French Butter Cookies

IMG_6136As a self-styled “cookie-ologist,” who is always on the lookout for especially delicious cookies (unfortunately for my waistline!), I’d long been interested in the French cookies called “sablés,” but somehow never got around to trying them. They seemed to be in the realm of French pastry, so I felt a bit intimidated, and I always hesitate to make rolled-out cookies, as the doughs can be treacherous and sticky.

Photo from "Michael Roux: Pastry"
Photo from “Michael Roux: Pastry”

But when I was browsing through a baking book called “Michael Roux: Pastry,” and found a photo of a tempting array of sables, I had to try his recipe. The photo showed six different kinds of sables, all made from one dough, called “pate sable.” I decided to jump in and give them a try.

As it turns out, the cookies were straightforward to make, and delicious–extra buttery and melt-in-your-mouth tender. And the dough that I felt apprehensive about rolling out was smooth and totally un-sticky–it had an almost plastic quality, perhaps because of the egg yolks. So if you avoid cookies you have to roll out because of stickiness problems, but wish you could use your cute cookie cutters, this is your recipe.


Unbaked sables

1-3/4 cups flour
1 cup butter, cut into little pieces
and slightly softened
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
2 medium egg yolks

Note: the recipe tells us to make the dough directly on the counter. I don’t have a lot of counter space, and the surface of my old butcher block table is a bit uneven, so I used a very large stainless steel bowl.

Heap the flour in a large bowl, and make a well. Put in the butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. With your fingertips mix and cream the butter with the sugar and salt, then add the egg yolks and work them in with your fingertips. Little by little, draw the flour into the enter and work the mixture with your fingers until you have a homogeneous dough.

Using the palm of your hand, push the dough away from you 3 to 4 times until it is completely smooth. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until ready to use. I used it the next day, but it probably would be ok refrigerated for as little as two hours..

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and take the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a floured counter. I was going to make four different cookies, so I cut the dough into four parts. The dough will be very firm, even seeming hard, but not to worry! Take the dough and bash it several times with your rolling pin to soften it a bit, and then start rolling. Roll it to a 1/8 to 1/16″ thickness. The thinner  the cookie, the crisper it is. Cut out your cookies with your chosen cookie cutter, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and bake from 6 to 10 minutes.

To make the four different varieties:

The cookies on the left in the top photo are glazed with coffee! Everyone loved these, and I was a bit surprised, because coffee can be an “iffy” flavor for some. Dissolve 1 tablespoon instant coffee in 1 tablespoon water. Brush onto your cutout cookies (I used a 2-1/2″ fluted cutter), and then firmly drag the back of a fork over the cookie to create liines.

Old tin cookie cutters.
Old tin cookie cutters.

The cookies second from left were cut from an old-fashioned bird cookie cutter. (I had come across a cache of old tin cookie cutters at a garage sale, and will be using them this Christmas.) I used little fragments of almond for the eyes, but you could used currants or mini chocolate chips.

For the jam cookies, roll about a teaspoon of dough into a smooth ball, set on baking sheet and make an indentation with your index finger. Use only about 1/4 teaspoon of jam to fill the indentation.

For the almond cookies, I brushed each cut out cookie with some cream, and arranged five slivered almond slices on top. You could sprinkle these with confectioners’ sugar when they are baked and cooled.

I found myself wondering if all four cookies would taste pretty much the same–was it worth it to do all this? Actually, I was amazed at how different tasting and looking they were. The beauty of this recipe is that from one dough, you can make a lovely assortment of cookies, and look like you’ve been baking all day! And, there is the ease of rolling them out.  Hope you can give them a try.

Namaste. Fran


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