Before we moved this past June, I was beginning to think the idea of neighbors who came bearing welcome casseroles when you moved in and popped by to borrow cups of sugar was a fiction. It’s not like we’ve ever had any true horror stories or anything pilfered from us (although I never did get my office gift basket last Christmas, just sayin’) but for the most part, our former neighbors have just been distantly polite, a little gruff, or mysteriously absent.
And then we moved to this building! It’s like a weird and wonderful little haven of neighborliness. In the summer we came home to neighbors sitting on the front stoop with their kids; on Halloween the owners put out baskets of candy. We have brunches and baby showers, read-a-thon sponsor sign-up sheets and holiday decorations (right now, an impressively life-size sled). I can’t say we minded comfortable anonymity (’cause it’s a-okay if I never meet the people who bear witness to my unhealthy dependence on Amazon Prime) but guys … neighbor brunches. When the travel time is about 10 seconds, shoes are optional, and I can practice my quiche skills, I can get down with that.
Predictably, one of the best things about actually knowing my neighbors is having an outlet for (or an excuse to bake more of!) all the baked goods I turn out of my kitchen. These Linzer cookies were my contribution to a building shindig a few weeks ago. With salted caramel filling instead of jam, they’re a little bit of a cross between alfajores and traditional Linzers. The rosemary adds a hint of something extra to the mellow nuttiness of the shortbread, and the salted caramel is a warm, soothing accompaniment that I thought was a nice alternative to jam. I’ve been obsessed with pairing rosemary with caramel lately — I just made rosemary-caramel corn over the weekend, too, and something about that savory herbal note just makes the caramel that much more addictive. All in all, these were just what I was looking for in my holiday baking — fun to put together (with an excuse to shake powdered sugar everywhere), festive, buttery, and satisfying, with a few of my favorite wintry flavors.
Speaking of the holidays, the holiday splendor in the blogosphere these days is blowing me away. (I’m pretty sure I’m single-handedly responsible for about 80% of the exclamation points on the web since December 1.) I feel like every year I become more and more obsessed with this season, but with all the gorgeous and delicious eats on the blogs these days, this year is a new record by far. Just a few of my (many) favorites:
- Sneh’s chocolate bomba with tiramisu cream look so dreamy and festive.
- The most elegant weeknight holiday party.
- Sini’s holiday wreaths and gorgeous saffron buns make me want to spend Christmas in Finland.
- This entire post — more wreaths, the most beautiful table setting (can I have this for my wedding?!) and a pear and pine (!) winter salad.
- Molly’s gingerbread terrariums were beyond genius already, but look at this gingerbread farm!!
- A stunning cranberry and candied rosemary winter pavlova.
- Alana’s 12 Days of Holiday Cookies stole all of my words and ability to not type in caps-lock. The packaging, the cookies, SO AMAZING.
- These gingerbread surprise beignets with mocha hot chocolate are the holiday season incarnate.
- And I’m thinking these gingerbread-cardamom waffle sticks (!) would make the perfect Christmas breakfast.
Hope you’re all having a lovely holiday season so far! And P.S. don’t forget to enter last week’s Staub giveaway — it ends tonight!
- for the cookies:
- 1 cup hazelnut meal (or nut meal of your choice)
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 sticks (1 cup or 225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary (up to 1 tsp for a stronger flavor)
- confectioners' sugar, for decorating
- for the caramel filling: (adapted from Top with Cinnamon)
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 6 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 6 tbsp creme fraiche (or heavy whipping cream)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
- Whisk together the hazelnut flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Combine butter and sugars in a large bowl and beat vigorously until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and chopped rosemary, then beat again until well-blended, another 30 seconds. Finally, fold in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Divide dough into two or three balls, pat them into discs, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill the dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
- Heat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Roll out a disc of dough to about 1/8- or 1/4-inch thick, depending on your preference. Unlike pie crusts, which I generally roll out between sheets of parchment, I found this to be easiest on a well-floured surface, sprinkling flour over the top and lifting the bottom to re-flour as needed. (The latter makes cutting and removing the cookie rounds much easier.) Cut out cookie rounds using a 2-inch cookie cutter of your choice. For half the rounds, use a smaller cookie cutter (around 3/4 inch) to cut patterned holes -- these are the windows for the cookie "lids." Save the minis to make miniature cookie sandwiches (or just to nosh!) If the dough becomes too soft as you’re using it, just pop it into the freezer for a few minutes to firm it up again.
- Place the "lids" and cookie holes on one baking sheet and the whole cookies on another, since the whole cookies may take a little longer to bake. Bake both sheets of cookies until golden at the edges, about 10 minutes for the bottoms and 8-9 for the lids. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough; you can re-chill and re-roll cookie scraps as many times as needed.
- If powdering the lids, arrange the lids (or all the cookies, if you prefer) on a baking rack with a tray or paper underneath to catch the excess sugar. Sift powdered sugar over top as desired.
- While the cookies are cooling, make the caramel. Prepare a bowl of ice water and set it aside within easy reach. Combine sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir just until sugar dissolves, then let simmer, without stirring, until the mixture just turns golden. Remove immediately from heat and add butter (be careful, as it may sputter). Swirl until the butter is dissolved, then add the creme fraiche or heavy cream, vanilla extract, and salt. Return to heat, reduce heat to low and stir until the heavy cream is fully dissolved. Drop a small spoonful of the caramel into the ice water and touch it -- if you can form it into a pliable ball, it's done. (See Izy's tutorial for step-by-step GIFs.)
- Working quickly, while the caramel is still soft, drop about a teaspoon of caramel onto each of the bottoms of the cookies, then place a lid on top and press gently to seal. Sprinkle a bit of flaky salt over top if you like. Enjoy once the caramel is cool. Cookies will keep for a week in an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months.