Rachel Portnoy

Buttery Breton Sablee Cookies

Photos by Greg Nesbit Photography

Franck loves to say that I’m living the dream:  “Every American woman wants to be married to a French guy!”  I like to humor him, but I had enough experiences in professional kitchens with French guys way before I even met Franck that for a long time I figured that there was NO WAY I would ever marry one…But one should never generalize, n’est ce pas?  Life is just too crazy.

Being married to a French chef has its benefits, for sure.  When preparing meals at home my strategy is to pull everything out onto the counter and start working through it; making the table empty out and seeing the pot fill up gives me so much satisfaction.  Even better when Franck wanders by, “Do you want me to just chop these up for you?” Ten minutes later and I’m on my way to other things, it’s phenomenal…And there are not too many spouses who will go out and buy lobsters to cook for you at your slightest craving. Roasted with garlic-herb butter, they are the ultimate.  I really can’t complain too much.  It’s a marriage between two food-obsessed people, so what would you expect?

But would I be exaggerating if I said that one of the best things about being with Franck and going to Brittany to see his home was discovering pastries made with salty Breton butter??  Maybe only slightly.

They sell bags of cookies in Brittany that look like dry, hard discs:  no icing, no chocolate, no dusting of sugar over the top, absolutely no hoopla whatsoever.  You might overlook them and go for something with more pizzazz…big mistake. These cookies are the most amazing and delicious cookies in the world!  Called Galettes Bretonnes, they first crumble luxuriously when you bite into them, and then all of that Breton salty butter kicks in and they literally melt in your mouth.  That tingle of salt wakens up your tongue and you just have to reach into the bag and grab another…and another…Are you ready to hop a plane to Brittany with me yet?

You might not have to.  Thanks to one of my all-time favorite pastry muses, Dorie Greenspan, there is a recipe for these Sablées available to us over here on this side of the Atlantic which makes an extremely fine approximation.  I was so excited to try it when I cracked open my copy of her Baking, from My Home to Yours, which is just one of her fabulous books.  They really came out great and made the perfect foil for our Lemon-Lavender Possets at the restaurant. When you go to make them you can find some really fancy, expensive and delicious salted butter to make them with.  Yum.  Either way, the recipe is great, and it is so high at the top of my list of favorites, it was one of the first that I tried using Einkorn flour instead of regular flour.  The results were truly fabulous:  I continue to go on about Einkorn and how deliciously its flavor marries with butter.  Well, the simplicity of this recipe really lets the flour shine.  But of course, there’s enough salty, sweet yumminess even with regular flour, as you would get them in France, so give them a try either way.

Breton-style Buttery Sablées

Makes approx. 24 cookies

2 sticks soft butter

½ c (100 g) sugar

¼ c  (30 g) powdered sugar

½ t (3 g) salt

2  yolks

2 ¼ c (280 g) Einkorn flour  (320 g if using all-purpose flour)

1.  Cream butter with sugars and salt very fluffy.  Add yolks one at a time to make an emulsion, then add the flour.  Mix just to thoroughly combine, scraping down the bowl to make sure there aren’t any stray butter lumps.  Chill dough until firm, then form into rolls about 1 ½” in diameter.  Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and then roll on the counter into the roundest shape you can.  At this point you can freeze the dough, or just chill it well so that it keeps its shape when you slice it.

2.  Heat oven  to 350F.  Pull dough logs out of the fridge and unwrap. Brush lightly with lightly beaten-egg and then roll in either decorating sugar crystals, or I like to use Sugar in the Raw or Demerrara sugar crystals.  The crystals stick to the edges and make a nice sweet crackle and pretty finish to the cookies.  I know I said no hoopla, so you can forget this if you like.  (One suggestion Dorie Greenspan makes in another book is to plop the rounds into the bottoms of muffin pans and bake them.  I’ve only done this once and it’s true that it results in a cookie that very much resembles what you get in France:  tall, toasted brown sides and bottoms.  It’s really up to you.  All are delicious and mouth-watering, and the dough will stay happy in its little logs in the freezer until the day when you just have to have some fresh sablées.)  Use a sharp knife to cut through the dough making just under 1/2 inch-tall  sliced rounds.

3.  Place cookies on a greased or parchment-lined cookie tray, spacing them about 1 ½ inches apart, as they do spread a bit (Einkorn ones spread a bit more).  Bake for about 14-17 minutes until the edges are starting to brown, one cookie lifted with a spatula shows it’s brown on the bottom, and they smell delicious.  (Pastry chefs tend to use all of their senses to verify this kind of thing:  too much wasted time and ingredients if things aren’t baked properly!  Timers are critical, too.  Usually people who say they don’t like to bake, I think, do so because they don’t want to take the chance of putting in the effort and not getting great results.  Totally understandable.  So touch, look, smell and make sure everything’s the way you want it to be at each stage.  Your oven, the thickness of your baking tray, the actual size that your logs ended up being, all of this will affect the baking, so you need to use my guidelines, but verify well for yourself before pulling them out.)

4.  I think that these cookies actually taste best when completely cool, and the butter has set up again so that it melts in your mouth.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t try a warm one if you want to, though!

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