Butter makes everything better.
I have 7 pounds of it in my refrigerator. Today, with the stacks of essays and comment codes a fading memory, I am embarking on another yearly round of frenzied Christmas cookie baking.
Always on the lookout for the best butter cookie ever, I came across a recipe for sablé cookies. It is similar to my favourite butter cookie in technique: mix, roll into logs, refrigerate, bake. How idiot-proof is that? I love that the logs can hang out in the refrigerator and at a moment’s notice, I can whip up a batch by simply rolling the logs in organic cane sugar or sanding sugar, slice and bake. Hot cookies! There’s nothing like the smell of freshly baked butter cookies.
A sablé, as the French name implies, should be sandy in texture. It is in fact a type of French shortbread cookie. This recipe by Dorie Greenspan is certainly sandy in texture (if made properly). I think I like it but I cannot decide if it’s better than the Vanilla Bean Chocolate Diamonds (bulls-eye cookies) I made a couple of years ago by Jacques Torres. My go-to slice and bake butter cookie recipe is always a winner and a staple in my Christmas Cookie Boxes. I think the bulls-eye cookies are gorgeous and I may have to make them again to compare. The sparkly diamond-like crust around the perimeter of the cookies are evocative of winter to me.
Along with this plain butter sablé, I have a chocolate batch from Greenspan’s new cookbook sitting in my refrigerator “aging”. They will be sliced and baked tomorrow and I’ll post some pics and the recipe then. After testing a few new recipes, I’ll incorporate the winning cookies into my yearly Christmas Cookie boxes. I have a few gluten-free friends and I may have to resort to making macarons this year. Since they are a tad finicky, I’ll leave those until the end because they are kind of delicate and can’t be made that far ahead unless I decide I want to give previously frozen macarons. nah. Not so Christmassy.
I have decided that although pretty coloured sanding sugars can be lovely for Christmas, the red or green sparkles aren’t aesthetically pleasing to my eyes for these particular cookies. Kids love it but it is just not so chic if you get what I mean. It looks so unnatural (and like they came from the supermarket bakery!) I found that using plain old granulated sugar works fine if you don’t have sanding sugar. What I tend to do for Christmas is use organic Cane sugar for rolling the logs before slicing. It’s not so white but I like it that way.
Interestingly enough, I had time to take these pictures but after the first batch of cookies were baked, my daughters hoovered up the whole sheet pan’s worth before I could take a pictured of the finished product. I didn’t even taste one. I think they liked it I’m guessing!
I didn’t get an opportunity to take a picture of the next baked batch of the logs because I took it to work for my colleagues the next morning and they in turn hoovered up that batch. It’s a good sign, but you never know because they tend to hoover up pretty much anything that hits the staffroom tables.
So, I will post sans finished product. I think the raw cookie dough logs look kind of pretty anyway and look “winterish”.
I slice my refrigerator-cold dough logs with a serrated knife. I use my bread knife for this purpose. It works fabulously and you don’t get a misshapen cookie this way.
Space them evenly on parchment paper, giving them plenty of room to spread.
SABLÉS (from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt
- 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- decorating (coarse) sugar
- Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minutes. The mixture should be smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the egg yolks, again beating until the mixture is homogenous.
- Turn off the mixer. Pour in the four, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and the counter from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek—if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. (If most of the flour is incorporated but you’ve still got some in the bottom of the bowl, use a rubber spatula to work the rest of the flour into the dough.) The dough will not clean the sides of the bowl, nor will it 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 (rather than smooth) dough. Pinch it, and it will feel like Play-Doh.
- Scrape the dough out onto a smooth 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 refrigerate them for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. (The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)
- Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
- Remove a log of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Whisk the egg yolk until it is smooth, and brush some of the yolk all over the sides or the dough—this is the glue—then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with decorating sugar. [*cakebrain’s note: I DO NOT brush egg yolk on my cold logs. I just roll them in sugar and it sticks; no problems!]
- Trim the ends of the roll if they’re ragged, and slice the log into 1/3 inch thick cookies. (You can make these as thick as 1/2 inch or as thin as—but no thinnger than 1/4 inch). Place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving an inche of space between them.
- Bake one sheet at a time for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the midway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top; they may feel tender when you touch the top gently, and that’s fine. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest a minute or two before carefully lifting them onto a rack with a wide metal spatula to cool to room temperature.
- Repeat with the remaining log of dough, making sure the baking sheets are cool before you bake the second batch.