What are your specific Christmas cookie memories when you think back to the time you were a kid eagerly awaiting the festive season? A scent? A certain tradition? An absolute favorite cookie? What do you think of now? My memories are numerous and most of them start with a huge golden tin can, that served as an ice cream container in its previous life, closed by a slightly dented pink lid.
For the family on my mom’s side baking Christmas cookies was a huge thing. Aunt Kate, aunt Anne and especially aunt Lene not only baked countless varieties each holiday season, they always made sure to give plenty of cookies to the rest of the family – the part who preferred to eat cookies instead of making them. In my grandma’s case (while she was an avid baker, she rather baked breads and cakes) this meant delivering above mentioned, empty ice cream container to one of them and collecting it a few days later. Then filled to the brim, with the most stunning selection of Christmas cookies I have ever seen. I’m pretty confident these three ladies never attended any baking course and yet each single cookie was perfectly shaped, neatly decorated and most importantly, they all tasted so damn good.
From the day my grandma would return with the pink-lidded container, my grandpa and I took turns lurking into the pantry, stealing the one or other cookie. Stealing, because my grandma would only allow us to take from her holy cookie grail on special occasions, always having an eye on our choices. Only one Vanillekipferl at a time, for example! That’s when I also learned, that the simplest decorated cookie may even be the very best – like using visual understatement to disguise real deliciousness. My aunt Lene, for instance, did incredibly crumbly sablés, that were easily outshone by her fondly decorated walnut cubes, but everybody who ever tasted the sablé knew what to pick on the cookie plate.
This is the reason why the latest addition to my must-have Christmas cookie repertoire got away with just a slight dust of confectioners’ sugar. Its crumbly consistency and the freshly made mandarin jelly filling were all it took for my friend Babsi to go: “Whoa!“
Start with the jelly: Half the mandarins and squeeze out their juice. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve and press down with a tablespoon or ladle until only the pulp is left in the sieve (discard pulp, you will need 125 ml juice). Pour into a medium sized pot and add the preserving sugar. Bring to a boil, then keep boiling for 4 to 5 minutes (check the instructions on your preserving sugar), stirring regularly. Drizzle some jelly on a cold plate, it should set within a couple of seconds, otherwise keep boiling for some more minutes. Fill into a small bowl or jar and chill until ready to fill the cookies.
In a large bowl mix together the flour, ground hazelnuts, confectioners’ sugar and salt (if you are willing to go the extra mile, you can pan-roast the nuts until golden and fragrant beforehand, just make sure to let them cool again completely).
Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and mix with the egg yolk in a small bowl, then set aside. Cut the cold butter into small cubes (or – if the butter is really well chilled – use a coarse grater) and add them to the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or your fingertips to rub it in until there are no butter pieces that are larger than small peas. Finally mix in the egg yolk until the dough comes together (add a little more flour, if dough feels too sticky to handle) and form into a thick disc. Wrap with cling film and chill for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (~350°F) and line the baking trays with parchment paper. Take the dough out of the fridge and cut off half of it (put the other half back into the fridge). Dust a large wooden board with flour and roll out the dough until about 3 to 4 mm thick. Cut out the shapes of your choice and place on the baking trays, then continue with the other half (any dough scraps should be chilled before using again).
Bake for 7 to 9 minutes (the edges should just start to brown ever so slightly, be careful not to let them get too dark = burnt taste), then take out and slide the parchment paper with the cookies off the tray, then you can let them cool down completely. They are very fragile, so handle with extra care ;)
Using a teaspoon place a little of the mandarin jelly in the center of one cookie, spread with the back of the spoon and top with another cookie (if the jelly is too firm, you can either warm it shortly or give it a good stir). Then dust with confectioners’ sugar. Store in an airtight cookie jar.
Sablés with mandarin jelly
Recipe source: own creation
Prep time: ~1 hour plus chilling, baking 7-9 minutes
Ingredients (yields about 60 layered cookies, ~4 baking trays):
125 ml freshly squeezed mandarin juice (~4 mandarins)
125 g preserving sugar 1:1
175 g all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting the board)
100 g ground hazelnuts
75 g confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean
1 egg yolk (M)
200 g butter (well chilled, cut into cubes)
for decoration: confectioners' sugar