One of my great cookie loves, and the most ideal 4 p.m. mini-escapist treat, is the chocolate sable from Balthazar Bakery. I don’t get it often, because that would be dangerous. I usually indulge when I’ve mentally committed to walking either there or back or both (exercise!) or I’m having the kind of day that only a walk to SoHo would improve (justification!). If you’ve ever been to Balthazar, you’ve probably looked right past it to ogle the pain au chocolate or burnished plum tarts because it looks plain and dull, hardly competitive with its surroundings, and I think you’ve missed out because alone in its 1/4-inch thick fluted round is the intensity of all the chocolate in Paris. Okay, I exaggerate but still, that’s no excuse to miss it. It’s bittersweet, crisp and sandy; it absolutely aches with chocolate impact and it makes me very happy.
My attempts to recreate it at home have been less so. I felt like I’d tried everything in the world — buying the Balthazar cookbook, only to find the recipe absent (cruel!) and then increasing the cocoa-to-flour proportion in my go-to sable recipe more and more in hopes to get that deeply rooted chocolate flavor, and failing — when I one day stumbled on the chocolate sable recipe from Miette cookbook from the darling eponymous bakery in San Francisco. The ingredient list (cocoa, flour, sugar, butter, salt, leavener) was exactly like all the others, save one blessed addition: grated bittersweet chocolate. And it was in this that I unlocked the Spring Street magic that had thus far eluded me.
Well, mostly. The cookie was in fact an utter flop for me; the crumbs never came together into a dough. I spread the rubble on a tray and baked-and-tossed it until it was crisp and we’ve taken to spreading these cookie crumbles on ice cream which is a terrible, terrible, terrible idea if you had “not eat Oreo sundaes” anywhere in your January goals. Back to the drawing board, I made some tweaks — grinding the chocolate (less pesky than grating), an egg yolk to bind the mixture together, slightly less sugar to approximate the bitter-sweetness of the inspiring sable, less baking soda and Dutched cocoa, with it’s nutty, dark properties, really makes a difference here.
They may look a little thin and flimsy, but should not be underestimated. When they come out of the oven, your kitchen will smell like there’s a bubbling cauldron of melted chocolate on the stove and people who walk through your front door and inhale will have an absolutely startled reaction. “Mommy. WHAT YOU MAKE ME?” your kid will demand to know (“broccoli,” is probably not what you’ll reply, because you’re not a smart-ass like his elders). Days later, you will open the container they are stored in and be smacked in the face with the same chocolate intensity, if anything more potent with age. And I know you could bake them up and decorate them all pretty with sprinkles and pink baubles and box them up for any of your loves. But I think you should just make them for you, because those 4 p.m. hankerings will arrive all of the days this week and for the next hereafter, and you might as well be decadently prepared.
One year ago: Buttermilk Roast Chicken
Two years ago: Chocolate Peanut Spread (Peanutella)
Three years ago: Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions and Ricotta Muffins
Four years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
Five years ago: Fried Chicken
Six years ago: Grapefruit Yogurt Cake
Intensely Chocolate Sables
Inspired by Balthazar, adapted quite a bit from Miette
I prefer these cookies with Dutched cocoa power, which is darker and little nuttier,
but if you only have natural cocoa, you can use it, although the cookies will puff just a bit more. [Update 1/29: Based on the comments I'm reading, I'm going to red card the use of natural or non-Dutched cocoa for now as the folks using this kind seem to be the ones having the most trouble with their cookies falling apart. So sorry for the trouble; it just seems most reliable to use this recipe with Dutched cocoa. Also, it is tastier.] Technically speaking, baking soda and Dutched cocoa powder don’t react, but I found that it imparted a slight raised texture and better crumb than skipping it or using baking powder, so I kept it there. Besides changing the type of cocoa powder and decreasing the baking soda, I also adjusted the recipe by adding an egg yolk (so it would come together), giving you the option to grind, instead of grating the chocolate (a step I find pesky because my warm hands make a mess of it) and then, because the Balthazar cookie I fell in love with is so bittersweet, giving you a suggested reduced sugar amount. If you’d like a bittersweet chocolate cookie, use the 1/2 cup amount. If you’d like a sweeter (although hardly overly sweet) chocolate cookie, use 2/3 cup. I always sprinkle these with coarse brown sugar, but I’m sure they could be prettied up with sprinkles or the like as well.
Makes 40 to 48 2-inch thin cookies, fewer if thicker
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) Dutched cocoa powder (see Updated Note)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 to 2/3 cup (100 to 135 grams) granulated sugar (less for a more bittersweet cookie)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped until almost powdery in a food processor
Coarse sugar (turbinato/sugar in the raw or decorative) for sprinkling
Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking soda together onto a piece of waxed paper or into a bowl and set aside. (I almost always skimp on sifting wherever possible, but my cocoa is always lumpy, so this is unavoidable.)
Cream butter, sugar and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla, beating until combined, then scraping down sides. Add dry ingredients and grated chocolate together and mix until just combined.
Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, wrap it up and chill it in the fridge until just firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. No need to get it fully hard, or it will be harder to roll out. Dough can be refrigerated until needed, up to a two days, or frozen longer, but let it warm up and soften a bit before rolling it out for decreased frustration.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll dough gently — it will still be on the crumbly side, so only attempt to flatten it slightly with each roll — until it is 1/8-inch thick (for thin cookies, what I used), 1/4-inch thick (for thicker ones) or somewhere in-between (I suspect the Balthazar ones are rolled to 3/8-inch). Cut into desired shapes and space them an inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle decoratively with coarse sugar. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (for thinner cookies) or 10 to 12 minutes (for thicker ones). Leave cookies on baking sheets out of the oven for a couple minutes before gently, carefully transferring them to cooling racks, as they’ll be fragile until they cool.
Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks of 4 p.m. rations.