My grandmother almost carried the recipe for her famous cookies to her grave. She was a marvelous cook and had several recipes that were family favorites. She loved getting the praise and glory for producing these specialties for us and could never be coaxed to share the recipes. Finally, at some point in her 80s (she passed away in 1997 at the age of 93) she beautifully typed up the recipe and gave a copy to me and a copy to my sister. I’m not sure who else got copies.
This photo was taken at the last apartment she lived in Los Angeles before she and my grandfather went into an assisted living facility. She must have been in her early 80s at this point. She’s bringing out two cups of tea from the tiny little galley kitchen. I remember working with her in this kitchen making enough potato pancakes for 10 people. We had three pans going and it was a regular assembly line.
Because of her secrecy around her recipes I feel a bit of conflict putting these out online for everyone but I made a comment on Facebook about making these cookies for my father and several people asked for the recipe. So without further ado, here it is, word for word, from the typed sheet she gave me.
EMPEROR FRANZ JOSEF COOKIES
Isli Tea Sutemeny (ISCHL COOKIES from Hungary)
These chocolate hazelnut cookies were highly favored by Franz Josef, former emperor-king of Austria-Hungary. They were named in honor of a summer resort in the Austrian Alps where Franz Josef liked to spend his leisure hours.
3 oz. hazelnuts (1/2 cup, shelled) These will make about one cup grated
1 1/2 cup sifted flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cocoa powder
3/4 cup butter
1 tsp grated lemon peel (avoid the white pith)
1/2 tsp lemon juice
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup apricot or strawberry jam
1/2 pound semi-sweet chocolate for dipping
Lightly grease two cookie sheets. Grate nuts finely and set aside. Sift flour, cinnamon and cocoa together and set aside. Cream butter with grated lemon peel and lemon juice until soft. Add sugar gradually, creaming mix evenly after each addition of sugar. Blend ground nuts into mixture.
Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar slowly, creaming mixture thoroughly after each addition. Cover bowl and let dough rest about fifteen minutes. Roll on lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into 1 1/2 inch rounds with a lightly floured cookie cutter. Place about 1″ apart on lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Check cookies after 10 minutes to prevent burning. When cookies are done baking, place on racks to cool.
When cool, turn one half of them upside down and spread about 1/2 tsp jam on each. Place another cookie on top and squeeze together lightly to make a sandwich until all the cookies are used. Set up two cooking racks and cover surface with waxed paper. Partially melt chocolate in top of a double boiler, remove from heat and stir until chocolate is completely melted. (You may add one tsp butter for a smoother chocolate finish. ) Dip tops of cookie sandwiches in chocolate or spread chocolate on top of cookie sandwiches with a butter knife until smooth. Place cookies, chocolate side up, on waxed paper covered racks and immediately press a whole blanched almond into the top of each cookie, before the chocolate has time to cool and harden. Refrigerate cookies until firm.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
TO BLANCH ALMONDS
To preserve the delicate almond flavor, blanch almonds quickly in small amounts, say 1/2 cup at a time. Boil enough water to cover shelled almonds. When at a rolling boil, drop in almonds and remove from heat. Allow to stand one minute, remove with slotted spoon to paper towel and pat dry. Gently squeeze almond skins off with light finger pressure. Allow almonds to dry thoroughly.
My sister, Alicia Elkort, a talented and published poet, wrote the following poem about these cookies and her memories around them.
All summer, I sleep on a foldaway
in my grandparents’ living room,
against the open window,
the torn mesh screen
patterning the trees
At night, I breathe
wisps of jasmine and honeysuckle,
fall asleep to the dewy patter of crickets.
Lightly grease two cookie sheets.
Grandma wakes me,
a brush of lips
on the crown
of my head.
I stretch my body long
to the scent of eggs,
toast and oranges.
By six a.m. we’re in
the old Dodge Dart
with blue plaid seats,
windows rolled down,
Grandma and Grandpa
in the front seat,
bookends to my little self
lodged between them,
the cool air beginning to warm.
Grate hazel nuts finely and set aside.
As we drive the empty freeway,
I take my grandfather’s hand.
Los Angeles disappears,
replaced by wheat colored hills,
cow-dotted pastures, horses,
fences, then row
of trees that fly by like a memory.
Grandpa turns onto a dirt road,
tires churning, crunching gravel,
the released whisper of each tiny
rock a hello and a welcome. We
park underneath an olive tree,
approach the foreman of the orchard.
He hands us a large cardboard box.
Grandpa counts out five one-dollar bills.
Whatever fits in the box will belong to us.
I climb ladders, scramble up rough-barked
trunks, reach across leaves and pluck
apricots from their branches,
slipping the furry globes into the box,
taking something I won’t have to share.
Sift flour, cinnamon and cocoa together.
An apricot with the blush of red
makes especially good jam.
I fill my cardboard box
only with apricots
with the blush of red.
What doesn’t fit, I stuff
into my shorts and jacket
when no one is looking.
Blend groundnuts into mixture.
On the drive home,
the remnants of peanut butter and jelly
on hand made whole-wheat bread
surround me as I lay across the backseat,
my hair drifting into the box of apricots
nestled on the floor.
I grab an apricot,
slowly chew the moist flesh,
throw the pit out the open window
and reach for another
until I fall asleep to the rhythm
of the susurrant engine.
When cookies are cool, turn one half of them
upside down and spread ½ tsp apricot jam on each.
Later that night, Grandma
leans into the sugared
dough, her hair hidden
beneath a red bandana,
hands covered in flour.
Place another cookie on top and squeeze together lightly.
I look over at my grandfather
reading on the couch, his thick
hair parted on the side, combed
into a wave across his brow. In a quiet
voice, Grandma tells me she had
other suitors, but Grandpa was the most
handsome. He looks up, smiles at Grandma,
turns to me, rolls his eyes, then laughs.
During the week,
he repairs washing machines. At night,
every night, he reads National Geographic.
Dip tops of cookie sandwiches in chocolate.
I lean into the dough,
touch my grandmother’s hands—
I love the feel of the soft fleshy parts
soft as the skin of an apricot,
soft as kindness.
Press a whole blanched almond into the top of each cookie. Then enjoy.
When the cookies
come out of the oven,
we three sit at the table
lit by candles, cleared
of the remnants of dinner.
We sip black tea
while eating cookies,
the wafers made of hazelnuts,
topped with chocolate and almonds,
all held together with apricot jam.
Years later, when
my grandmother is dying,
I take her hands and rub
the soft fleshy parts. I rub until
the moment blossoms
into the sweetness of jasmine
and the earthy oozing orchard
and the hot drive home
and the hazelnut dough
and the apricot jam
and the sweat of her perfect love.