Holocaust Survivor Mary Mayer’s Linzer Tarts Recipe

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

One week ago, Jewish people all over the world commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a somber and sobering reflection on the unimaginable. As a food archivist who has chronicled the stories and recipes of more than 150 Holocaust survivors, I view the day differently than most.  It connects me to the remarkable community I met nearly a decade ago, in connection with my first cookbook, Recipes Remembered, a Celebration of Survival.  The project was to recreate the recipes and retell the stories of survivors associated with New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage—a living memorial to the Holocaust, who would then and still do benefit from all proceeds from sales of the book. I spent considerable time hearing life affirming stories of survival and learning the timeless recipes that are woven into the Jewish culinary comforter, a blanket we cover ourselves with to feel nurtured and connected to our history. 

The stories I heard fed my heart and the recipes nourished my soul.  I hope this one, will have the same effect on you.  The recipe is for buttery Linzer tarts with a taste and texture that are sure to linger, but it is the story behind it whose message I hope you never forget. Mary Mayer was a Hungarian Jewish girl at the time the war came to her hometown, Budapest. More fortunate than most, she escaped to a village in the north on the banks of the Danube River. She spent months with forged documents, working as a farm hand, hoping she would go unnoticed and undiscovered as Jewish girl.  Her fears almost came to realization when an army tank drove down the street colliding with a black sedan filled with German soldiers. She was relieved to learn it was the Russian army there to liberate the town.  She explained her circumstances, to a high-ranking Russian officer, who provided a cadre of soldiers to escort her home. When they reached the river’s edge, the bridge connecting the two sides of Budapest had been destroyed.  When I asked Mary what her reaction was after living in isolation, not knowing the fate of her family and hiding her identity she calmly answered, “Oh sweetheart, it was fine, I waited for winter and walked across the frozen Danube River and then 20 km home.”  At a time where we are challenged and inconvenienced beyond our expectations, I try to think of Mary and her perspective, and somehow having to put on a mask, or stay 6 feet away from a passerby on the street doesn’t seem so very challenging at all. 

I invite you to make Mary’s almond tinged tarts, and share them and her story with a friend, a family member or a neighbor at a reasonable social distance, of course.   

Mary’s Linzer Tarts

Photo courtesy of June Hersh

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (1/2  cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2  cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 jar raspberry (or other flavor) good quality preserves

Prep Time: Under 30 minutes, then dough chills at least 3 (and up to 8) hours
Baking Time: 10 minutes
Yields: About 2 dozen (1”) cookies, or 16-18 (2″) cookies

Directions:

  1. Prepare the dough by beating the butter and sugar on medium speed, until light and creamy. Add the egg yolks, almond extract and 1 ¼ cups of flour.
  2. Mix on low speed until completely incorporated. Remove from the bowl and work with your hands on a lightly floured surface, slowly adding up to ¼ cup remaining flour to form a firm, non-sticky dough.
  3. Divide the dough in half, flatten each half into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate several hours/overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to warm up a touch before rolling.
  5. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about ¼ inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut the dough into your desired size and shape. Re-roll the scraps and cut again. Gather these scraps and refrigerate so they are thoroughly chilled before rolling again.
  6. Take half the cut pieces and gently press a thimble into the center to create a small hole, those will be the tops.
  7. Place the cookies on the lined baking sheet and bake about 10 minutes, until they are a light golden color.
  8. Gently remove the cookies to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.
  9. When cookies are completely cool, turn the bottoms over, and spread about 1 tsp of preserves, turn the tops over and cover.
  10. Sprinkle it with confectioner sugar and serve. The cookies will stay fresh several days in a closed container.

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