Empire cookies are the treat that mark the holidays in my world. The crunchy nutty cookie, the tangy raspberry, and the hard icing shell are just so perfect together. Every desire - for taste, texture, or appearance - is completely satisfied. The several hours required to create them just adds to the feeling of Christmas, I mean, getting to spend hours baking? Love it!
My mum was the person who introduced me to these cookies, but in concept rather than taste or recipe. As a result of the idea of empire cookies, I made my own recipe, rather than following one. The recipes used to create my cookies came from all over the place, and I don't think that they could really be considered common, unless you're German, so these might not be your mama's cookies, but their still damn fine.
The biscuits that are used to sandwich the jam and support the icing act as the foundation for everything the cookie stands for. The recipe I found three years ago for the biscuit was from a blog called butterbrot or http://www.butteronbread.com/. It was a blog which performed the marvellous task of translating traditional German dishes and deserts into an English format, which is awesome because I love learning about German cuisine. Unfortunately, the author hasn't made an appearance for about three years, and I'm always afraid that the blog will be gone the next time I try to pull it up.
A recipe for German cookies, called spitzbuben, is where I got the almond cookies. Spitzbuben consists of rose jelly sandwiched in between two almond cookies, which are then doused in powdered sugar. Spitzbuben and empire cookies don't really share a family tree, but the almond cookies do a very good job adding background flavour, so they work well with the raspberry jam.
Empire Cookie Ingredients:
- I cup, 2 tbs unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups ground blanched almonds
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- a pinch of salt
- a jar of raspberry jam
- powdered sugar
- boiling water
- vanilla extract
Before you do anything, pull the butter out of the fridge.
Put a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Dump in one and a half cups of almonds and allow to boil for one minute before draining. Peel the almonds, discarding skins. Grind the blanched almonds until a meal is formed and no large chunks remain.
Note: Blanching the almonds is integral to the structure of the cookies. If you do not blanch the almonds right before the dough is formed, the moisture levels will not be enough to ensure that the dough comes together.
Combine the almond meal, flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Chop the butter into chunks and toss in into the bowl. Roll up your sleeves and prepare to get dirty. Also, wash your hands.
Thoroughly combine the butter with the flour mix. Using your hands is a necessity, no spoons, mixers, or butter cutters. Pinch and combine the butter and flour mix until there are no crumbs or dustings of powder left in the bowl. It will feel like a really long time to mix, but keep going, you'll know when it's done; it should be able to form a ball that does not flake off, and shows no signs of unmixed flour.
Divide the dough into three or four patties, wrap them in cellophane, and deposit in the fridge for a minimum of thirty minutes. Preheat your oven to 350º F.
Working in batches, gently roll the dough until it's about 1/8 of an inch in thickness. As you work, pinch together any cracks that form around the edges, as it will prevent them from getting too large. Working on the smoothest surface possible, dust with flour only very lightly, as excess flour makes it difficult to prevent the dough from cracking when you try to re-roll it.
Using a round cookie cutter, twist your dough babies up and off the countertop. I have never once been able to get a cookie up by using a spatula.
The cookies don't expand very much, so a quarter of an inch of space between each on the baking tray is plenty. Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the tray halfway through if your oven doesn't circulate well. The cookies should be lightly browned.
While the cookies cool, it's time to make some icing. Bring about a cup of water to a boil. In a small bowl, deposit roughly two cups of powdered sugar and half a tsp of vanilla. Once the water boils, pour in very small amounts at a time, mixing in between each. Do not use all the water. The goal here is to make a thick icing which won't run off the cookie when you spread it on top.
The icing must be thick, but that's about it. Quantities will vary, and since the water was boiled, it will evaporate quickly, leading to a hard cookie shell, and a bowl full of sugar paste. As a result, you will need to constantly doctor your remaining icing until you have iced half of your cookie. Have fun!
Take one icing free cookie and cover it with a very liberal amount of raspberry jam. Top it with an iced cookie. Repeat until all cookies have been sandwichified or you are happy, or both. Allow the cookies to sit over night or throughout the day to give the icing time to cure before stacking inside a cookie tin, being careful to place parchment paper between the layers so as to prevent sticking.
Eat all the cookies. Mine only survive for a week, and that's about the shelf life of them anyways. Any remaining cookies start looking a little bruised as the jam seeps into the icing through the cookie.
Hope you all enjoyed!