International Delights

By Chandra Orr

September 12, 2008 7 min read

INTERNATIONAL DELIGHTS

'Field Guide' offers insight on holiday treats from around the world

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

Do you know a spritzgeb?ck from a stroopwafel? Can you tell a pignoli from a pfeffern?sse? You need a field guide to keep track of all the international treats that show up during the holidays.

Enter pastry chef Anita Chu, author of "Field Guide to Cookies: How to Identify and Bake Virtually Every Cookie Imaginable" ($16, Quirk Books, November 2008). Her clever cookie compendium dishes up detailed histories, a full-color photo reference guide and easy at-home recipes for more than 100 cookie varieties, from the classic American snickerdoodle to exotic South African spiced wine cookies.

"Cookies are very accessible, and they are beloved around the world," Chu said. "Many of the traditional international cookies look very different, but there is a commonality: People all over the world have a sweet tooth."

In fact, many traditionally American cookies take their inspiration from early European varieties -- and plenty of those sweet treats have their origins in the holidays:

* Lebkuchen: These traditional German Christmas cookies were made famous by the folktale "Hansel and Gretel." Related to European gingerbreads, lebkuchen are made with honey instead of the molasses and typically formed by pressing the dough into a carved wooden mold.

* Linzer Cookies: Developed in Austria in the late 1600s, these iconic cookies are relished for their beauty. Two buttery cookies form a sandwich around a seasonal fruit filling. The top cookie, dusted with powdered sugar, features a decorative cutout that allows the filling to show through.

* Spritzgeb?ck: Originating in Scandinavia, these small buttery cookies are typically formed by extruding dough through a cookie press in a wide range of shapes, from stars to hearts, then topped with a variety of sprinkles and colored icing. The cookies have been Christmas favorites as far back as the 1500s.

* Pfeffern?sse: This spicy, gingery German classic is typically made at Christmastime and for the Dutch Sinterklaas -- also known as the Feast of St. Nicholas -- on the eve of December 5. With black pepper and a dusting of confectioners' sugar, this is one sweet and savory treat.

The names may be hard to pronounce, but they're not difficult to make.

"International cookies may look more complex or intimidating -- especially those in the European tradition -- but when you look at the recipe and condense it down, it's actually very simple to reproduce at home," Chu said.

This season, take a world tour of sweet treats and try your hand at a few of the classics. These recipes are courtesy of "Field Guide to Cookies."

LINZER COOKIES

1 1/4 cups almonds

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup raspberry or apricot jam

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Yields 3 dozen

Heat oven to 350 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using a food processor, finely grind almonds with flour. In a bowl, combine almond mixture with spices, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy. Add egg; mix until combined. Add almond mixture and beat on low until dough comes together in a ball.

Refrigerate dough 2 hours until firm. Roll dough to 1/16 inch on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with 2-inch-wide cookie cutter. Use small cookie cutters to make cutouts in half the cookies so filling shows through. Place cookies on cookie sheets 1 inch apart; chill 15 minutes. Bake 12-14 minutes or until golden brown, rotating sheets halfway through. Cool sheets on wire racks.

Cool completely before assembling. Stir jam to soften; spread over half the cookies. Sift confectioners' sugar over cookies with cutouts; place on top of jam-covered cookies to form sandwiches.

Cookie sandwiches will become soggy after 1 day; store unfilled cookies in airtight container for up to 1 week and assemble as needed.

LEBKUCHEN

3/4 cup honey

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup blanched almonds, toasted

1/2 cup blanched hazelnuts, toasted

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon orange zest

1/2 cup candied citron (lemon and orange peels)

Glaze Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice

2 tablespoons hot water

Yields 2 dozen

Heat honey and brown sugar in small saucepan over low heat; stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; cool 10-15 minutes. In food processor, finely grind almonds, hazelnuts and 2 tablespoons flour. In a medium bowl, sift remaining flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Stir in ground nuts and set aside.

Using a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat eggs on medium speed several minutes until thick. Add cooled honey mixture and combine. Add flour mixture; mix with paddle attachment until combined. Dough will be stiff and sticky. Add zests and candied citron; mix until incorporated. Cover dough and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using medium cookie scoop (1 3/4-inch), drop dough onto baking sheets 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through until golden. Remove from oven; transfer cookies to cooling rack immediately.

To make glaze, sift confectioners' sugar. Add juice and water until thick but runny. Glaze each cookie; let stand until completely cool and icing is set, about 1 hour.

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