Next month I am teaching a class called Home-Style Desserts. I always try to include five different recipes in my classes, but for this one I had only settled on four when it was time to go to print. So between the print deadline and the class, I needed to come up with a fifth recipe. I had it in my mind that I wanted to do an old fashioned jam-filled sugar cookie...not one where the sugar cookies are baked and then sandwiched together with jam, but one where the sandwiching is done before the cookies are baked. When I was a kid these kinds of cookies were filled with mincemeat at Christmas time. I didn't have such a cookie recipe in my repertoire, so I didn't want to promise to teach it.
While searching on-line, I ran across an Easy Jam Tart posted by David Lebovitz. Because jam tarts are a beloved European home-style dessert....a perfect fit for my upcoming class...I stopped to look more closely at his recipe. Typically, a jam tart is made with a pâte sablé crust (a cookie-like dough of butter, sugar, egg yolks and flour). As I looked at this Easy Jam Tart ("easy" because it had a "press in"-style crust) I noticed that the dough was a bit different from what I was used to. It used a whole egg instead of just the yolks and it included baking powder. Because I can't help myself I began to wonder why this would be, how it would affect the final outcome, etc. As I pondered all of this, it dawned on me that the dough was very similar to my favorite American-style rolled sugar cookie dough....and that this particular jam tart dough might be the perfect dough for making the jam-filled sugar cookies of my imaginings.
When you make the jam tart for the first time, the amount of jam you need to use will have to be taken on faith. You really don't need much more than a cup. When you put the jam in the tart shell you will be certain it isn't enough. I know this because that's what I thought. And since David Lebovitz had used 1 3/4 cup jam, I thought I would follow suit. The results were a bit gooey. The bottom crust was not fully cooked and the jam overwhelmed the cookie portion of the tart. To quote one of my taste testers: eating it was a bit like eating jam out of the jar with a spoon. This was not the effect I was going for....
The dough itself is extremely easy to work with. You can of course press it into the tart pan (break it into pieces first...or grate it), but I found it faster, neater and easier to just roll out a generous half of the dough into a 3/16-inch thick round and transfer it to the pan. If it tears, it is easily patched. The remaining dough can then be rolled out 1/8-inch thick and cut into decorative shapes (for Valentine's day I used a heart cutter) to be laid over the tart in slightly overlapping concentric circles. It can also be cut into strips and used to make a lattice top.
185 g. (1 1/2 c. plus 2 T.) all-purpose flour
65 g. (1/2 c. plus 2 T.) almond meal (see note)
1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
125 g. (9 T.) unsalted butter, room temperature
125 g. (1/2 c. plus 2 T.) sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 t. almond extract (or 1 t. vanilla)
310 to 350 g. (1c. to 1 c. plus 2 T.) favorite fruit jam or preserves
1 egg white, beaten until foamy
Turbinado Sugar for sprinkling
Place the first four ingredients in a bowl and whisk until uniformly combined. Set aside.
Briefly cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and then the yolk, followed by the almond (or vanilla) extract. Add the dry ingredients and mix until the dough forms clumps. Transfer to a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a thick rectangle or round. Chill until firm (overnight if you have time).
Butter a 9-inch removable bottom tart pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a generous half of the dough (about 300 grams) into a round that is about 3/16-inch thick. Ease the dough into the pan being careful not to stretch it and pressing it against the sides of the tart pan. Use your palms to gently cut the dough flush with the upper rim of the tart pan. Chill until firm (about 30 minutes).
Roll the remaining dough out to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Cut into strips (for a lattice) or rounds (or another decorative shape)—a cutter in the 1 1/2- to 2-inch range works well. Chill briefly.
To bake the tart, spread the jam in the chilled shell. The jam will only form a layer that is about a quarter of an inch deep. This is as it should be...do not add more jam. Brush the lattice strips or the cookie cut-outs with the egg whites and arrange over the tart—either in a lattice pattern or barely overlapping concentric circles for the shapes. (The strips or shapes do need to be pressed onto the rim of the tart. As long as they are touching the sides, the tart will bake just fine.) Generously scatter some Turbinado sugar over the surface of the tart.
Place the tart on the lowest rack of a 350° oven. Bake until golden brown—about 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving. The tart can be served warm or room temperature and keeps (well-wrapped) for several days.
Note: If you prefer, replace the almond meal with all-purpose flour. You will then have a total weight of 250 grams of flour (about 2 1/4 cups). You could also replace the almond meal with an equal weight of cornmeal.
Jam-Filled Sugar Cookies
1 recipe of dough for Jam Tart, chilled
3/4 cup favorite fruit jam or preserves (about 235 g.)
1 egg white, beaten until foamy
Turbinado Sugar for sprinkling
On a lightly floured surface roll out a third of the dough (keeping the remaining two-thirds chilled) to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Using a 2 1/2-inch round fluted cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can. Using a 1/2-inch smooth round cutter, cut holes out of the center of half of the fluted rounds. Transfer to a cookie sheet and chill while you roll out the remaining dough.
Gather the scraps of dough. Take a third of the remaining chilled dough and combine it with the scraps. Roll out as before, cutting fluted rounds (half with holes). Transfer the cutouts to the sheet with the other rounds and chill. Gather the scraps again and combine with half of the remaining fresh dough, rolling out and cutting as before. Repeat one more time with the scraps and last chunk of fresh dough. You should have 48 fluted rounds—half with a hole cut out of the center.
Spread 12 of the solid rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush with egg white—concentrating on the edges (the egg white is to help seal the cookies together). Place a level half tablespoonful of jam in the center of each round. Top each cookie with one of the rounds with a hole in the center—aligning the fluted edges as closely as possible and pressing lightly on the edges to seal. It is not necessary to press hard—this dough adheres remarkably well.
Bake in the center of a preheated 400° oven until golden and cooked on the bottom—about 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the tray half way through the cooking time. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
Makes 2 dozen jam-filled cookies.
Update March 12, 2012....Notes from a warm day: If your kitchen is warm, be especially careful to keep all dough that you aren't working with well chilled. The dough softens very quickly. I would even recommend chilling the formed cookies (prior to brushing with egg white and sprinkling with sugar) briefly to refirm the butter. If the enviroment in your kitchen is cool, this isn't so necessary...but if it is warm, chilling the formed cookies will help them to spread less as they bake (and thus the finished cookie will be neater looking).