Ever since we got back from Paris, I can’t stop dreaming about our amazing trip and all things French. So I just had to bake up a French cookie to pretend I was back in France. Sables are delicate butter cookies that are slightly crunchy and slightly crumbly in texture. Sable means sand in french, and the texture is kind of sandy – hence the name! They are simple in flavor but absolutely delicious. Plus you can decorate them with colored sugars, making them the perfect little treat around Christmas! We encountered cookies like this or some variation of a sable all over the bakeries of Paris. They are served when you order afternoon tea or coffee, and we even had some served to us with a cocktail after dinner one night! That is my kind of after dinner drink!
The unique thing about this particular recipe is the egg. You only use a yolk, and you hardboil it first! This was the first time I have ever made a cookie this way. The recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen and they are geniuses, so although it seemed strange to me, I had to try it. The point of cooking the egg yolk is to take out some excess moisture from the cookie to achieve the perfect “sandy” texture.
Other than the cooked yolk, this is a pretty standard cookie recipe. You cream the butter, sugar, cooked yolk, and salt together. Add some vanilla for delicious flavor, stir in flour, and you have your dough. You roll the dough into two logs and then chill it. This is a great dough to make around Christmas because you can keep the log in your fridge for a few days before you bake them, or stick it in the freezer. Then you can quickly have Christmas cookies ready whenever you need them!
Once you are ready to bake your cookies, slice the chilled dough with a sharp knife. Then place the cookies on a cookie sheet, brush them with a little egg white mixed with water, and sprinkle them with the sugar of your choice. Of course I picked red and green! Advice though – use coarse or sanding sugar for this. My red sugar was just normal sugar, and the color spread on the cookies. The coarse white and green sugar looked much better. You can also use a turbinado sugar (like Sugar In The Raw) if you don’t have colored coarse sugar.
These cookies are like little French gems. Simple but delicious. Classic and elegant. They are the perfect accompaniment to coffee or tea and really add something special to any Christmas cookie spread.
French Butter Cookies (Sables)
Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen
1 large egg
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon (2 ¾ ounces) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ (7 ½ ounces) cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon egg white, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
4 teaspoons coarse sugar (colored or white)
Place the egg in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once water comes to a boil, remove pan from heat, cover, and let sit 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a small bowl with ice water. Transfer the egg to the ice water and let stand about 5 minutes. Peel the shell off the egg, then separate the yolk from the white – you are only using the yolk for this recipe.
Add butter, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer. Press the yolk through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl. Using the paddle attachment, beat together the ingredients on medium speed for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides as needed. Turn mixer to low and add vanilla. Stop the mixer and add the flour. Mix on low speed until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to press the dough together into a cohesive mass, then divide the dough in half.
Roll each half into a log about 5 inches long and 1 ¾ inches in diameter. Tightly wrap each log in a 12-inch square of parchment paper. Twist one end of the paper, and then twist the other end to seal and firmly compact the dough in a tight cylinder. Chill until firm, about one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into ¼-inch thick rounds, rotating the dough log slightly after each cut so that the shape stays intact. Place cookies 1 inch apart on baking sheets.
Using a pastry brush, brush cookies with egg white mixture and sprinkle evenly with sugar. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until the edges are slightly golden brown. I like to bake these in two separate batches – if you do it at the same time, make sure you rotate the sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.
Cool the cookies for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.