I sometimes wonder how many incarnations of the simple butter cookie have been developed. I love them all, but this is my favorite of all the butter cookies I have baked. It’s a slice and bake, ridiculously simple, and it is rich, buttery, mellow, tender, and utterly delicious. You could make endless varieties—add cacao nibs or fruit zest, roll the log in coarse salt, add herbs or flower waters—but I love plain best, especially for Christmas. Rolled in sparkling white sugar, these little French shortbread rounds are festive and elegant.
This is one of Dorie Greenspan’s recipes from Baking. I love her—she manages to be simultaneously both hip and homey—and what I love most about her books is that her intention to truly teach shines through. Her instructions are so thorough it’s like having a teacher at your hip guiding your every step.
Music for baking sables for Christmas:
A mellow, classic crooner for a mellow, classic cookie: Bing Crosby’s The Voice of Christmas
A few suggestions for sable variations:
Add cacao nibs or shards of dark chocolate.
Add lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit zest and a little juice.
Add fresh rosemary, fennel seeds, crushed juniper berries.
A few ideas for flavor combinations:
Fresh rosemary and orange zest
Lime zest and coarse salt
Crushed juniper berries and finely grated granny smith apple
Cacao nibs and smoked Celtic salt
Crushed pink peppercorns and rosewater
Culinary lavender and lemon zest
Start with cool butter.
Don’t overbeat the butter and sugar.
Mix the dough only until the flour is incorporated.
Chill the dough until it is very firm.
You may skip rolling the log in egg yolk. I find that the sparkling sugar adheres beautifully with just a little pressure. Just pour some sugar on your work surface and roll the sugar onto the log.
Roll the log of dough a quarter turn after each slice so that your cookies will remain evenly round.
This recipe is part of the Cookie Baking and Candy Making Plan for Christmas 2010 (here).
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking
Yield: about 50 cookies (I make two batches.)
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
½ c. sugar
¼ c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
½ t. sea salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 c. all purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur.)
Decorating (coarse) sugar
- Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and beat until well blended, about one minute. The mixture should be smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the egg yolks, again beating until the mixture is homogenous.
- Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and the counter from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about five times, a second or two each time. Take a peek—if there is sill a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. (If most of the flour is incorporated but you’ve still go some in the bottom of the bowl, use a rubber spatula to work the rest of the flour into the dough.) The dough will not clean the sides of the bowl, nor will it come together in a ball—and it shouldn’t. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you’re aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy (rather than smooth) dough. Pinch it, and it will feel al little like Play-Doh.
- Scrape the dough out onto a smooth work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about nine inches long: it’s easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log. Wrap the logs well and refrigerate them for at least three hours, preferably longer. (The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days or frozen for up to two months.)
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
- Remove a log of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Whisk the egg yolk until it is smooth, and brush some of the yolk all over the sides of the dough—this is the glue—then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with decorating sugar.
- Trim the ends of the log if they’re ragged, and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies. (You can make these as thick as ½ inch or as thin as—but no thinner than—1/4 inch.) Place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them.
- Bake one sheet at a time for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the midway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top; they may feel tender when you touch the top gently, and that’s fine. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest a minute or two before carefully lifting them onto a rack with a wide metal spatula to cool to room temperature.
- Repeat with the remaining log of dough, making sure the baking sheets are cool before you bake the second batch.
- *Storage tips here.