It’s that time of year where we are trying to coast into the holiday season, while not going too over-board. We’re either using cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace and cardamom judiciously, or we go all-out pumpkin-spice mania! I like to ease into it….we have all winter to enjoy the warmth of spices. One flavor that I really miss during the summer and fall is citrus – a refreshing note once the cool weather rolls around (and I find that we naturally start to crave things that keep us energized- ahem – vitamin C – once the weather changes). Pistachio, Orange & Dark Chocolate Sables to the rescue!
A Case for the French Butter Cookie (aka: Sable)
Butter cookies are a classic around the holidays here. I think many of us have some sort of butter cookie tradition, since it seems almost every culture has a butter cookie or shortbread. But, I’d like to make a case to bring butter cookies to the cookie routine year-round. Sables are evidently mainstay treats in France. What’s more, pate sablee, brissee and sucree are all used in their unique (but similar ingredient) forms for tart crusts, too. How’s that for flexible?
Sables, even though basic in their ingredients, take a little attention to make: the butter should be at room temperature but not meltingly soft; we don’t want to whip air into the mixture as we mix the sugars and butter together – this will result in crackly looking sables; using the best ingredients you can find since the list of ingredients is so basic; and we do not want to over-mix or handle the dough – this will result in a tough cookie. But, don’t let this intimidate you…the results are meltingly tender, crisp and flavorful cookies that keep well.
It took me a while to find what I envision as a “perfect” sable (keep in mind I’ve never had a French-made one, so I am going off of my preferences). Some recipes I made were too firm and used all powdered sugar – spreading very little while baking (great for a tart crust, though). Some used almond flour – which wasn’t unpleasant but just didn’t really add anything special for me to justify the use and cost. Others used all granulated sugar, and higher proportions of butter, and no eggs – resulting in super buttery cookie that were delicious, but spread quite a lot while baking. This recipe, adapted from Dorie Greenspan (from her Baking Chez Moi book), for me is the happy balance between these qualities.
I chose orange zest, pistachios and dark chocolate to flavor my sables. I love orange and dark chocolate together, and the green, nutty flecks of pistachios really tie it all together. Festive? Sure. Delicious? Yes! Rolling the cookie logs in sugar prior to baking is totally optional – but it adds a fun, crunchy and slightly caramelized flavor.
Choose your own adventure with the sable!
Nuts, seeds, extracts, vanilla bean, citrus zests, herbs, spices, shredded dried coconut, milk/white/dark/ruby/caramelized chocolate….you name it (and chop it small enough!) – you can likely mix it into sable dough. The quality of your ingredients matter – so think quality over quantity. The cookie logs can be frozen once formed, and sliced after they lose their chill (try taking them out to thaw in the fridge overnight). Or, keep in the fridge for a week or so, and slice/bake as needed. Once baked, these keep well – as long as the ingredient mix-ins you choose aren’t high in water and/or water activity. Enjoy plain, with coffee/tea, ice cream, dunked in thick greek yogurt….whatever you’d like!
Pistachio, Orange & Dark Chocolate Sables
- 1/2 cup (67 grams) Granulated Sugar
- 1 to 3 Oranges or clementines Using 1 large orange or 2-3 smaller clementines will yield mildly orange results; use whatever citrus you'd like here
- 2 Sticks (226 grams) Butter At room temperature. If using salted, reduce salt in recipe to 1/4 tsp
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) Powdered Sugar Sifted
- 1/2 tsp Fine Sea Salt
- 1 Egg Yolk
- 2 tsp Vanilla Extract or Dark Rum
- 2 cups (272 grams) All Purpose Flour
- 1/2 cup (2 oz) Pistachios, chopped fine Roasted, lightly salted pistachios work great here; or, you may toast your own prior to chopping. Some larger chunks are fine, but keep in mind you'll need to be able to cut through the cookies with ease
- 1/2 cup (2 oz) Chopped dark chocolate I used 70%, but any dark chocolate bar would work; it works best to use chopped high-quality chocolate for best flavor and melting. See note about chunk size with the pistachios
- Place granulated sugar in a large bowl – of a stand mixer if you have one – and zest the orange/clementines on top. Work the zest into the sugar until moist and fragrant.
- Add the butter, sifted powdered sugar and sea salt to the bowl, and using the paddle attachment of the mixer (or, a wooden spoon or spatular or hand mixer), lightly cream the butter and sugar on low speed until combined. The goal is not to whip air into the mixture like American style cookies.
- Stop mixing, and scrape down the bowl thoroughly. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract/rum (if using), and mix again on low until incorporated, taking care to not whip in air into the mixture. Scrape down bowl to ensure even mixing.
- Add the flour, and mix briefly (about 2-3 turns of the paddle). Add the pistachios and chocolate, and mix briefly just to combine. Finish mixing by hand, using a spatula or wooden spoon, taking care to incorporate everything just until it is homogenous. It is key to not over work the mixture once the flour has been added.
- Scoop out the dough onto 1 large piece of parchment or plastic wrap. Cut off the piece of parchment or plastic wrap and prepare another. Divide dough in half (eye-ball it), and place the other half on the other piece of parchment or plastic wrap.
- Form into logs that are 9" long, using the parchment or plastic wrap in place of flouring the counter. You may also roll on a very lightly floured counter. It's sometimes helpful to place the dough into a large piece of parchment, folding the parchment over the dough mass, and use a ruler or bench scraper to push the dough into a log.
- Allow the logs to chill for at least 3 hours, or freeze for up to 2 months (tightly wrap and place in bags).
- To bake, preheat oven to 350F. Place 1 rack in the middle of the oven, or, if you'd like to bake more than one at a time, at even spaces in the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment or silpat.
- Prepare egg yolk wash by whisking 1 egg yolk with 1 tsp water. Sprinkle demerara or other coarse sugar on a piece of parchment or other flat surface. Brush egg wash onto the cookie log, and roll in the sugar, pressing gently to get the sugar to stick.
- Cut cookies into 1/2" discs using a sharp, sturdy, non-serrated knife. Place about 2" apart on the lined cookie sheets. These spread slightly while baking.
- Bake for 18-22 minutes, until just turning golden. Allow to cool for a moment before transferring onto cooling racks, and then allow to cool thoroughly. These cookies have the best flavor and texture once they have cooled.
- Store in a container at room temperature for a few days – they keep well! Or, freezer in a sealed container for a few weeks.