The other day Mom mentioned a delicate, thin, jam-filled cookie that she used to make all the time when I was little. I don't recall ever making them with her, but I do remember that they were a favorite in our house. Then one day she didn't make them anymore. I'm sure there wasn't a reason, they just were no longer a regular part of what came out of her kitchen. I forgot about them completely over the course of the past two decades. Indeed, they did not occur to me even recently, when I've been spending a lot of time and mental energy gathering favorite childhood recipes for this blog. They were just gone.
That was, until Mom started talking about them last week. It was like a cartoon light bulb appeared over my head, you know, with like five or six squiggly lines emanating from it. As she talked about these jam-filled cookies, I could picture them like no time had passed. I could see their pretty scalloped edges and almond-flecked dough dressed in the thinnest cloak of powdered sugar glaze. I could see the jam oozing out from the sandwiched centers. I could feel their crumbly sandy texture between my fingers. I'm pretty sure Mom could see and feel all this, too, because she went home, rifled through her recipe box, came back with the recipe card, handed it to me and said, "I think you should make these."
The recipe comes from a dear friend, Diane Chase. The Chases lived across the street from us when I was growing up, and they were just the coolest family. Well, I suppose they still are the coolest family, but with five adult children and too many grandchildren to count, they are scattered all over the country and we don't get to see each other save family photos sent around at Christmastime. The recipe calls for "grated unblanched almonds," and since Mrs. Chase didn't yet have a Cuisinart when she originally shared this recipe with Mom, she would quite literally grate them, one by one, on a box grater. Now, I have two Cuisinarts and nearly a pound of almond meal in the freezer, but out of nostalgia and respect for those pre-food processor days I grated my almonds on a microplane when I made these cookies today. It's a little tedious, to be sure, but it's really not that bad. Gives you time to reflect while your grate nuts down to your knuckles. Gives you time to catch up on your TiVoed episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race.
Taste-wise, the almond grating is completely worth it. A few drags across the microplane transform a whole almond into a small pillowy heap of fluffy nut-shavings. The texture is very different from ground almond meal, which holds onto some of its crunch. Grated almonds, I have learned, sort of disappear into a pile of soft almond flavor. Which means they work perfectly in this simple cookie, fully imparting their almond essence while leaving the rest of the cookie to bake into a delicate round with no almond pieces to compromise the buttery flakiness. The depth of flavor is remarkable considering the few humble ingredients. You look at this cookie and you think, "Ah, nothing special." But then you taste it. And you savor its texture. Thank you, grated almonds.
I haven't had this flavor in my mouth for some 20 years. Yet it's like I was eating these cookies yesterday. Mom came over right away to have some.
FABULOUS FILLED COOKIES
This buttery dough needs a night in the refrigerator, so be sure to start these cookies the day before you wish to serve them.
Use your very favorite jam to fill these cookies. Mrs. Chase and Mom used currant. My very favorite is strawberry, from Greaves in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
1 c. grated unblanched almonds
1 lb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz. superfine sugar
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 t. vanilla
1/8 t. kosher salt
About 1 c. jam or preserves
1 c. powdered sugar
2 T. water
Grate the almonds using a microplane or the fine side of a box grater. Alternatively, you can chop them finely in a food processor or use almond meal, but the texture of the finished cookie will be different.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Add the flour gradually and mix very well. Add the nuts, vanilla and salt and mix again to combine. Cover the bowl with a piece of wax paper and a tea towel and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Work only with handfuls of dough at a time. Warm the handful of dough between your hands. On a very well-floured surface, roll out the dough until it's about 1/8-inch thick. Cut using a 2-inch round cookie cutter. I use the same cutter Mom used, which has a lovely scalloped edge.
Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes (the cookies should not take on any color). Cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Mix together the powdered sugar and water to make a simple glaze. Place about 1/2 t. of jam on half of the cookies, then sandwich together with the other half. Drizzle the tops of the cookies with the glaze. Then, savor.
Makes about 36 little reminders of childhood.