To all my dear readers,
I love all Christmas songs, from the gorgeously melancholic "We Three Kings" to the wistfully optimistic "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas". Very few songs make me want to sing them out loud, but play a Christmas carol and I’ll start humming the words, whether I’m in a department store elevator or in a restaurant. And believe me, I have been getting a lot of Christmas music over here in Hong Kong – it is very nearly ubiquitous, from funky synthy versions in the shopping malls to unobtrusively classical piped-in versions in the posh casinos on Macau, to loungey languorous versions played by a jazz trio in a sumptuous hotel restaurant. The last version, of course, can be the worst kind of sentimental if you’re not in the mood, or the very loveliest sort of yuletide dreaminess, especially if the restaurant you’re sitting in is on the mezzanine of a hotel overlooking a ceiling-scraping Christmas tree limned in white and blue and silver, with equally ceiling-scraping windows on the other side overlooking the Hong Kong skyline glowing in rainbow of lights. A setting like this; a view like that; well, you’d have to be a grinch not to succumb to the tinkling of "The Christmas Song" in the background.
So what better way to show my love for Christmas carols than through food? My last Christmas gift to you readers – a partridge in a pear tree, or a pear, at least. Alas that I didn’t have time to recreate the rest of the twelve days of Christmas, but, well, it’s the partridge that everyone always remembers, right?
The recipe is adapted from Kate Zuckerman’s take on the classic linzer cookie in The Sweet Life, and it’s a keeper: light, crisp, richly redolent of hazelnuts and just barely warmed with a hint of cardamom and cinnamon. I find many linzer cookies overly sweet, especially with the added powdered sugar; this version has a more restrained, adult flavor that sets off a filling of raspberry or apricot jam perfectly.
Although I prefer raspberry jam for the dramatic coloring it provides, it seemed apricot jam was more appropriate here since I was going for a pear shape. If you have a pear jam, by all means try it as well. This cookie tastes wonderful regardless of what form it takes or what filling it contains, but if you do go for the partridge-and-pear shape, I hope you and your guests enjoy this most elegant of visual puns. I have to say the cookies still make me smile and sing the refrain to the song in my head every time I see them.
Well, I’m ready to finish counting down the days to Christmas…I hope all of you are enjoying your holiday baking! You’ll probably hear from me again after I’ve returned back to the states at the end of December, so I’d like to wish all of you and your loved ones a very happy holidays, and best wishes for a sweet new year!
P.S. The hotel with the jazz trio would be the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, that bastion of refined luxury. Last night I had the pleasure of listening to them play while indulging in the Tiffin Room’s famous Dessert Buffet, a spread composed almost entirely of sweets, from petit fours to grand gateaux to ice cream to chocolates to souffles to confections. How could this pastrygirl not recommend a place where you can have dessert first, last, and all places in between?
Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
1 Harbour Road
+852 2588 1234
Dessert buffet from 8 pm onwards
P.P.S. Menu for Hope has been extended through the weekend – so you have a last chance to get in your bids for the prize of your choice! My prize has been tipped as a long shot – thank you so much for all your support! You still have a chance to win it or any of the other wonderful prizes, so take a last look!
adapted from Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life
makes about 12 large 3 1/2 in cookies
5 ounces hazelnuts
2 1/2 cups (350 g) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
8 ounces (226 g) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (156 g) sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 cup apricot jam
powdered sugar for dusting
Place the hazelnuts and about half of the flour in a food processor. Process until the nuts are ground into a fine powder.
Combine the rest of the flour, the salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and baking powder in a bowl.
Pour the ground nut mixture into the bowl and whisk together to combine.
Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for about a minute.
Add in the sugar and beat for several minutes until the mixture is very light colored and fluffy.
Add in the egg and beat until combined, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides as necessary.
Add in the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Scrape down the sides as necessary. Continue beating for a couple minutes until the dough starts coming together into a ball.
Scrape out the dough onto a clean surface. Flatten the dough out into a rough rectangle about an inch thick, wrap in plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. You can store this dough in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment or Silpats.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit for about 10 minutes to soften a bit. Do not let it get too soft, though, or it will become too sticky to work with.
Roll the dough out to about 1/16" thick. Use desired cutters to cut out shapes from the dough. Place the shapes on the baking sheets. You can reroll the scraps and cut out more shapes. Chill the dough if it becomes too soft to work with.
Chill the baking sheets for about 10 minutes in the refrigerator before baking.
Bake cookies in the oven for about 10-14 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Rotate the cookies halfway through baking. The cookies should turn darker golden but should not become dark brown, and should smell like toasted hazelnuts.
Let the cookies cool on wire racks before removing from the sheets.
When you are ready to serve the cookies, spread half of the cookies with the apricot jam, and place the other cookies on top to make sandwiches. Sift confectioner’s sugar over the sandwiches (if you are making cutout cookies, sift the sugar over the top cookies before you make the sandwiches).
Because the jam will soften the cookies, assemble them shortly before you will serve them.