The first time Andrew and I ever tasted a Sablé, we’d made a pilgrimage to The Essex Market where Dorie Greenspan and her son Joshua had opened “Beurre et Sel”, a tiny hole in the wall that sold nothing but these out-this-world butter-y crispy shortbread cookies. The sheer beauty of the Greenspan’s display of the cookies took us aback. The variety was amazing too—there were sweet and savory versions. These were all tucked into tubes to take home but I couldn’t help wonder how many of them actually made it there. The cookies were that addictive and at about the size of a half dollar coin easily consumed anywhere. They were also fairly expensive which may explain why, sadly, after 15 months in business, the tiny shop was shuttered.
|La Marquise de Sevigné|
Sablé, which means “Sand” in French, go all the way back to 1670 when they were first made mention of in the Marquise de Sévigné’s “letters”. La Marquise wrote these letters to her daughter but they were widely circulated for their wit and vivid descriptions.
To this day she is one of the most revered of all French writers. In one of these letters, she wrote about the cookie that had been created in a French village called Sablé-sur-Sarthe. In an amazing coincidence, Sablé is the term French bakers use for breadcrumbs. As the cookie is made, the cold butter, flour and sugar used at the start of the recipe make a texture like breadcrumbs or “sand” before the egg is added.
Andrew waited a while before tackling Dorie’s own recipe for Sablés and I have to say, we were both very sorry he hadn’t made them earlier. First he tackled a sweet version. In the sea of Christmas cookies, he made this year, I had to contain myself from not eating every last Sablé, this simple combination of sugar, flour, butter and eggs their edges rolled in demerara sugar Then after Christmas, I prevailed upon him to try the savory version. This mixture of Rosemary, Almonds and Parmesan were slightly smaller than their sweet cousins but their impact was just the same. You could not help but pop these intensely flavored ‘cocktail’ cookies in your mouth one after the other. Fortunately the recipe yields dozens of the quarter-size circles.
The fundamental difference between the sweet and savory versions Andrew made was that the sweet cookies are made into rolls that look exactly like my mother’s Ice Box Cookies and are sliced very much the same way. Rolled in Demerara, the crunchy un-refined raw sugar that’s also called Turbinado and it’s well worth finding some. (Ours comes from Williams-Sonoma). The savory version is not made into a roll. Instead the dough is flattened with a rolling pin and then a cookie cutter forms the final cookie. I can’t extoll the virtues of Sablés enough. So next time you want to wow your family and friends, make batches of these and watch them disappear. If you do have any leftover, they keep incredibly well in an airtight container for several days, if not a week. Here are the recipes:
Recipe for Dorie Greenspan’s Sweet Sablés
Makes about 50 cookies. Active Time 30 minutes. Total Time 2 hours.
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter (preferably high-fat, like Plugra), softened at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted before measuring
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
2 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour.
For the decoration (optional):
1 egg yolk
1. Working in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and continue to beat until smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 2 egg yolks, again beating until well blended.
2. Turn off the mixer, pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse the mixer about 5 times at low speed for 1 or 2 seconds each time. Take a peek; if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, stir for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. If you still have some flour on the bottom of the bowl, stop mixing and use a rubber spatula to work the rest of it into the dough. (The dough will not come together in a ball — and it shouldn’t. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you’re aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy dough. When pinched, it should feel a little like Play-Doh.)
3. Scrape the dough onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long (it’s easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log). Wrap the logs well and chill them for at least 2 hours. The dough may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
4. When ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and keep it at the ready.
5. To decorate the edges of the sables, whisk the egg yolk until smooth. Place one log of chilled dough on a piece of waxed paper and brush it with yolk (the glue), and then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with sugar. Trim the ends of the roll if they are ragged and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies.
6. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each cookie, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top. Let the cookies rest 1 or 2 minutes before carefully lifting them onto a cooling rack with a wide metal spatula. Repeat with the remaining log of dough. (Make sure the sheet is cool before baking each batch.)
Recipe for Dorie Greenspan’s Rosemary, Almond and Parmesan Cocktail Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen. Active Time 30 minutes. Total time 2 hours
1/2 cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1 ounce)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, diced
2 large egg yolks, beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the almonds in a pie plate and toast for about 10 minutes, until golden. Turn off the oven and let the almonds cool.
2. In a bowl, rub the sugar with the rosemary until moist and aromatic.
3. In a food processor, combine the rosemary sugar with the almonds, flour, cheese and salt and pulse until the almonds are coarsely chopped.
4. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the egg yolks and pulse until large clumps of dough form.
5. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead gently until it just comes together.
6. Divide the dough in half and press each piece into a disk.
7. Roll out each disk between 2 sheets of wax paper to about 1/4 inch thick. Slide the wax paper–covered disks onto a baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour, until very firm.
8. Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with one piece of dough at a time, peel off the top sheet of wax paper. Using a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, stamp out cookies as close together as possible. Arrange the cookies about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.
9. Bake the cookies for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden; shift the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
MAKE AHEAD The rolled-out frozen cookie dough can be wrapped in plastic and kept frozen for 2 weeks. The baked cookies can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 days.