My husband got down on one knee and asked me to marry him under the Eiffel Tower in December 2004. Or, rather, he proposed and I might have been too excited with plans for us to actually say yes, but he got the idea and we called our families with the good news. Engagement and the ensuing swoon is a great way to fall in love with Paris, and oh, that we did. In the year that followed, we spoke with near-obsession about French food, culture, wine, mood and approach to diet. For two Jewish kids from New Jersey suburbs, we are capable of a surprising amount of Francophilism.
Hitched and happily-evered, we finally had a chance to return to Paris in March of this year, for an all-the-vacation-we-could-squeeze-in four-day weekend. This time we came not armed with bling and life-altering inquiries, but a detailed list of unequivocal recommendations (“When you go to Berthillon, and you must go to the original on Ile Saint-Louis, you must order the marron glace ice cream because they only make it a few months a year and it is the best.”), some from friends and others culled from French food blogs. High on the list was the Poilane Bakery, an in particular, their sable cookies [Punitions®], an understandable addiction of Clotilde.
These sables are a simultaneously crisp but sandy, buttery, mildly sweet, golden-edged cookie and about as far as you can get from the “punishment” they translate to. Apparently, grandmothers used to give them to their grandchildren for their gouter (after-school snack), luring them in by teasing, “come and get your punishment!” They taste fantastic; four ingredients you’ve been combining in endless recipes, but obviously all wrong because they’ve never tasted this good together. Can a butter cookie alone make a trip worthwhile? Do I even have to tell you what I think?
I tracked down a book with the “original” recipe a few months ago, but didn’t find the perfect excuse to bake them until a housewarming party a few weeks ago. I shouldn’t have waited so long: they were ridiculously easy to make and roll out; aside from some time chilling in the refrigerator, some of the easiest cookies I’ve made. Inspired by Jenjen’s killer photography, I filled them with some bittersweet ganache. They don’t need it, but as an American I feel it is my duty to never know when to leave a recipe well enough alone. I can assure you, nobody complained.
1 1/4 sticks (5 oz; 140 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature [I used salted, just my preference, and fodder for a whole other post.]
Slightly rounded 1/2 cup (125 g) sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1. Put the butter in the work bowl of a food processor* fitted with the metal blade and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the butter is smooth. Add the sugar and process and scrape until thoroughly blended into the butter. Add the egg and continue to process, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10 to 15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel.
2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide the ball in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap the disks in plastic. If you have the time, chill the disks until they are firm, about 4 hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can roll the dough out immediately; it will be a little stickier, but fine. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)
3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
4. Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch (4 and 7 mm) thick. Using a 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on the lined sheets, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) space between them. (You can gather the scraps into a disk and chill them, then roll, cut, and bake them later.)
5. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are set but pale. (If some of the cookies are thinner than the others, the thin ones may brown around the edges. M. Poilâne would approve. He’d tell you the spots of color here and there show they are made by hand.) Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.
Do ahead: The cookies can be kept in a tin at room temperature for about 5 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.
* Though they were originally made by hand, Greenspan encourages the food processor, because it works so quickly, you can get that “quintessential sandy texture that is the hallmark of these plain cookies.” And yes, I just love the way she says that.