It started off with a simple message from a friend who was telling me about the sablé breton she had at La boutique de Joël Robuchon at Roppongi Hills. And for that entire day, I couldn’t get the image and the imaginary buttery smells out of my head. I simply had to have some.
Perhaps it would have been much easier to go out to buy one. Instead, I was drawn to the kitchen and since I had all the ingredients needed for Pierre Hermé‘s sablé breton recipe , I decided why not bake some?
One might be misled to think that these are ordinary butter cookies. I can assure you that they are not. They crumble like sand and then they melt in your mouth leaving you with overwhelming happiness.
I made two batches of these bretons; the first was as in accordance to the recipe and the second was with lavender. Purists would likely raise their eyes and baulk at this suggestion. But I couldn’t resist adding a little lavender to one part of the dough. I love lavender; I’ve used it quite a bit in my baking in my milk chocolate lavender tart and my lavender blueberry friands with amazing results. Also, I like the look of the lavender sablé bretonit with lavender bits specked over the rounds.
The people who tried both versions were split on their favourite. Even for myself, I found it tremendously hard to pick one that I like over the other. I like them both and would have either, any day.
If you force me to choose just one, I suppose I would go with the original just because I find that the buttery and almost savoury flavour is more pronounced. And if you are using premium French butter, you can appreciate it a lot more with the original.
I highly suspect that these humble bretons would become a regular in my kitchen. That’s unsurprising because don’t you agree that most of the time, you will end up baking the things you love?
Recipe: Sablé breton
Taken from Desserts by Pierre Hermé by Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan
Makes 30 sables
These essentially are the classic French butter cookies originating from Brittany, France. They are rich, buttery, crumbly like sand with a delicate crumb structure – so good that they melt in your mouth.
I made two batches: the first was the original buttery goodness with a hint of vanilla extract (l’oringinal) and the second were flavoured with lavender (sablés à la lavande). Lavender is strong in flavour so you need to use it very sparingly, a little goes a long way.
256g plain flour
1 tbsp double-acting baking powder
227g unsalted butter, softened (use a good butter)
1 tsp salt (I use fleur de sel)
5 large egg yolks
Optional: culinary lavender (I’m lucky to still have my stash from Provence)
1. Sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside for the moment.
2. Working in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until it is soft and smooth. Add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, followed by the salt, and continue to beat, scraping the bowl as needed, for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is light, pale and fluffy.
3. Add the yolks and beat to incorporate. At this point, the mixture should be light, creamy and satiny.
4. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, working with a large rubber spatula, fold in the sifted dry ingredients, taking special care not to overwork the dough.
5.Divide the dough in half and, working on a smooth surface, such as marble, mold each half into a log with a diameter of about 1 ½ inches. The dough is going to be baked inside muffin tins, so you might have to adjust the thickness of the logs to the size of the tins/moulds. Wrap each log in a double thickness of plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours. ( I left the logs in the fridge overnight)
5. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 165°C. Set out one or two muffin tins.
- Unwrap one log and, using a sturdy chef’s knife, slice the log into ⅓- to ½-inch-thick cookies. Put one slice of dough in each cup of the muffin tins. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are just firm.
6. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool before storing.
*Sablé breton baking tips:
- Like baking any other items, you need your ingredients to be at room temperature before you begin.
- Do not substitute baking powder for double acting baking powder. They are not the same. Single-acting powders (those are often labelled as ‘baking powder’) are activated by moisture when you mix the batter. You need to bake the product immediately after mixing if using this. Double-acting powders react in two phases: the first is activated by moisture when you mix the batter, the second is through the increase of temperature, when the dough/batter is placed in the oven.
- Ensure that you cream the butter enough until pale, smooth and fluffy but after adding the dry ingredients, you need to fold until incorporate and not overwork the dough or it will toughen.
- You really need to bake these sables in moulds/muffin tins. That is because they have a huge amount of butter content and they will spread too much and lose its shape if you bake them on a tray without moulds.
- Only remove the sables from the moulds/tins when they are cooled because they are fragile and crumbly while still warm.
- If you are baking the sables in muffin tins like I have, it would be better to butter the tins liberally to ensure that the sables come out easily after baking.
- Although the recipe suggested baking the cookies till firm and pale, I took the baking a little further because I like them to golden brown but this is up to you.
- You can keep the rolled up unbaked logs in the freezer for up to a month. Just defrost them in the fridge the night before baking them.
- The baked sablés bretons can be kept in an airtight container in room temperature for a few days.