McDonald's has been running a silly series of commercials where people enjoying the new McCafé line of drinks pretentiously frenchify their words by adding to an accent aigu to the end of everything. For instance, a "chore" becomes a "choré," or as they pronounce it on the commercial, "chor-AY." As much as these ads annoy me, I'm afraid they might have worked they way into my subconscious. After all, last weekend I made frozen soufflés, and then earlier this week for some reason I decided to make chocolate sablés. I shudder to think what might come next.
I got the sablé recipe from an December 13, 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times. The folks at the the paper decided to hold a cookie contest that year. They contacted two dozen of the top pastry chefs in the city, requested a dozen of their best cookies (and the recipe!), and waited for the goods to arrive. Think about this for a second. How cool would it be to issue a cooking challenge to the best and brightest and actually have them eagerly respond by having messengers hand-deliver exquisitely packaged baked goods?
After the tasting was finished, the Times staff declared Sherry Yard (pastry chef at Spago) the winner, with her recipe for gingerbread macarons with apple compote. Second place went to the orange madeleines from Alain Giraud, the former executive chef at Bastide. Craig Strong (now executive chef at Studio Restaurant at the Montage in Laguna Beach) took third place with his grandmother's recipe for sugar and spice cookies. Pastry chef Michelle Myers (who at the time was working with her then-husband David Myers at his restaurants Sona and Boule Atelier) placed fourth with a recipe for chocolate sablés. The Times published the recipes for the cookies in the top ten, and you can find links to them here. The sablés were an easy choice for me to try because they weren't very complicated. Essentially, they are just a refrigerated slice and bake cookie.
The word "sable" means "sand" in French, and the cookies get their name because of their sandy, crumbly texture. The cookie dough is made from butter, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, flour, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, chopped dark chocolate, lemon zest, and an egg white. You shape the dough into logs and refrigerate it a few hours or overnight. When you're ready to bake, you slice the cookies from the logs, moisten the edge of each cookie with beaten egg and then roll the edge in sanding sugar before putting them in the oven to bake.
These cookies had a very dark and earthy flavor. The LA Times article describing the cookie contest and the tasting characterized the sablés as having "a depth of flavor that seemed to go beyond chocolate" and remarked how the Times' staff had wondered if there might be a hint of licorice. That reaction totally makes sense, because the the cinnamon and nutmeg in the batter created a very deep dimension of complex flavor in the cookies, which was somewhat reminiscent of licorice. In addition, the tiny bit of lemon zest added a surprising brightness to the cookie. The recipe specifies that you should use chocolate that is 70% cocoa in the recipe, and so I used 70.4% Callebaut. Because this chocolate is so bitter, the cookies themselves were not very sweet at all, but the sanding sugar around the edges gave the cookies a great contrast of sweetness and crunch. It's a nice little cookie with a very grown up flavor profile, a perfect accompaniment to coffee or tea. I don't need a cookie contest to call this one a winner in my book.
Recipe: Chocolate Sablé Cookies from pastry chef Michelle Myers, published in the Los Angeles Times on December 13, 2006.