Happy Sunday! We are deep into holiday cookie season, and I have a recipe a bar cookie that will knock the socks right off the lucky friends or family members who get one. I’m not even sure this damen caprizen technically is a cookie, since the base is a yeasted sweet bread rather than a cookie dough and the topping is a hazelnut meringue that could top a pie. But it’s all layered together and cut into bars, and it was in the “Cookie” section of my grandmother’s Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook, so cookies they shall be called. And they really are something special, with a brioche-like base, a thin layer of sweet apricot preserves in the middle, and a nutty and crunchy hazelnut meringue on top. If you want to bring something new and gorgeous to your holiday cookie platter or exchange, these would be perfect.
I couldn’t find much information on where “damen caprizen” comes from; I think that from German it roughly translates to “lady caprices”. While I don’t think we need to gender dessert or capricious behavior, I do think that these bar cookies are pretty whimsical. Who would have thought to put a yeasted bread as a cookie base? And who knew apricots and hazelnuts were so delicious together? Clearly, the women who contributed to this cookbook. These bar cookies have it all: a moist and tender crumb, a rich vein of pure sweetness, and the crunch and nutty flavor of the hazelnut meringue. Trust me when I say that these fanciful delights are worth their effort.
To make the bread layer, first sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk. While that stands for a few minutes, mix the egg yolks, half the sugar, and butter in a stand mixer. Beat everything until it’s light and fluffy, then add the salt and vanilla. Add the yeast mixture and mix to combine, then stir in the flour gradually with a wooden spoon until it is all incorporated. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it until it’s smooth and elastic, which should take about three minutes. Roll it out into a 9” square, using your fingers to square off the corners. Place it in a 9” square pan and cover it loosely with plastic. Allow the dough to rise for 2 hours.
While the dough is rising, make the hazelnut meringue. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and whisk them with an electric beater (or your stand mixer again) until they are bubbly and foamy. Gradually add the other half of the sugar, then whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and are very glossy. This will take a few minutes. Mix in the chopped hazelnuts by hand.
Once the dough has risen, cover it with a thin layer of apricot preserves. Cover this evenly with the meringue, then bake the whole thing in a 350°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meringue is toasty brown on top. Cool it in the pan, then cut into 9 or 12 bar cookies, depending on how large you want your portions to be.
- 2 eggs, separated and at room temperature
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ½ cup warm milk
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 cup apricot jam or preserves
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- Mix the egg yolks, ¼ cup sugar, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla and mix to combine.
- Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and let stand for a few minutes. Add this to the stand mixer and mix to combine. Turn off the mixer and, using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the flour.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until it is smooth and elastic. Roll the dough out to fit a 9” square baking pan. Grease the pan generously with butter, then fit the dough inside. Spread the dough with the apricot jam and set it aside in a warm place to double in bulk.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In your (washed) stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the ½ cup sugar a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until egg whites are glossy. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the hazelnuts and cinnamon.
- Spread the meringue evenly over the jam. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the meringue is toasted. Cool and cut into nine or twelve squares.