I moved to Shanghai when I was eight, it took me a while to adjust to the cultural shock of crazy fast taxis, the thick smog that hung stubbornly above the city’s skyline, and people who stared at me with big, curious eyes like I was a foreign creature that dropped out of the sky.
My dad had been living in China for a few years and didn’t want to be apart from his family anymore, so my mom and I packed up and left Toronto to settle in Shanghai. On my first night, I cried so hard my eyes swelled up, my nose ran like a waterfall, my lungs hurt from trying to stifle my bawling lest my parents heard their distraught daughter. But I couldn’t help it. I was upset, lonely, terrified, and so confused.
Soon enough however, I grew comfortable living in the busiest, noisiest, and one of the most exciting cities in China. I loved my school, my friends, even the mad taxi drivers became an important characteristic of the city. Since graduating high school in 2005, I’ve kept in touch with a small group of friends, including one friend who lives in here in Toronto and who I like to introduce with: “I’ve known her since grade six!” That’s 16 years, just two years shy of the legal drinking age in Quebec. That’s more than half my life. That’s big.
But what’s even bigger, is her recent good news, news that prompted me to scream in my seat when I received her text message followed by an immediate phone call to wish her and her now fiancé congratulations on their engagement (she was so happy I could hear the smile in her voice). Last year, seven of my friends got engaged, though this time, because of how long I’ve known her, because of our history, because she’s seen me through my worst and my best, it makes it all the more special. She’s loyal, compassionate, a good listener and always knows what to say after you find out that your ex has a new girlfriend. I’m thrilled for her and its news definitely worth smiling about.
Here's something just as exciting, a treat that will make you weak in the knees and dizzy with joy: Linzer Blitz Torte. Ain't that the coolest name? A blend of ground nuts, warm spices, topped with jam and baked till dark brown is sure to make you the most popular girl/boy in the room (pinky swear). The crust is at first crispy, then it becomes chewy from the delicious combination of nuts, flour and butter. The jam on top is an inevitable sticky, gooey mess on your fingers, but it heightens the playfulness of these linzertorte squares and there’s plenty of cinnamon in here, plus ground cloves which adds to the warm charm of these sweets.
The first time I made these, I moaned--outloud. Then, went on to have a second piece. I usually have good self-control, but these torte squares have an irresistible quality that makes me reaching over for more, and that's saying a lot. I gave away the first batch and had to make these again to
Linzer Blitz Torte
Adapted from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012.
The only change I made to the recipe was dialing down the sugar just a tad since the jam I used was sweet enough. You can bake these in a round pan, but I think a square pan makes sharing easier.
¾ cup whole almonds or hazelnuts, or a combination
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and slightly softened
1 large egg yolk
Grated zest of ½ lemon
Grated zest of ½ orange
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
2/3 cup raspberry or blackberry preserves
Combine the nuts, flour, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon and cloves in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the butter, egg yolk, grated lemon and orange zests, and almond extract and process just until blended.
Measure ¼ cup of the dough and shape it into a ball. Wrap and refrigerate it.
Meanwhile, grease the sides of the cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Press the remaining dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spread the preserves evenly over the dough, leaving a scant ½-inch border all around. Using the largest holes of a box or flat grater, grate the chilled reserved dough over the jam (or cut the dough into matchsticks and scatter them over the jam).
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Tent the torte loosely with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes longer, until it is deep golden brown. If the torte puffs up during hte baking, rap the pan sharply on the oven rack to settle it. Cool the torte in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife or a small metal spatula around the sides to release the torte. Let cool completely.
The torte keeps, covered, at room temperature for a good week; it can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 3 months; bring to room temperature before serving.