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
Test Kitchen Notes
Featured in: Food52's Holiday Cookie Chronicles —The Editors
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 45 minutes
- Makes about 2 dozen cookies
- Cranberry curd
(12-ounce, or 340g) package fresh cranberries
fresh lemon juice
large eggs, plus 3 large egg yolks
(200g) granulated sugar
(1/2 stick or 57g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- Gingerbread shortbread cookies
(250g) all-purpose flour
(57g) powdered sugar
(2 sticks, 1/2 pound, or 227g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
(60ml) blackstrap molasses
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling
- Make the cranberry curd: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cranberries, water, lemon juice, and vanilla extract and bring to a simmer. Cook until the cranberries fall apart and the mixture is thick and jammy, about 6 minutes. Press mixture through a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl to remove any cranberry pieces that didn’t fully break down. (You should end up with about 1 scant cup of cranberry puree.) Let cool for 20 minutes.
- Add whole eggs, egg yolks, and sugar to the cooled cranberry mixture and whisk until smooth. Transfer mixture into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from heat, add the butter, and whisk until smooth. Pass mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer into the fridge. Chill for at least 3 hours. (Curd will thicken as it cools.) You should end up with about 1 1/3 cups cranberry curd.
- Make the gingerbread shortbread cookies: Line two baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, powdered sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt. Add the butter and blend it in with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the butter is the size of peas. Add the molasses and gently knead the mixture with your hands until it becomes a soft dough. Dough may appear too dry at first but will eventually come together.
- Transfer dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll into a 1/4-inch (6mm) thick circle. Cut 2-inch (5cm) rounds using a cookie cutter. With half of the rounds, cut a hole in the middle of each using a cookie cutter of your choice. (I like to use tiny pig cutters.) Carefully transfer the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets using an offset spatula. Lightly brush the cookies with the centers cut out (the tops) with water and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Transfer both trays into the freezer and chill for 15 minutes.
- Bake cookies for 9 to 11 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool on the baking sheets.
- Assemble the cookies: Spread 1 teaspoon of the prepared cranberry curd on the flat side of each of the solid cookies from edge to edge. Place the cut cookies on top of each bottom and sandwich them together. Serve immediately. Leftover cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.