Linzer cookies are beautiful holiday cookies made of two buttery almond shortbread cookies that are traditionally filled with sweet jam. But I’ve filled my chocolate hazelnut linzer cookies with creamy Nutella for a delicious twist on this classic Christmas cookie.
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What are Linzer Cookies
So most people have eaten a few of these pretty little sandwich cookies during the holidays. But do you know where they originated from?
Linzer cookies actually date back to 1653, to the Austrian linzertorte. The linzertorte was a tart baked like a pie, with a buttery almond crust filled with blackcurrant preserves, and topped with a lattice crust.
In Linz, Austria, bakers turned the linzertorte into a cookie. When cutting out the linzertorte dough, they’d cut shapes in the center of the dough, such as hearts, stars and circles, which were called linzer “eyes”. They assembled the cookies with jam or preserves sandwiched between two cookies, with the peekaboo cutout cookie on top, so the jam would be visible.
Although linzer cookies are traditionally made with a buttery almond dough, similar to shortbread, I haven’t included any almond flour in my linzer cookie dough recipe. These shortbread cookies are buttery and flaky, without rising, spreading or losing their shape as they bake.
Most bakers dust the top cookie with powdered sugar before placing it on top of the filling. Instead of powdered sugar, I brush the cookie dough with egg white and sprinkle it with sparkling sugar for a beautiful finish.
- All-Purpose Flour. The flour provides structure to the cookie dough. You could certainly experiment with substituting a little almond flour for some of the all-purpose flour.
- Powdered Sugar. Adds sweetness. I like to use powdered sugar, rather than granulated sugar in my shortbread and sugar cookie dough recipes, as it makes a beautifully smooth, supple dough.
- Salt. Balances the sweetness.
- Unsalted Butter. Richness, flavor and moisture. Shortbread is a “short” pastry, meaning it has a high butterfat content in proportion to the flour and sugar.
- Vanilla. Use a good-quality vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste for the best flavor. A little almond extract would also be delicious.
- Milk or Cream. Binds the dough together.
- Egg White + Sparkling Sugar. The top cookies are brushed with egg white and then sprinkled with sugar. This adds a sweet, crunchy finish that’s just gorgeous.
- Chocolate Hazelnut Spread. Nutella is a perfect filling for linzer cookies. It’s creamy, slightly sweet, and so delicious.
These chocolate hazelnut linzer cookies may look complicated, but they’re actually quite easy to make and assemble.
Make the Dough.
So first, make the dough. Shortbread dough is a breeze to make with a food processor, but if you don’t have one, you can make it with a pastry cutter. The dough is smooth and supple, and rolls out beautifully. This is also a no-spread cookie dough, since it doesn’t contain any leavening. So your cut cookies will hold their shape perfectly while baking.
Roll and Cut.
You’ll need to roll the dough thin, about 1/8 inch thick. Shortbread dough is delicate when it’s rolled thin, so handle gently.
If you have linzer cookie cutters, you can certainly use them. Or you can simply pair a small cookie cutter with a larger one. Traditional shapes for the cutout “window” are stars, hearts and circles. But I decided to use some nontraditional shapes, and I just adore the mini house and the quatrefoil shape inside the ornament cookie.
Chill and Bake.
After cutting the linzer cookie dough, it’s important to chill the cut cookies before baking. This helps them maintain their shape while baking so they don’t spread out.
My own unique touch to these cookies is to brush the top cutouts with egg white and sprinkle with sugar before baking. This gives them a sparkly crunchy finish that looks just gorgeous.
If you prefer the look of powdered sugar, then you can certainly skip this step and dust the cookies with powdered sugar after baking the cookies. But one advantage to my method is that, unlike powdered sugar which melts over time, the egg white and sugar finish that’s baked on won’t melt or smudge.
Since the shortbread cookies are thin, they are delicate, so handle them gently before and after baking. Match up your top and bottom cookies, and turn the bottom cookie over, so it’s sitting bottom-side up. Spread with chocolate hazelnut spread, then place a cookie with a peekaboo center on top. The Nutella will look so beautiful and tempting peeking through the cutout.
I just love the flavor of the Nutella in these chocolate hazelnut linzer cookies. Of course, jam is the traditional filling, and there are so many delicious flavors that you could fill your linzer cookies with. When using jam, you want to be sure to reduce it on the stove first, so that it’s nice and thick, and not runny.
- Raspberry Jam
- Apricot or Peach Jam
- Fig Preserves
- Lemon Curd
- Dulce de Leche
- Strawberry Rhubarb
You can freeze both the dough, and the assembled linzer cookies. I often make batches of shortbread dough in bulk, wrap the dough disks in plastic wrap, label them, and then freeze until I’m ready to bake. Let the dough thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and then let warm up for about an hour at room temperature until the dough is pliable enough to roll out.
After baking, filling and assembling the cookies, you can store them in an airtight container and freeze for 3-6 months.
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Chocolate Hazelnut Linzer Cookies
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ tsp coarse Kosher salt
- ¾ cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
- 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 3 tbsp whole milk or cream
- 1 egg white
- ¼ cup sparkling sugar or granulated sugar
- ½ cup chocolate hazelnut spread
- In a food processor, pulse the flour, powdered sugar and salt to combine.With the food processor running, drop the butter pieces in one at a time, pulsing until evenly dispersed.Add the vanilla and cream, then pulse until the mixture comes together into a soft, supple dough.Note that if you don't have a food processor, you can make the dough in a bowl, using a pastry cutter. I've done this many times, and it just takes a bit longer to work the butter evenly into the flour, and then work the liquid into the mixture until it forms a soft dough.
- Dump the dough out and knead a few times just to bring together any stray floury bits. Shape into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Get your cookie cutters ready. You can use a linzer cookie cutter set, or just match up small cutters with larger ones to cut the "window". My cookie cutters ranged from 2 1/2 – 3 inches for the large ones, and 1 – 1 1/2 inches for the smaller window cutter.
- Flour a clean work surface, and flour the dough lightly as well. Roll the dough out evenly to about 1/8 inch thick.The dough will be delicate when rolled thin, so handle it gently. The reason for rolling it thin is because the cookies will be sandwiched together. You can certainly roll the dough a little thicker, if you like, to between 1/8-1/4 inch thick, but a thicker cookie will take longer to bake than the time noted below.Cut as many cookies as you can, and set the cut cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Make sure to cut an even number of each shape, since you'll need to match up the top and bottom cookies of your sandwich.With the cut cookies on the baking sheet, cut and remove the center window, and add that piece to your dough scraps.Gather up the scraps of dough, re-roll the dough, and continue cutting cookies.I was able to cut 26 cookies, for a total of 13 assembled sandwich cookies.
- Refrigerate the cut cookies for 1 hour. Chilling the cut cookies helps to keep the cookies from spreading while they bake, so they maintain their shape.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the top cookies (the ones with the window) with the egg white, then sprinkle with the sparkling/granulated sugar. (If you like, you can skip this step and simply dust the cookies with powdered sugar after they've baked.)Bake the chilled cookies on the center oven rack. Depending on their size, they should take about 8 – 8 1/2 minutes. The baked cookies will still be very pale on top, with light golden edges. Since there's no leavening in the dough, the cookies will not rise, spread, or lose their shape, but it's normal to see little bubbles, since as the butter cooks, the water in the butter evaporates, and the pockets of steam create flaky layers and bubbles.Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for several minutes, and then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Remember, these are delicate, and they break easily, so handle with care.
- Once the cookies are cooled, turn over the bottom cookies, so the bottom side faces up. Spread with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of chocolate hazelnut spread, stopping 1/8 inch from the edge. Place the top cookie with the window on top, and press down lightly.
- Leftover cookies should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or frozen for 3-6 months.
- I’d recommend making a double batch of dough, since this recipe only makes 13 finished linzer cookies.