt the recipe slightly by spreading the melted chocolate onto the entire inside of the cookies so that I have the glorious taste of apricot and chocolate with every bite.
Two 15 by 12 inch cookie sheets, nonstick or lined with parchment
A 2 ½ inch scalloped or plain round or heart-shape cookie cutter
VOLUME / WEIGHT
- unsalted butter, cold 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) / 8 ounces / 227 grams
- powdered sugar 1 cup (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) plus 2 tablespoons /4.7 ounces / 132 grams
- sliced almonds, preferably unblanched / 2 cups/ 7 ounces / 200 grams
- about ½ large egg, lightly beaten / 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20 ml) /0.7 ounce / 21 grams
- pure vanilla extract 1 teaspoon (5 ml) / . .
- bleached all-purpose flour 1 ¾ cups (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) plus 1 tablespoon /7.8 ounces / 220 grams
- fine sea salt ¼ teaspoon / 1.5 grams
Make the Dough
Food Processor Method:
Cut the butter into ½ inch cubes and let the cubes soften slightly while measuring out the remaining ingredients. The butter should be cool but soft enough to press flat (60° to 70°F/15°to 21°C).
Process the powdered sugar and almonds until the almonds are very fine. Add the butter and process until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and process until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add it to the processor and pulse just until incorporated. The mixture will be in moist and crumbly particles and hold together if pinched.
Stand Mixer Method:
Soften the butter to 65° to 75°F/19° to 23°C.
Using a nut grater, grate the almonds until very fine.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, cream the almonds, powdered sugar, and butter, starting on low speed and gradually increasing the speed to medium, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until blended.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until incorporated and the dough just begins to come away from the sides of the bowl.
Chill the Dough: Scrape the mixture into a plastic bag and, using your knuckles and the heels of your hands, press it together. Transfer the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap and use the wrap to press down on the dough, kneading it until it is smooth.
Divide the dough into quarters, about 6.9 ounces/195 grams each. Wrap each piece loosely with plastic wrap and press to flatten into discs. Rewrap tightly and place in a gallon-size reclosable freezer bag. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 2 days to firm and give the dough a chance to absorb the moisture evenly, which will make rolling easier.
Preheat the Oven: Twenty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.
Roll and Cut the Cookies: Remove a dough disc from the refrigerator and set it on a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour the dough and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough soften for about 10 minutes, or until it is malleable enough to roll. Roll the dough ⅛ inch thick, moving it from time to time and adding more flour if necessary to keep it from sticking.
Cut out twenty 2 ¼ inch cookies. Set them a minimum of ½ inch apart on a cookie sheet.
Set aside any scraps, covered with plastic wrap, to knead together with the scraps from the next three batches.
Bake the Cookies: Bake for 4 minutes. For even baking, rotate the cookie sheet halfway around. Continue baking for 2 to 6 minutes, or just until they begin to brown at the edges.
Cool the Cookies: Set the cookie sheet on a wire rack and let the cookies cool for about
1 minute so that they will be firm enough to transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Use
a pancake turner to lift the cookies onto another wire rack. Cool completely.
While each batch of cookies is baking, remove the next dough disc to soften before rolling
and then roll the dough for the next batch. After the last batch is cut, if desired, knead
together all of the scraps and repeat chilling, rerolling, and cutting.
Super Firm Chocolate Ganache Filling:
Makes 1⅓ cups/10 ounces/285 grams
- bittersweet chocolate, 60% to 62% cacao, chopped / . / 8 ounces / 227 grams
- heavy cream, hot / ¼ cup (59 ml) / 2 ounces / 58 grams
Make the Ganache Filling In a microwavable bowl, stirring with a silicone spatula every 15 seconds (or in the top of a double boiler set over hot, not simmering, water, stirring often—do not let the bottom of the container touch the water), heat the chocolate until almost completely melted.
Remove the chocolate from the heat source and stir until fully melted.
Pour the cream on top of the chocolate and stir until smooth. The mixture should drop thickly from the spatula. Set it aside in a warm place. If the ganache thickens before all of it is used, it can be restored in the microwave with 3 second bursts or in a double boiler set over hot or simmering water.
Apricot Lekvar Filling:
Makes 2. cups/651 ml/29.6 ounces/840 grams
volume / WEIGHT
- dried apricots / 2⅔ cups / 1 pound / 454 grams
- water / 2 cups (473 ml) / 16.7 ounces / 473 grams
- granulated sugar / 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons / 8 ounces / 225 grams
- lemon zest, finely grated / 2 teaspoons, loosely packed/ ./ 4 grams
- apricot or peach brandy / 1 teaspoon (5 ml)/ . .
Make the Lekvar Filling In a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the dried apricots and water and let them sit for 2 hours to soften.
Bring the water to a boil, cover the pan tightly, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes on the lowest possible heat until the apricots are very soft when pierced with a skewer. If the water evaporates, add a little extra.
In a food processor, process the apricots and any remaining liquid, the sugar, lemon zest, and brandy until smooth.
Scrape the apricot mixture back into the saucepan and simmer, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until deep orange in color and very thick. When lifted, a tablespoon of the mixture will take about 3 seconds to fall from the spoon.
Transfer the lekvar to a bowl and let it cool completely. You will need only about ⅔ cup/ 158 ml/ 7 ounces/202 grams, but it keeps just about indefinitely refrigerated. Making a smaller amount risks scorching the lekvar. Lekvar made from dried apricots is the most delicious and concentrated, but the apricot glaze that follows makes a viable alternative.
Fill the Cookies:
Using a small offset spatula or butter knife, spread the bottoms of half of the cookies, up to ⅛ inch from the edge, with a very thin layer of the apricot filling (about ½ tablespoon /3.7 ml). Spread the bottoms of the remaining cookies with a slightly thicker layer of the ganache (about . tablespoon/6 grams). Set the chocolate coated cookies, coated side down, on the apricot coated cookies. Let them sit for a minimum of 30 minutes for the ganache to set completely.
Store Airtight: room temperature, 5 days; frozen, 6 months.
Rose Levy Beranbaum is the author of several cookbooks, including her most recent, The Baking Bible, one of our Best Cookbooks of 2014.
In case you missed it, Day 1 of 12 Days of Cookie Recipes is the Eggnog Sandwich Cookie from Ovenly bakery