Jump to our Linzer Torte & Linzer “Eyes” Cookies Recipes below
This nutty and crumbly cake, which is a tart, sweet, and world-famous showstopper, is one of the oldest around. It remains one of the best-known Viennese pastries. It’s a sort of buttery shortcake. Usually, it is loaded with hazelnuts, brown or white dough spiced with cinnamon and cloves, filled with, in Vienna, red currant fruit preserves—but in a pinch, you can use San Francisco pastry chef Michelle Polzine’s faux red currant jam below (aka cranberry-pomegranate jam) or even raspberry jam which is much easier to source. But one thing is for sure, the more the preserve, the better. And, since the jam or preserve is one of the cake’s main ingredients, the higher the quality, the better the taste of the final result!
The Linzer torte is topped with sliced almonds and with an eye-catching lattice design, which is quite easy to make as you’ll see. (It needn’t be as intricate as a Star of David pattern. The classic diamond-shaped lattice in the picture below is the iconic one.)
Really, there are numerous versions of Linzer tortes around showcasing different nuts, different preserves, and so on. In 2020, the magazine Bon Appetit featured a tahini and sesame version.2 Austrian chef Markus Glocker at the Bâtard restaurant in New York served a beets Linzer a couple of years earlier.3 Amy Spiro presented in the Times of Israel a Lemon Curd Linzer Torte.4 Michelle Polzine, a specialist of Austro-Hungarian pastries, makes a Californian sunshine-infused autumnal version of the Linzer torte, which surprisingly is gluten-free: A chestnut-apple Linzer torte made with Italian chestnut flour.5
And last but not least, I have to mention, Demel’s — Vienna’s most iconic pastry shops/cake museum version of the famous cake which comes without a lattice! Its full name is “Burgtheater Linzer torte”, named after Vienna’s central former royal and imperial theater located at the time at Michaeler Platz just next to Demel. Also, the Burgtheater Linzer torte is made with the addition of crumbs of Demel’s Sachertorte. This cake is incredibly fabulous and famous — known even in Japan. Home baker Mari Kazuo has the recipe (in German).
A Very Old Dessert
Nobody really knows who invented this beauty, but one of the oldest recipes around is from Vienna and dates back to 1696.6 Even older, there’s a recipe from Verona in Northern Italy, dated 1653.7 Apparently, the Linzer torte is a close relative to the Italian crostata which is much older, dating back to at least the Renaissance.8
Though the Linzer torte was created hundreds of years before leavening agents were invented, some recipes still contain baking powder. Our recipe does not contain any such thing.
There’s a city in the state of Upper Austria called Linz. This city, known as Hitler’s (יש”ו)9 favorite city, is a town on the banks of the river Danube, which is some 125 miles (200 km) upstream from Vienna. Some say the best Linzer tortes are to be found there at “k. & k. Hofbäckerei”. In fact, a pastry shop in Linz, “Jindrak,” claims that it sells the original Linzer torte.
But one of the most important representatives of the so-called Vienna coffeehouse literature contradicts them. Indeed, the eminent freethinker and Jewish author of Viennese Modernist fame, Alfred Polgar,10 stated in 1954 that his friend Jacob Frank told him the cake had been invented by a Viennese confectioner, Linzer.11 We take his word on that. After all, who’d dare speak loshen hoireh (“lashon hara” or “derogatory speech”) about Alfred Polgar or his friend who got the illustrious name12 following concepts like “purification through transgression?” Thus, the cake would after all not have been named in honor of Hitler’s (יש”ו) favorite city.
On the other hand, folks in the Linz corner claim that Alfred Polgar never had a friend named Jacob Frank…
In any case, the Linzer torte is arguably a Viennese specialty, and “Linzer” in technical terms of the pastry world is a kind of dough, a shortcrust. The Linzer torte is thus not so-named because it is from the city of Linz but rather because it is made out of a so-called “Linzer” dough, whatever or whoever that is.
Austrian immigrants brought the cake with them to America in the early 19th century, where it has since grown in popularity. Jews who managed to flee the Nazis, their helpers, and bystanders, then took the Linzer torte with them spreading it all over the planet. Thus, the Linzer torte became a staple in Jewish bakeries, delicatessens, restaurants, and diners around the globe. The Linzer torte is also cherished in its cookie form, known as Linzer eyes (“Linzer Augen” in German). Linzer torte and Linzer eyes have since become genuine Jewish specialties.
Joan Nathan features a Cincinnati Linzer torte in her Jewish Cooking in America.13 The Nosher over at My Jewish Learning brings Heart Shaped Linzer Cookies as delicacies to serve at Sheva Brachos (wedding blessings), Shabbos (Sabbath), or Valentin’s day.14
A Passover Treat
The Linzer torte is very crucial to the Jewish diet. So much so that the tribe can’t even live without it when forbidden to eat leavened food15 during the eight days of Passover. There are indeed hugely successful kosher LePesach, for Passover, versions of the recipe out there.16 Michelle Polzine’s chestnut-flour-apple Linzer torte would be a beautiful addition to this repertoire if it weren’t for the baking powder — though some don’t object to it on Passover.
In the meantime, if you’re not Jewish, you’re probably protesting because outside the Jewish universe, in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, in parts of Northern Italy, as well as in Germany, these are Christmas treats par excellence. Thus, there is a holiday where even anti-Semites celebrate the birth of a Jewish baby with a Linzer torte. The torte, in turn, depending on where you stand, is either a cake named after a town most beloved by the dead Führer (יש”ו), or a Jewish and Viennese treat. Linzer torte is simply a delicacy that is living, wildly mutating, and proliferating in the pastry shops of the world.
Linzer Torte & Linzer Cookies Recipe
With Michelle Polzine’s Faux Red Currant Jam Recipe
Toasting the Hazelnuts
You need toasted and ground hazelnuts for this recipe. To toast them, roast them slightly in an oven at 350°F/175°C until the center is golden brown and the skin begins to blister. This should take about 15 minutes. Let them cool down, then rub off the skins and pulse in a food processor until finely ground.
Let it Ripen!
The most important and most difficult part of making an excellent Linzer torte is the part of letting it rest, which should be done for at least 24 hours before serving. Preferably, let the Linzer torte ripen while wrapped in foil for 1 week. It is even better to leave it for 4 to 6 weeks in the refrigerator or wine cellar if you have one at your disposition like the famous restaurant Steirereck.17
A Linzer torte is no Gingerbread
We use neither cacao nor ground coffee beans in our Linzer dough. Missing are also gingerbread spices like ginger, anise, and allspice. Our Linzer torte is delicately spiced. And of course, there’s no black pepper here, though this one is worth a try.
270g (9.52 oz.) ground toasted hazelnuts (see note above)
130g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
115g (1/2 cup + 1/8 cup) sugar
110g (1 stick of butter) butter in teaspoon-sized chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons kirsch
2 teaspoons rum
1 lightly beaten egg
1 1/2 tablespoons of ice-cold water
2 tablespoons of flour to coat the buttered pan
1 egg white
250g (1 cup) Red currant preserves (or when in a pinch Faux Red Currant Jam below)
1/3 of the cake’s dough above
1/2 egg white
The cake dough above
1/2 egg white
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Make sure that you have toasted and ground hazelnuts at hand (see instructions above).
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- In a bowl, mix the toasted and ground hazelnuts, the flour, and the sugar with your hands. Add the butter and work it into the mixture with your fingers. Working quickly, rub the butter into this mixture to avoid warming the butter. It should feel like sand or a coarse meal between your fingers. Add the vanilla extract, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Mix well. Afterward, blend the kirsch and the rum into the mixture. Incorporate the egg and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of ice-cold water.
- When making a torte, separate one-third of the dough for the lattice and add 1/2 egg white to this third for the lattice. Then, mix well. When making cookies add 1/2 egg white to the whole dough and mix well. Sandwich the dough for the lattice or the cookies between two sheets of baking paper or wax paper and roll it out to approx. 1/4 inch (0.5 mm) thickness. Lift the top layer of the wax paper.
- For cookies, cut out the bottom halves and the top halves with the hole (the so-called “eye”). Place on a baking sheet fitted with baking paper. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 min at 400°F (200°C), or until slightly golden. Then, let them cool on a rack. To fill the cookies, place 1 teaspoon of jam or preserve onto a bottom half and lightly squeeze a top with the hole onto it. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.
- For the lattice, cut the dough into strips using a ruler if possible. Put them on a baking tray or large cutting board, and make sure you carefully separate the individual strips of dough to avoid sticking together when placed in the freezer. Set the strips of dough in the freezer until they are hard.
- Meanwhile, butter a 9-inch tart or quiche pan. Use your fingers or a brush to get it in all those nooks and crannies. Pour flour into the pan to coat the wall and the bottom. Shake off the excess flour. Build the base directly inside the pan by taking chunks of dough and plastering the bottom to a thickness of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (0.5 to 1 cm). For the edges, use strips of dough that you’ve rolled between your hands. Make sure to close all the holes and seams to limit the risk of leakage. With a fork, pierce holes into the bottom of the dough in the pan. Add a pinch of salt to the whole egg white and beat lightly. With a brush, seal the bottom and the walls of the dough with the beaten egg white. Set aside the remaining egg white for the top of the cake. Put the pan with the dough into the preheated oven for 15 min at 400°F (200°C). Take out the pan with the crust from the oven and let it cool to room temperature.
- In the meantime, form the lattice of your choice with the strips from the freezer. Start by drawing the exact size of your pan onto wax paper or baking paper to mark the lattice size to produce. Return the lattice to the freezer and let it harden.
- When the crust has completely cooled, spread the jam or preserves over the bottom up the edges. Place the frozen lattice over the top of the jam layer. Brush the dough of the lattice and the top of the wall of the crust with the remaining egg-white. All around the circumference inside the pan, arrange slivered almonds. Bake the cake in a preheated oven at 400°F (200°C) for 30 minutes. Let it cool on a rack. Then, dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Michelle Polzine’s Faux Red Currant Jam (aka Cranberry-Pomegranate Jam)
From Michelle Polzine’s book Baking at the 20th Century Café: Iconic European Desserts from Linzer Torte to Honey Cake.18
Makes three 8-ounce (237-milliliter) jars
3 cups (300 grams) fresh cranberries
2 cups (397 grams) sugar
2 cups (473 milliliters) pomegranate juice
- Place a small plate in your freezer.
- Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C). Place the canning jars on a sheet pan lined with a damp towel and transfer to the oven. Hold the jar lids in simmering water, along with a canning funnel and tongs.
- Wash the cranberries and pick out and discard the squishy ones. Transfer to a large saucepan, add the sugar and pomegranate juice, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming the foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat so the mixture can simmer and simmer until the cranberries pop, then stir vigorously with a whisk to break up the berries. For a finer texture, pass the cranberry mixture through a food mill into a clean saucepan before you continue with the recipe; if you haven’t got one, carry on! Continue cooking until the mixture thickens and registers 221°F (105°C) on an instant-read thermometer; this should be done for 10 to 15 minutes. To test, drop a spoonful on the chilled plate and draw your finger through it; it should hold a clear line.
- When the jam is ready, remove the jars from the oven and, using the ladle and canning funnel, ladle the hot jam into the hot jars, filling each one within a millimeter of the top. Wipe the rims of the jars with a wet paper towel, then lift the lids and rings out of the simmering water with the tongs. Cap each jar snugly. then, invert the jars to cool.
- The following day, check the seals on the jars, and tighten the lids; if any of the jars isn’t properly sealed, transfer to the fridge or freezer and use first. Properly sealed, the jam will keep for years.
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- Deb Perelman, Linzer torte (Smitten Kitchen). Link: https://smittenkitchen.com/2013/12/linzer-torte/
- Sarah Jampel, Tahini Linzer Torte Bars (Bon Appetit, December 1st, 2020). Link: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/tahini-linzer-torte-bars
- See the beets Linzer and other recipes by Markus Glockers over at the CBS News website: Link: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-dish-chef-markus-glocker-new-york-batard/
- Amy Spiro, Lemon Curd Linzer Torte (Times of Israel, January 12th, 2012). Link: https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/lemon-curd-linzer-torte/
- Michelle Polzine, Baking at the 20th Century Café: Iconic European Desserts from Linzer Torte to Honey Cake. New York, Artisan Books: 2020
- Linzer torte, link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linzer_torte
- Linzer torte, link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linzer_torte
- Crostata, link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crostata
- Hebrew abbreviation for Yimakh Shemo: יִמַּח שְׁמוֹ (“May his name be erased”, link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yimakh_shemo#:~:text=From%20Wikipedia%2C%20the%20free%20encyclopedia,enemies%20of%20the%20Jewish%20people.)
- Alfred Polgar, link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Polgar
- See Alfred Polgar, Städte, die ich nie erreichte (1954)
- Jacob Frank link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Frank
- Joan Nathan, Jewish Cooking in America (Knopf, New York: 1998).
- Shannon Sarna, Heart Shaped Linzer Cookies (The Nosher, February 6, 2014). Link: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/the-nosher/heart-shaped-linzer-cookies/
- See Wikipedia for so-called Chametz. Link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chametz
- Here for example Paula Shoyer’s recipe over at the Jewish Food Experience: https://jewishfoodexperience.com/recipes/linzer-tart/ . Tina Wasserman’s recipe is maybe the most well-known: https://cookingandmore.com/passover-linzer-torte/
- See this article from an Austrian tabloid: https://www.heute.at/s/wiener-ich-backe-die-bessere-linzer-torte–31174095
- Michelle Polzine, Baking at the 20th Century Café: Iconic European Desserts from Linzer Torte to Honey Cake. (New York, Artisan Books: 2020), p.86