The cookie jars are empty, except for a few delicious biscotti and a half a jar of ginger snaps, so it’s time to make something new. I’m casting caution to the wind today and am making not one new, untested recipe, but two. Starting with Haselnuss Spritzgebäck that I basically clobbered together from recipes I could find online and what I remembered my German granny making. Spritzgebäck is German for piped baked pastry. You basically make a quite soft and pliable, pipeable dough and squeeze it onto a baking sheet, so you get all these raggedy bits sticking out and browning, adding great deliciousness to your cookie.
My German ganny was a dreadful cook, but a truly great baker, so you had to get through mostly terrible dinners before some vastly time intensive and stunningly delicious gateau would appear. Her cheesecake was the stuff of legend. And do not think just a simple baked cheesecake (though she was genius at that too). This is a Käsesahnetorte, a light, beautiful sponge set on a shortcrust so short and thin it bordered on the impossible, the sponge glued to it with a layer of the finest homemade strawberry jam and then a set lemon cheese mousse, light as a bavarois on steroids, closed with another ethereal layer of sponge, a spread of vanilla flavoured cream on it and a topping of chantilly and fresh strawberries from her garden. I have not since had anything so glorious!
But that takes us far from our cookies. When Grossmutter Agnes made Haselnuss Spritzgebäck, the whole house would smell of toasted hazelnuts and happiness was ours as we walked in, because we knew there would be tins of it for us to take home. No one was allowed to eat much of the cookies that day, though, because they needed to mature overnight for their full goodness to reveal itself.
makes about 50 cookies
- 200g plain flour
- 150g ground hazelnuts
- 1 pinch salt
- 250g butter, cubed and softened
- 130g caster sugar
- 1 egg
Sift the flour into a bowl, add the ground hazelnuts and the pinch of salt and mix well. Put the butter into the bowl of your mixer, add the sugar, attach the blade and start the mixer on a lowish setting. Add the egg and leave the thing to do its job until the dough has come together. Do not overmix, or your cookies won’t be very brittle. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl down from time to time.
I actually used the hook attachment, but that was a mistake. My mixing bowl is too big for the hook to get any traction in this little bit of dough, so there was a lot of handwork and scraping down, to the point where I was wondering why I was using the mixer at all!
Your dough it going to be very soft, so if you are going to pipe it, this is the time! Once you’ve put it into the chiller it will turn hard as stone and piping it will not be an option until it softens up again. Use a big star nozzle and pipe a long, flat strip of dough onto a baking sheet or parchment paper. Once the sheet is filled, put it into the chiller, or better still, the freezer to set the cookies.
As I couldn’t find my piping bag, I shaped the dough into a rectangular sausage and chilled it for three hours until it was hard. I then cut ½ cm slices off of that and cut each slice lengthwise into two (see slideshow if this sounds confusing). Then just score each cookie deeply with a fork and you’re ready to go.
Heat the oven to 175ºC and once hot, bake your cookies for about 15 minutes, until nice and golden around the edges. You can eat the cookies as soon as they have cooled down, but they are really only at their best the next day, after they have spent a night maturing in the jar. Dip one half of them in dark chocolate, if you like, but personally, I think it just masks the gorgeous flavour of the hazelnuts.
When baking any Spritzgebäck, but Haselnuss Spritzgebäck in particular you are always treading a fine line. Brown it too little and you will miss out on the wonderful, deep flavour of toasted hazelnuts, brown it too much and your cookies will start to take on a slightly bitter taste. I stay with my oven for the last two to three minutes and as nothing ever bakes evenly, I allow some to darken just a little too much and just eat those straight away. That way I don’t have those few anemic cookies I don’t like so much.