More Svelte and Still Satisfying: Sablés Bretons

I recently bought a copy of Payard Cookies by François Payard and I've been adding all sorts of recipes from the book to my to-bake list. The first one I decided to try is Payard's recipe for "Sablés Bretons," the sandy butter cookie from Brittany. The recipe includes a beautiful photo showing fat hockey pucks of golden cookies with dark brown tops. Payard bakes these cookies in a mini muffin tin to keep them from spreading and to create the thick cylindrical shape.

Making the dough is straightforward. You beat room temperature butter and sugar; add egg yolks; and mix in flour, fleur de sel, and baking powder. You chill the dough for at least 30 minutes and then roll it out. The recipe directs you to roll it out to a thickness of half an inch, cut out cookies with a 1-inch round cutter; freeze the cookies for 20 minutes; brush the cookies with a glaze of instant coffee, hot water, and egg yolk; score the tops in a crisscross pattern with a fork; and drop each cookie into the well of a greased mini muffin pan to bake.

I decided that instead of using a tiny cutter and baking the cookies in a muffin tin, I was going to make larger cookies and bake them in rings. I have a lot of ring molds and I used the smallest size I have, which is 2.5 inches across. I rolled my dough about a quarter of an inch thick, used the rings to cut the cookies, and then froze the cookies -- still in the rings -- on a parchment-lined baking pan. I discovered through trial and error that it was not a good idea to keep the cookies in the rings while brushing them with glaze and scoring the tops. The dark glaze formed puddles around the edges because it was trapped by the rings; after baking these dark puddles tasted fine but made the cookies look like they were burnt. Moreover, the height of the rings made it awkward to angle in a fork to score lines from edge to edge. I also learned that if you leave the cookies in the freezer too long, they become hard as a rock and it becomes nearly impossible to score the dough at all (even 20 minutes was too long for my thinner cookies). The best looking cookies from the batch were the ones where I removed the rings before adding the glaze and scoring the tops, but then replaced the rings before baking to help maintain the cookies' shape. The recipe says it yields 45-55 cookies if you make them fat and bake them in mini muffin pans; I got 40 of my larger, flatter cookies from a batch of dough.
Even though my cookies were not as tall or squat as the ones in the cookbook photo, I really liked the way my cookies looked. With their shiny glazed tops, crosshatch design, and perfectly vertical sides, they looked like a miniature version of a gâteau Breton (like this one or this one). And they were tasty -- firm and buttery. I thought they could have used a touch more salt, but my tasters loved these cookies and I would happily make them again.

Recipe: "Sablés Bretons" from Payard Cookies by François Payard.

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