I grew up in a sleepy suburb of Chicago called Algonquin. It had a Kohl’s, a Jewel-Osco, and endless miles of corn fields. If you close your eyes and imagine what a textbook Midwest suburb looks like, it’s Algonquin, complete with farms galore and overflowing pride for the local football team. But as a child, I wasn’t very interested in sports or playing outside, so I turned to my mother to keep me entertained. She was the best baker I knew, always amazing me with her skills in the kitchen. Because of her, I fell in love with baking early on and quickly followed in her footsteps. One year, I decided to show off my baking chops at the most anticipated event of the year: our local Founders’ Day.
I was no older than 12 years old at the time and spent an entire day baking linzer cookies sandwiched together with raspberry jam. It was a recipe I had seen my mother make countless times for the holidays, and I was finally ready to attempt it on my own. I cut the cookies into heart shapes, dusted the tops with powdered sugar, and packaged them up in a small cardboard box. I entered them into the annual baking competition that capped off the weekend’s festivities, and won—beating out veteran bakers who brought pies, cakes, and other treats. I flaunted my big blue ribbon for weeks and somehow ended up in the local newspaper. Turns out, I was the youngest person ever to win the bake-off (and one of the only males in the history of our small town, too).
Last year I visited my mother (who now lives in Georgia) for the holidays. She had been planning what we would bake together for weeks in advance. We only get to see each other once a year now, so we try to make the most of our time together. We spent an entire day baking linzer cookies filled with blackberry jam. She even had the newspaper clipping dug out from a pile of papers to show me—a headline that is now almost 20 years old.
This is an updated version of my “award-winning” cookie. Instead of a classic linzer dough (typically made with ground nuts), I used a shortbread base and added warm baking spices and molasses to mimic the flavor of gingerbread. I swapped the jam out for a homemade cranberry curd to keep it festive, and used a piglet-shaped cookie cutter as a reminder of my youth spent in the Midwest. The cranberry curd can be made a day before you bake the cookies and stored in the fridge. Any leftover curd can be smeared on toast, dolloped on ice cream, or served with fresh fruit. It’s a bit sweeter and less acidic than a typical curd, but the shortbread cookies are so flavorful that I didn’t want it to be overpowering.
Feel free to enter these Sparkle Pigs into your local Founders’ Day bake-off. You might end up in the newspaper. —Jesse Szewczyk
Featured in: Food52's Holiday Cookie Chronicles —The Editors