The Baker’s Apprentice

Christmas Cookies

My reputation as a cook, which I’ve done nothing to export beyond the US borders, ensured that I was recruited as the baker’s assistant long before I arrived here for the winter. This is why I spent the better part of the day dusted with flour while baking Scheehaubenkeks and Linzer Augen in Josefa’s kitchen.

The Schneehaubenkeks are a family favorite. Roughly translated, Schneehaubenkeks means “snow hat cookie” —  so named for the white meringue that tops the hazelnut shortbread underneath.

The cookie dough is made from a giant mountain of ground hazelnuts, a slightly less large mountain of powdered sugar, and three eggs to hold everything together. It’s all kneaded to the consistency of pie crust. The dough is rolled out and cut in to little cookies, topped it with sweet meringue (egg whites and powdered sugar) and baked until just before the cookie turns brown.

Linzer Augen are a smaller cousin of the famous Linzertorte. A Linzer Augen is a sandwich made of a classic butter cookie with currant jam in the middle and dusted with powdered sugar. (There’s a good recipe and a little write up about Linzer Augen here. Ours are slightly different, but this is true to sentiment.)

We made six or eight dozen cookies. Usually, Josefa bakes by herself. After spending four hours kneading, rolling, cutting, watching the oven, and assembling, I have to tip my apprentice’s hat to her. It’s a lot of work. None of it is particularly difficult and even the recipes are quite simple, but it’s all very labor intensive. In the local vernacular there’s a phrase they like to use to describe this kind of work: It’s like milking a mouse.

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