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A Festive Tart for Holiday Celebrations

wolfgangWhenever I think of the holiday season, the first memory that comes to my mind is the beautiful aromas that filled our kitchen when my mother started baking. From early December, she was busy making all sorts of treats, including crumbly vanilla crescents, delicate sponge balls, and feather-light meringues.

But my favorite sweet holiday treats were always her Linzer tortes. Based on a dough enriched with ground roasted nuts and scented with sweet spices, then simply filled with luscious raspberry jam, this specialty from the Austrian city of Linz had the perfect combination of festive flavors and textures. Better still, with its lattice top framing the shimmering jam, it always looked to me like a masterpiece; an edible stained-glass window.

There was also a practical side to go with the pleasure of Linzer tortes. With their rich ingredients, they would keep well for several days, simply wrapped up airtight and stored in a cool pantry. Of course, that meant that my sisters, brother, and I got to enjoy them repeatedly, not just for dessert at special meals and at holiday parties, but also for breakfast with mugs of hot chocolate. Big dollops of whipped cream topped both the food and the drink.

Such generous, versatile benefits mean that the several hours it takes to make a Linzer torte, start to finish, are well worth the effort. Besides, you'll spend much of that time not working but waiting -- for nuts to roast, dough to chill, and the torte itself to bake and then cool. So you can easily fit my recipe into a weekend when you're already staying home for other holiday preparations.

There's really no big secret to making the tart successfully. For the filling, look for the best-quality raspberry jam you can find in your market. As for the pastry, start with roasted hazelnuts for the richest flavor; in the recipe, I include instructions for roasting them. A little orange zest and cinnamon enhance the dough's flavor, and I also like to include Chinese five-spice powder -- a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and star anise, available in the Asian foods section of many markets.

As for forming the torte, the most important thing to remember is to roll out the pastry on a cool surface -- a marble slab works well, but isn't essential -- in a cool kitchen, so the butter-rich dough stays firm for easier shaping. So it's best to do that work before you start preheating the oven for the final baking.

In the end, it's all fairly easy. So, based on a lifetime of experience going back to enjoying my mother's creations, I suggest you make at least two tortes -- so there'll be extra for you to enjoy every morning during the holidays.

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RASPBERRY LINZER TORTE

Serves 8 to 12

5 ounces shelled hazelnuts

8 ounces plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1 large cage-free egg

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch salt

1 cup organic raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts in a baking pan and roast until fragrant and beginning to darken, 10 to 12 minutes. Carefully fold the nuts inside a clean kitchen towel. Protecting your hands with oven gloves or pads if necessary, rub the hazelnuts inside the towel to remove their skins. Transfer the nuts to a dish, discarding the skins. When completely cooled, put the nuts in a food processor with the stainless-steel blade and pulse just until finely ground, taking care not to overprocess the nuts. Turn off the oven.

Put the 8 ounces butter and the sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until light, fluffy, and pale, about 2 to 3 minutes. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl. Add the honey, orange zest, cinnamon, and five-spice powder and mix for 1 minute. Scrape down again, add the egg, and mix until well blended.

In another bowl, sift together the nuts, flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, carefully add the dry ingredients and continue mixing just until a smooth dough has formed. Remove from the bowl, form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

With the remaining butter, grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Dust a work surface with flour and, with a rolling pin, roll out a piece of dough to a circle 12 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with the circle of dough, gently pressing it in and letting the edges overlap the rim.

Roll out the other piece to a rectangle 9 by 12 inches. Refrigerate the lined pan and the rectangle of dough for 20 minutes.

Spread the jam in the pan. With a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut the dough rectangle crosswise into 12 strips 1 inch wide by 9 inches long. Arrange half of them parallel and equally spaced across the top of the jam. Arrange the remaining strips, equally spaced, across the first strips to form a lattice. Fold the edges of the bottom dough over the edges of the lattice and the filling.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake until golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

With the back of a large spoon, gently tap all around the outer ring of the tart pan to loosen it. Place the pan centered on top of a bowl or wide-mouthed jar smaller than the pan, and carefully slide off the outer ring. With a wide spatula, return the torte to the rack to cool completely.

To serve, cut into wedges.

(c) 2009 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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