Salty, Sweet Sablés
Does the title make you want to try them yet? I had been craving sablés something fierce in the days and weeks (sob) after coming home from Paris. Oddly enough, I didn’t try them until the very end of my trip, when Keith ran to get a coffee and something to munch on while we waited to board our flight. Even the airport sablés were crisp, slightly sandy and a little salty, the perfect accompaniment to a last café crème.
The secret to their success? Salted butter. (Or the addition of sea salt to the cookie dough, to have more control over the amount of salt that goes in, but that depends on which recipe you follow.) I had had such … uh, success … with my last use of salted butter that I was slightly skeptical at first about creating my own sables. Rooting around the Internet, I found this New York Times mag feature on Dorie Greenspan, the cookie master, cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire, where she insisted that the dough be worked as little as possible. How would I know when the dough would come together? What would happen if it were overworked? Would anyone eat my cookies?? (Ahh paranoia — my dearest friend … )
After trying to get sablés off my mind for a few days, I finally caved on Monday afternoon. I settled on this recipe from Pierre Hermé (he of macaron fame) at Food & Wine and simply got to baking. I halved the recipe because a) I didn’t buy enough butter, and b) my mom would have killed me if I had baked four dozen cookies. The halved recipe is below.
Yield: 30 cookies, 1-1/2 inches in diameter
– 5 ounces salted butter, softened
– 2/3 cup, sugar
– 1 egg white
– 1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1) Cream the butter until it is smooth and velvety. Add the sugar and beat until combined.
2) Beat in the egg white and then the all-purpose flour. Work until the dough is clumpy and just barely combined. (I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I may have overworked my dough. Just means I’ll have to try the recipe again soon … you know, for research purposes.)
3) Cover the dough and refrigerate it for 15 minutes, until it is less sticky.
4) Once the dough is more workable, roll it into a log about 2 inches thick. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. I rolled my dough into an empty paper towel roll I happened to have, which fit perfectly, though it was a little less than the suggested width. I also refrigerated for 4 hours, which made the dough much more manageable.
5) After the dough is thoroughly chilled, slice the cookies with a sharp, clean knife. The sablés should be about a 1/4-inch thick. Space them 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets and bake for 15-17 minutes at 350˚F, turning the baking sheets as they bake.
My cookies were a little bit thinner than a 1/4 inch thick, so they were crisper than what I assume M. Hermé’s were. They also baked much faster, in about 10 minutes. When I make them again, I may leave them in for a few minutes longer to get a more golden color to them, but I was too afraid of burning them on this try. But they were delicious — buttery, with a slight touch of salt. I heartily recommend tasting the butter beforehand to gauge its salt content. I used Breakstone’s this time (my mom balked at the idea of buying $4 imported butter and in a moment that would make Glenn Beck proud, declared, “American butter is just as good as European!”), and I think I could have tossed in a sprinkle or two of kosher salt to really up the flavor.
These sablés can be adapted in a thousand different ways. You could add some almond or vanilla extract, lemon or orange zest or even Parmesan cheese, as Ms. Greenspan suggests in the NYT mag article. Pierre Hermé is known for his chocolate and fleur de sel version. I’m sure dipping them in dark chocolate or even using them as sandwich cookies would be delicious (we tried it with Nutella, but either there was too much Nutella or the cookies were too light, but they were overwhelmed completely by the chocolaty hazelnut. But really, what isn’t overwhelmed by the deliciousness that is Nutella?). I can’t wait to make them again!