La Punition

La Punition

[The Punishment]

Punitions is the name given to the delicious, blond, thin, crisp, unique, buttery cookies, made by the world-famous Poilâne bakery.

You can purchase them by the weight (200g for roughly 4 euros), but there is a basket of them on the counter for you to help yourself when you buy a quarter, a half, or a whole round of the legendary Pain Poilâne. Warning: it is strongly advised to practice restraint and limit yourself to one, or at the most two — or maybe three if you pretend to share them with imaginary little children accompanying you, but whom the lady sitting behind the counter cannot see because, you know, she is sitting behind the counter.

When I was little, on Saturday mornings, my father would often take my sister and me to the comic book stores in the Quartier Latin (this is probably why Saturday mornings remain my favorite time of the week, so fresh and full of promises), and on the way home we would occasionally stop by the Poilâne bakery on boulevard de Grenelle (the second shop Lionel Poilâne opened after his first one rue du Cherche-Midi) and buy bread for lunch. We were too small (especially me) to reach the basket on the counter, but as we left the lady would always hand us one Punition each, that we would savor religiously, in tiny nibbles.

Oh, I have eaten my share of sablés and butter cookies of all kinds, but I’ve never tasted any that came close to these: I don’t know what it is exactly, but their flavor really is one-of-a-kind, and their size and consistency… well, they’re perfection made cookie.

Dorie Greenspan has a recipe for them in her book Paris Sweets and by coincidence, it is the recipe that’s given as an excerpt in Amazon’s Look inside! feature (she also gives Poilâne’s explanation for the name). I must warn you though, my mother gave the recipe a try and declared, “Those are good sablés indeed, but they are not the same as Poilâne’s”.

I’m guessing the secret lies somewhere between the ingredients (the flour especially), the wood-burning oven, the hand that mixes the dough, the lingering aromas of the loaves that were baked before…

But that’s okay; some pleasures are just meant to be enjoyed in their natural habitat, no?

Poilâne
8 rue du Cherche Midi, 75006 Paris
49 boulevard de Grenelle, 75015 Paris

  • http://www.shewhoeats.blogspot.com chika

    Hi Clotilde

    I have yet to bring myself to Poilane or have a chance to try their legendary Punitions, either. I do have a copy of Paris Sweets though, and have meant to try the recipe… but I’m not surprised by your mom’s story, there must always be certain secrets behind a chef recipe that you just can’t reproduce by simply following the recipe, which are what make them special, I reckon.

  • Alisa

    this story = smiling
    smiling = good!
    We, and I mean the girls in my house, love those little cookies too. But we buy them at the Poilâne bakerie next to Parc Georges Brassens, 87 rue Brancion 75015. Ah ha, there is a third!!!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Alisa – Actually, the one on the rue Brancion is a Max Poilâne bakery, founded by Lionel’s less famous brother! I have heard that their bread and cookies are just as good, though.

  • SaraK

    the Poilâne “punitions” look and sound a lot like some traditionnal alsacian christmas cookies… If someone comes near Strasbourg around Christmas, these “winachtsbredle” are really delicious! especially my grand-mother’s!!

  • creampuff

    I had a few more of those cookies than I was probably entitled to in my recent visit and can attest to their simple specialness.

    I was exploring and just happened to come across Max’s shop as well.
    Didn’t try his baked goods but had a rose petal sorbet that was sublime.

    The breads sure looked similar, except Lionel’s are scored with a big “P” and Max’s seem to have a diamond-like shape in the top crust.

  • http://noshesthoughtsreves.blogspot.com/ Lady Amalthea

    Poilane bakery. I love just walking down Rue Cherche-Midi because it always smells so good. Their bread is absolutely the best I’ve found, as are their flans. Their sweets aren’t as sweet as those of other patisseries, which I like. Haven’t tried their Punitions, though. I guess I’ll *have* to go back!

  • marinette

    I am French and probably the same age you are (30s), and I don’t know about you but I had to go to school on saturday mornings…your dad let you play?

  • Alisa

    Interesting. The bread, the cookies, the logo, all of it look just like the stuff at the Poilane on Grenelle, and to me the taste was identical. What’s their story? Did they use the same recipes?

  • http://parisdaily.hi-fipop.com Auntie M

    I haven’t been to Poilane in a while… now I have a good reason to go… to try those delicious cookies. Thanks.

  • Sylvie

    Marinette,
    We (Clotilde’s parents) certainely did not let Clotilde miss school on Saturday mornings. At the time she refers to, C. was still at “la Maternelle” : parents were kindly asked to keep their children on Saturdays !

  • http://ftraintoparis.motime.com lisa

    Last month I went on a tour of the Poilane bakery on rue du cherche midi. I got to see the bakers rolling out the dough and cutting out the punitions, all by hand. Amazing!

  • http://sabbathmeals.typepad.com balabusta

    Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice goes into some detail about the Poilane manufactures. Even these manufactures are specially designed so that individual bakers make each loaf using traditional methods in wood fired ovens. It’s not a factory in the usual sense! The building is round, and around the circumference are twenty-four old-fashioned wood-fired ovens. Each oven has a space for a dough mixer, fermentation bin, balance scale, special proofing baskets and long metal sandwich bread pans. The firewood is in the center and it is the distribution of the firewood to the ovens that is automated. Really cool (or actually, probably, really infernally hot!) I have been relentlessly recommending this book to everyone who wants to make good bread. I guess if you live in Paris you don’t need to know how to make it, only the directions for how to get to the bakery to buy it!

  • http://M4vxOexm5dwKGkc4NsjN chantalemarie

    Thanks for the tip. I tried Herme’s sable recipe this week– the one fromthe NY times article with Dorie Greenspan and I was a bit disappointed. I’ll give this recipe a try. There is no baking powder or salt in these, and a touch more sugar.
    Love this site Clotide. Thanks

  • Vincent

    I would like to make an important point!

    I live in england, and I would like to say that the bread of the Poilane bakery in London is made there! There is a traditional poilane oven in the basement, I know it as I have seen it for myself! The bread does not come from the french factory! They actually import all the ingredients (flour, yeast…) from France, so the bread is exactly the same (and as good) as the one you find in the Paris store. The baker is also french.

    Also, all the Poilane bread you’ll find in London (La Fromagerie, the Borough Market and other food worshipping places!) comes from the London shop!

    Also wanted to say that I have been reding Chocoalte & Zucchini for a while, and the only thing I have to say is: Clotilde, you rock!

  • vianney

    it’s funny to read you all! :-) cause i’m a poilane baker! i worked in poilane’s store in paris and now i’m in london where everyday i make the poilane bread!:-) i find the punitions excellent also

  • Dayle

    At least one of the keys to the Poilane butter cookies is the butter they use. They use the very rich in butterfat European butter. In the US you can find Plugra and several others that will work and create a better approximation of the real thing. I’m not a cook/baker, but a good friend of mine is, and that’s what she told me when I sent her the recipe and the first-time results didn’t match my memories of the Punitions at all.

  • Traudi

    It’s my birthday today and just saw a segment on SUNDAY MORNING CBS about the extraordinary Punitions Cookie! I wish I could walk to the bakery and treat myself to this delightful cookie.

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