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Cover: Founding Flavors

October, 2012

28Oct 12

What Does 100 Years of Existence Get You? Unforgettable Rugelach!

While last week’s blog entry focused on the Founding Flavors’ discovery of Tel Aviv’s Vaniglia ice cream shop, today I’m focusing my attention on an equally enticing sweet shop called Said Abuelafia & Sons bakery.  This bakery—located in Jaffa, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv—has been around since the late 1800s.  Given Jaffa’s 4,000 years of existence, this could technically place Abuelafia among a list of newcomers!  Once you arrive at this outdoor bakery and swoon over its mouth-watering selection of savory and sweet pastries, you quickly understand why customers have been lured back to this establishment for over a hundred years.

After a little assistance from the staff, I opted for dibla, awwami, and rugelach.  The dibla is best described as a pastry that has a crunchy texture with a slightly sweet taste and is topped off with sesame seeds.  While I’m glad I tried this pastry, I did feel like I’d wasted by calories on a treat that was not very flavorful.  Next, came the awwami, which is a donut ball that is offered with or without jelly filling.  My overall impression… that which we call a donut ball by any other name would taste as sweet.  Don’t get me wrong, the awwami was delicious but I was looking for something that had a combination of ‘to die for amazing’ and unique to Israel.

That is when I tried the rugelach.  And, hands down, the rugelach at Abuelafia has the Founding Flavors’ stamp of approval because it is one of the best rugelach that I have ever tasted.  In addition to a delectable blend of chocolate and cinnamon, there are three things that stand out about their rugelach.  First, the overall appearance of the rugelach, which is displayed in large mounds and perfectly lined with chocolate or jam filled swirls.  Second, the size of the rugelach is large enough to hold you over until lunch or dinner but not so small that you keep craving more as you tour around the area.  Third, the consistency of the rugelach is substantial, chewy, and not overly drenched in syrups or honey.  This is particularly key as a tourist because the last thing you want is to be strolling around Tel Aviv eating rugelach and then be left with a sticky hand and no conveniently located area to wash up.

Said Abuelafia & Sons bakery is a pastry establishment that is definitely worth a visit.   If you’re ever in Jaffa, head towards 7 Yefet Street, one block behind the Jaffa clock-tower, and you will not miss it.  Abuelafia’s rugelach was so amazing that it left me wanting to try my hand at making some on my own.  So, stay tuned for next week’s blog entry on making rugelach!


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21Oct 12

If You’ve Got One Shot, Go With Vaniglia in Tel Aviv

Have you ever traveled somewhere and played what I like to refer to as the culinary roulette?  You know, it’s that moment in your vacation when you look through your travel guidebook and browse for restaurant recommendations.  Knowing that you have limited time and calories to spare, you go back and forth between suggestions worried you’ll pick the wrong choice.  Then, after finally deciding on what you hope is the best option, you pray your selection will not let you down.  Well, recently the Founding Flavors ventured off to Tel Aviv, Israel in search of unique, local, sweet establishments that will take you straight to dessert heaven.  The outcome was two must try sweet shops: Vaniglia and Said Abuelafia & Sons bakery.  Today, I’ll focus on the former.

Before departing for Israel, I searched for places that were recommended by several tour guides and online articles.  While several bakeries and bread shops popped up, my attention was caught by an ice cream and gelato store called Vaniglia.  What particularly attracted me to Vaniglia was that the reviews I read indicated the owners not only took great care in purchasing their ingredients but also listened to their customers’ wishes by incorporating healthier alternatives like soy or rice milk into some of their offerings.

So when I arrived in Tel Aviv, it was only a matter of hours before I made my way up to 98 Ibn Gvirol Street from the seashore in search of Vaniglia.  As I walked through the city, I was tempted by the various chocolate, pastry, popsicle, and frozen yogurt stores.  When I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, I finally saw a crowd of people around a glorious white sign.  I had arrived at Vaniglia!  Exercising absolutely no self-control, I pushed and shoved my way up to the gelato display cases.  Oh the colors, the smell, the creative decorations used to denote each flavor, and then…silence.  The labels were all in Hebrew!  After I got over my moment of panic, I realized this was actually wonderful news.  It was proof that I’d found a shop that truly catered to locals.  And for my fellow travelers, fear not because the entire staff was attentive and ready to assist any English speaker in selecting their flavors.

As I browsed through my options, I decided I’d opt for two gelato flavors that I’d never tried before: poppy seed and alfajor- a rich cookie made with dulce de leche.  As with most food I tasted in Tel Aviv, Vaniglia has mastered the art of flavorful food…this time in the form of gelato.  Both flavors are delicious in their own way.  The poppy seed has a subtle, sweet taste that is perfect if you want a lighter option but something that is still creamier than a sorbet.  Its color is powdery white, which contrasts very nicely with the black poppy seeds.  From a distance, it reminds you of a perfectly blended vanilla bean ice cream.  The alfajor, on the other hand, is definitely a thicker gelato with a much sweeter taste.  The tint is an elegant golden caramel color and Vaniglia manages to create a creamy flavor that makes you feel like you are actually biting into an alfajor.

Whether it is your first or tenth time in Tel Aviv, there is so much to see between museums, stores, galleries, the beach, or cafes.  But, whatever you decide to do, make sure to leave room for dessert at Vaniglia.  It will add a sweet memory to your vacation.


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14Oct 12

Margarita Infused Cupcakes

I was recently invited to a casual weekend gathering and decided, naturally, that I’d bring dessert.  As I contemplated what specific treat to make, I decided I’d add a personal touch to my creation by honoring the host.  And, seeing as how the host was a fan of tequila, a margarita flavored cupcake seemed like the perfect choice for an outdoor barbeque.  Next time someone invites you over, try to personalize whatever hostess gift or offering you bring.  It is a great way to turn a casual “what should I bring” moment into a well-thought-out gesture that shows how much you appreciate the host’s hospitality.

To create the margarita flavored cupcakes, I started with a recipe for vanilla cupcakes and then adjusted, eliminated, and added ingredients to design my alcohol infused dessert.  You can even increase the amount of alcohol if you prefer a stronger taste.  Pass no judgment please, but let’s just say that after my husband suggested the idea, we may have made a mad dash to the pharmacy to pick up a syringe.  Despite the pharmacist’s concern and bewilderment when we indicated that the only thing we’d be injecting were cupcakes, we immediately ran back home, filled the syringe with triple sec and tequila, and proceeded to enhance the cupcakes’ taste with alcohol.  The result? A fabulously creative and clever cupcake that could possibly leave you feeling slightly tipsy both pre and post baking!


Margarita Infused Cupcakes
  • Cupcake recipe:
  • Butter: 8 tablespoons
  • Skim milk: 1 cup
  • Cake flour: 1¾ cups
  • All-purpose flour: 1¼ cups
  • Unrefined brown sugar: 1½ cups
  • Baking powder: 1 tablespoon
  • Salt: ¾ teaspoon
  • Eggs: 4
  • Tequila: 1 shot
  • Triple sec: ½ shot
  • Lime zest: 1 teaspoon
  • Frosting:
  • Tequila: 2 ½ teaspoons
  • Triple sec: ½ teaspoon
  • Lime juice: 2 teaspoons
  • Skim milk: ½ cup
  • Butter: 8 tablespoons
  • Powdered sugar: 8 cups-10 cups
  • Green food coloring
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F and place paper liners in a cupcake pan.
  2. Combine softened butter and milk in a mixer.
  3. Add in cake flour, all-purpose four, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Add in eggs, one at a time.
  5. Finally, combine tequila, triple sec, and lime zest.
  6. Fill each cupcake liner three-fourths full.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes.
  8. Let cupcakes cool completely.
  9. Once cooled use a brush to dabble a bit more tequila on the surface of the cupcake.
  10. To create the frosting, combine tequila, triple sec, lime juice, milk, butter, and four cups of powdered sugar in a mixer.
  11. Add powdered sugar as necessary to thicken the consistency of the frosting.
  12. Add green food coloring. I wanted a soft lime green color and used about 2-3 drops.
  13. Fill a pastry bag with the frosting and start to decorate the cupcakes.
  14. You can add decorations to the cupcake. I opted for a lime slice.
  15. It was at this point, that after tasting the cupcakes, I decided I wanted a stronger margarita flavor and added alcohol with a syringe.


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12Oct 12

Puff Pastry: A Work in Progress

Puff pastry is a light, flaky dough that can be used for a variety of savory or sweet treats.  For my first attempt at making this dough, I used a more traditional recipe that called for an equal ratio of bread flour to butter.  While I knew I’d be using a lot of butter, the reality of just how much butter is used in the production of puff pastry hit me as I formed a 20 tablespoons block of butter worth 2,000 calories!  Even though I really, really wanted to reduce the amount of butter, I stuck to the exact ingredients because I wanted to see how the final product would turn out as it was originally intended.

What followed was a lengthy process of rolling out the dough, creating a single turn (folding the dough similar to a letter before it is inserted in an envelope), and letting the puff pastry rest in the refrigerator for half an hour before repeating the process four more times.  Two hours later, the dough was finally ready to be baked. The good news was that it only needed ten minutes in the oven. While I considered the presentation of the final result to be a success, I had issues with the taste. The puff pastry was not bad at first but, immediately after a few bites, I could feel the residual butter on my lips. I don’t know about you but there is nothing worse than feeling disgusting after you consume something. It doesn’t matter how delicious the item might be, it is just not worth it. And, that is exactly the way I felt about my puff pastry.

Instead of shunning puff pastry for life, I started thinking about how I was going to recreate the dough so that it maintained its flaky texture but did not make me feel like I had to run five miles on the treadmill. After doing some research, I decided to try making the puff pastry again using roughly 40 percent of the butter originally called for in the recipe. But, as I rolled out the dough, I could already tell that the product was not going to turn out that great because the consistency was tough and rubbery.  This time, I had gone to the opposite extreme and used too little fat.

Frustrated but determined to find a solution, I decided to think through my ingredients. For starters, I knew I needed to add a little more butter. But since I was deciding to opt for 1 part butter to 2 parts flour, I decided to switch out the bread flour for all-purpose flour because it has a lower percentage of proteins, which means that the dough will not be as glutinous and, consequently, be able to rise more easily. Since I’d already had two unsuccessful attempts at puff pastry, I found myself feeling fearless and decided to add some unrefined brown sugar and vanilla extract.  I know, I know, it sounds super risky and dangerous. So after rolling, turning, folding, and letting the puff pastry do its thing, the moment of truth was 400°F and 10 minutes away.

While I won’t necessarily say that the third time is a charm, I will say that it is definitely the path to improvement. The result was a flaky consistency on top and a chewier texture in the middle. I happened to like it, especially with fifty percent less butter and no residual fat on my lips!  Since it is still a work in progress, please let me know your thoughts on the puff pastry recipe I’ve provided below.



Puff Pastry: A Work in Progress
Recipe type: Dough
  • All-purpose flour: 1¼ cup
  • Salt: ¾ teaspoon
  • Unrefined brown sugar: 1 teaspoon
  • Unsalted butter: 10 tablespoons
  • Vanilla extract: 1 tablespoon
  • Water: ½ cup
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, 2 tablespoons of melted butter, salt, vanilla extract, and water until it beings so form into dough.
  2. Roll the dough into a ball. Add a small amount of water, if necessary.
  3. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  4. Take the remaining butter, which should be soft, and mix in the sugar. You should be able to form the butter and sugar into a 3x3 inch square block.
  5. Refrigerate the butter block for 15 minutes.
  6. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into an 8x8 inch square.
  7. Place the butter block on top of the dough square and then flap the outer edges of the dough over the butter block to make a smaller square of dough with the butter tucked inside.
  8. Use your rolling pin to roll out the dough into a 10-inch wide rectangle.
  9. Make one single turn, cover the dough with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes. To create a single turn, fold the dough similar to a letter before it is inserted in an envelope
  10. Repeat step 8-9 three more times.
  11. After fourth single turn, let the dough sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
  12. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.
  13. Depending on what you are using the puff pastry for, shape the dough and bake for 10 minutes.

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11Oct 12

Vanilla Extract on the Rocks, Please

As I started drafting this blog entry, I got distracted when I overheard a 60 Minutes report entitled The Flavorists: Tweaking tastes and creating cravings.  I encourage you to check out the news clip because it examines the food flavoring industry and its overall impact on obesity in society as food is enhanced with flavors designed to entice our taste buds.  The timing of the report was quite apropos given that I was writing about creating homemade vanilla flavoring.  My favorite part of the news clip is when reporter Morley Safer states that vanilla flavors can come ‘from a gland in a beavers backside.’  Yuck-a-luck!

And, while I’ll attempt to refrain from being hypocritical–because come on who doesn’t love munching and sipping on all sorts of store-bought snacks that are infused with these flavors–I do have to say that I couldn’t help patting myself on the back for making my own beaver gland-free vanilla extract where I knew that there were only two ingredients: alcohol and vanilla beans.  So, if you’d like to take a break from artificial flavors and so called natural flavorings, please read on.  Did I mention alcohol is involved?

This is perhaps the easiest recipe I’ve made in my baking journey thus far.  As noted above, the only ingredients are sliced vanilla beans and a good quality vodka.  I purchased my vanilla beans online and opted for the Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Beans.  I sliced the beans, which really look more like vanilla strands, and placed them inside of an airtight bottle (the vanilla beans only appear once you cut open the vanilla strand).  Next, I grabbed the vodka, which if I could describe the look of horror on my husband’s face when he saw me reach for the Belvedere vodka I would.  But, let’s just say he was not amused and neither was I after I compared its price tag with other vodkas.  While I have since convinced myself this was an ‘investment’ in my future pastry skills, I’d take note from the Making Vanilla website, which contains a lot of useful information and states that you really just need to make sure the vodka you are using contains 35%-40% alcohol.  Once the vodka and the vanilla beans are combined and tightly sealed, place the container in a dark, cool area for a minimum of a month but be sure to shake the bottle once or twice a week.  After at least a month has passed, pour the mixture through a strainer covered with either cheese cloth or two paper towels.  And voilà , you are left with vanilla extract that can be stored and used as a truly natural flavoring for your desserts.


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10Oct 12

Viva la Lard!

Bread flour, cake flour, lard, eggs, butter…wait… LARD!?  That was my brain processing the ingredients listed to make a type of pie dough known as Pate Brisee.  And, while I kept reading through the recipe, all I kept thinking about was this sinful, dirty, little, four letter word that made me feel like my jeans were getting snugger by the minute just by looking at it on the page.  Why LARD?  This is the year 2012 for heaven’s sake!!!  Isn’t there some sort of organically infused substitute!?

And so the internet searching began as I frantically looked up substitutes for lard.  But, as I kept reading I found some interesting tidbits regarding the use of lard in baking.  Most surprisingly to me was that lard is actually not as bad as I had originally thought!  That’s right, in fact, when compared to butter it actually contains less saturated fat and cholesterol.  And, for those who cannot consume lard for dietary or religious reasons, one could use a beef equivalent known as tallow.  Aaaamazing!

So, I decided to put my snobbery blobbery aside and venture off to the grocery store to buy some lard.  There was vegetable shortening, margarine, butter, but I could not find lard, at least not the non-hydrogenated kind, which is suppose to be healthier because it is free of trans fats.  Sad and lardless, I returned home and decided to attempt to make pate brisee sans the lard and instead only use butter.  For the filling, I cooked golden delicious apple slices in sugar, cinnamon, and cognac.  The result was very tasty and the pie crust was light but I couldn’t help thinking about the lard and the effect it could have had on my baking.  Where was it now?  Had someone else found it and taken it home?  And so I did what any other individual living in the twenty-first century would do.  I found a gourmet shop online to sell me what has been booed and shunned for so many years and managed to pay a premium price!  As soon as it arrives, I’ll be sure to try it out and let you know how much of a difference it really makes.

As an aside, during my searching I found a useful link on the King Arthur’s Flour website that breaks down the various fats (butter, margarine, shortening…and, yes, lard).  I found it to be a particularly interesting and comprehensive read and want to highlight it for you:  http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe/fats.html


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04Oct 12

The Versatility of Short Dough

While I’m still getting acquainted with the various types of dough used in baking, I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for short dough.  It is one of the most commonly used types of dough in bakeries because it can be used for so many items such as cookies, tarts, and cake bottoms.  Its texture is crumbly, which is attributed to a couple of factors.  First, there is a higher fat (butter) content.  Second, the technique for mixing the ingredients together calls for the butter to be thoroughly mixed in, as opposed to left in clumps for making a flaky dough.  Because the butter is thoroughly mixed in with flour, which contains protein, gluten strands are prevented from being completely developed and instead are ‘shortened’.  This shortening of the gluten strands is what ultimately creates the crumbly texture.  Some additional online references can be found on Gourmet Traveller or The Biscuit Doctor.

The first short dough recipe I tried focused on the classic approach to making short dough.  It had a simple taste and color, which made it easy for using as a base for other pastries.  I ended up rolling out the dough to make cookies that I covered with royal icing and decorated using a brush and food coloring.  Additionally, I tried alternative short dough recipes consisting of chocolate flavored short dough and hazelnut short dough.  At this point, I realized you can really get creative with short dough because the primary ingredients consist of sugar, flour, and butter, followed by whatever else you want to include.  So I decided to create a chocolate pistachio flavored short dough and changed up some of the primary ingredients and measurements to be a bit more health conscious.  For instance, instead of using refined sugar, I used the same amount of unrefined sugar, which is better for you because it has not been stripped of nutrients and minerals during the refining process.  In addition, I reduced the amount of butter from eight tablespoons to six.

As I compared the tastes of the various short dough flavors I baked, I have to say that they were very, very similar.  If you plan to use the short dough as a base, the subtle flavors of items like chocolate, pistachio, and hazelnut should work well in complimenting the final pastry.  However, if you plan to serve the short dough as a cookie, I suggest playing around with the flavors and measurements to create a stronger or more noticeable taste.

While there are endless recipes for making short dough, below is my recipe.  One thing I did notice was that the dough was slightly difficult to roll out, most likely because of the reduced amount of butter.  I ended up wetting my hands to knead the dough.  And, after doing this two times, the dough was much easier to shape.


Chocolate Pistachio Short Dough
Recipe type: Baking
  • Bread flour: ¾ cup
  • Butter: 6 tablespoons
  • Cocoa powder, unsweetened: 1 tablespoon
  • Egg: roughly ¼ of one egg
  • Pistachios, finely grinded: 2 tablespoons
  • Unrefined sugar: ¼ cup
  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  2. Cover dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 375°F.
  4. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface. Depending on the use for the short dough, use cookie cutters to create shapes or line tart pans with short dough.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes.


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02Oct 12

OatCho Treats

A few months back, I was having lunch at Lime Tree Cafe in Dubai when I stumbled across one of the most memorable desserts that I’ve had in a while.  It was a triple chocolate brownie filled with gigantic chunks of white, milk, and dark chocolate.  I remember thinking to myself, “how do they get the chocolate to just the perfect consistency so that it oozes into your mouth without having to pre-heat it before it is served.”  So when I recently came across an article on yahoo entitled Best-Ever Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies, I remembered my Lime Tree Café treat and decided to adjust the recipe listed in this article to create a dessert that would resemble the triple chocolate brownie.  And thus, the OatCho treat was born!

For those who have been following the Founding Flavors blog, you probably noticed that I tend to substitute or reduce the amount of certain ingredients to make my desserts a little healthier.  So, it will not be a surprise to you that my first adjustment was to reduce the amount of butter by fifty-percent.  Then, instead of using refined sugar—which is stripped of all nutritional value—I opted for honey.  Next, I added a bit of oats and topped it off with chunks of white and dark chocolate.  The result was a delicious dessert that was a mix between a cookie and a muffin.



OatCho Recipe
  • All-purpose flour: 2 ½ cups
  • Baking powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Oats: ½ cup
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon
  • Butter: 8 tablespoons
  • Honey: 1 cup
  • Eggs: 2
  • Vanilla extract: ½ tablespoon
  • Dark chocolate chunks: 1 cup
  • White chocolate chunks: 1 cup
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and oats in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Combine softened butter and honey in a mixer for 15-20 seconds.
  4. Add mixed flour, baking powder, salt and oats to the mixer.
  5. Add in eggs and vanilla extract.
  6. Finally, stir in white and dark chocolate chunks.
  7. Using a cupcake pan, place enough dough so that each cupcake mold is three-fourths full.
  8. Bake for 14 minutes.


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01Oct 12

Mastering the Linzer Cookie

So, the original plan was to wow you with my natural baking talent but that, of course, was before I’d actually delved into making Linzer cookies.  Ahhhh, where to start. Perhaps, with the burning of the hazelnuts during the blanching process, a step needed to remove the skin off the nuts? Or, maybe after I pulled out my Linzer cookie dough from the refrigerator only to find that it was thoroughly stuck onto the pan and only a crowbar could remove it. And, how could I forget the electricity outage! When did this happen do you ask? That’s right, right in the middle of the baking process!  And so there I was in the middle of my pitch-dark kitchen at ten in the evening, just me and the Linzers, when I realized something. They were delicious! Yes, a little too moist…okay, mushy but they were actually quite tasty. All I needed now was a few tweaks here and there and the electricity gods to show me some pity. So, after a few more rounds, I finally felt comfortable with my Linzer cookies.

Here is what I learned:

First, after my first attempt at the cookies, I decided that I did not particularly care for certain ingredients listed in the recipe I found, such as ground cloves. While the addition of this spice was not bad it made the cookie taste like a Christmas treat, which is delicious during the holidays but not necessarily a taste I want to have in August!

Second, the original recipe also called for the use of hazelnuts. While the recipe actually stated that I needed to toast my hazelnuts in the oven at 400°F for 10 minutes, I found that in order to avoid burning the nuts it was better to set the temperature to 350°F and only bake the hazelnuts for 6 minutes. This, of course, could depend on your oven and climate but a lower temperature and less time worked best for me.

Third, when I used my food processor to grind the hazelnuts, the nuts were still too coarse, which made it difficult to roll out the dough. Consequently, I made a new batch of dough using almonds instead and found that not only was it easier to finely grind these nuts but I also preferred the overall taste of the dough.

Fourth, when making the jam filling, the recipe called for bringing sugar and jam to a boil. While this filling was yummy, for a fresher taste, I substituted blueberries for jam to create a filling that was just as delicious and easy to make.

Still intrigued and want to try it out? Check out my recipe below.


Mastering the Linzer Cookie
Recipe type: Cookies
  • Linzer dough:
  • Almonds, finely grinded: ⅓ cup
  • Bread flour: ½ cup
  • Butter: 8 tablespoons
  • Cinnamon: ½ teaspoon
  • Egg yolks: 1½
  • Linzer filling:
  • Blueberries: 1½ cups
  • Sugar: ⅓ cup
  1. Mix butter, eggs, and sugar in a bowl.
  2. Then add in the bread flour, cinnamon, and almonds. Once all ingredients are mixed together, remove the dough from the bowl, cover in plastic saran wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
  3. While the Linzer dough is in the refrigerator, add the blueberries and sugar into a saucepan and bring them to a simmer using low heat. Allow the mixture to simmer for two to three minutes before removing the pan from the heat.
  4. Take the blueberry filling in the saucepan and sift it through a strainer so that you are left with the liquid portion only.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F.
  6. Remove the Linzer dough from the refrigerator and roll it out. Use Linzer cookie cutters to create both sides of the cookie and place them on a cookie sheet.
  7. Bake cookies for 12-15 minutes and then allow cookies to cool completely.
  8. Place a teaspoon of blueberry filling on the cookie side that does not have a hole and then gently place the cookie side with a hole on top. (Optional: You can dip the cookie side with a hole in powdered sugar before placing in on top of the jam filling.)


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