Petits Beurres (French Butter Cookies) Recipe

A little while ago I told you about the cookbooks my grandmother gave me, old, tattered, and much-loved volumes that used to belong to my great-grandmother before her. One of them is called Mes Recettes pour votre dessert, and it contains 710 recipes for sweet things, arranged in alphabetical order from Amandés de Liège to Visitandines. And on page 222, this precious book offers a recipe for petits beurres.

Le petit beurre is a crisp little thing, not too sweet and not too rich, that melts on your tongue and takes kindly to a brief dunking in a cup of hot chocolate.

Le Petit Beurre (literally “little butter”) is a small rectangular cookie that was invented in 1886 by Louis Lefèvre-Utile, founder of the LU company in Nantes: he was the first to create a cookie manufacture in France, and was very much ahead of his time in terms of marketing and advertisement too.

This cookie, also called Petit LU, quickly became a classic, and although it is now 120 years old it is as sprightly as ever, with millions of packages sold every year throughout the world. The fascinating story of the petit beurre would really warrant a whole book — I wouldn’t be surprised if one had already been written — but you can read a little more about it here (in French). [Note: the LU brand now belongs to the Danone group.]

Le petit beurre is a crisp little thing, not too sweet and not too rich, that melts on your tongue and takes very kindly to a brief dunking in a cup of hot chocolate. Its signature silhouette has scalloped edges, tiny holes on the surface as if pricked by a needle, and a small browned ear at each corner.

Some advocate that the corners are the best, and a close member of my family was once admonished for having gone through a whole package, eating exclusively les petites oreilles, and returning the rest neatly into the paper wrapper. This same family member also had an interesting experience with a tiny chestnut that fit exactly inside her left nostril, but I will keep that story for another time. [Update: The close family member tells me that she calls the corners "thumbs", not "ears", because they look like a baby's toes.]

Because petits beurres are so readily available from French stores — even the tiniest ones — they don’t seem to be the type of cookie that one makes at home, and I had never seen a recipe anywhere before. To my knowledge, the special mold that gives the petit beurre its shape is not for sale, so I chose to make mine with the puzzle cookie cutter that I bought from Muji recently. Whichever shape you pick for yours, make sure it is one that has dents and corners (a star would work well too) so that you get the maximum amount of crisp angles.

The recipe was charming (I’ve copied it below for your enjoyment), very easy to follow, and the resulting cookies were wonderful: although no one would mistake them for the original petits beurres in a blind test, there was a clear similarity of flavor.

Less dry than the packaged version, my petits beurres were crisp and crumbly like good sablés should be, with just the right dose of sweetness, a clean, lingering taste of fresh butter and crème fraîche, and a delightful hint of salt. Perfect for an afternoon snack, they were also much enjoyed with sliced strawberries (especially Mara des Bois from the market) or a rhubarb compote.

Petits Beurres Cookies

Petits Beurres Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Makes about three dozens.

Petits Beurres Recipe

This is translated and adapted from the original version, reproduced below.

Ingredients

  • 200 grams (1 2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 80 grams (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, diced
  • 40 grams (3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream

Instructions

  1. In a medium mixing-bowl, rub together the butter and flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Form a well in the center, and add the sugar, salt, and 2 tablespoons crème fraîche into the well. Stir with a fork in a circular motion starting from the center until the cream is absorbed, then knead the dough gently until smooth. If the dough is too dry to come together, add a little more cream, one teaspoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.
  3. Divide the dough in two, and gather each half into a slightly flattened ball. Wrap in plastic and chill for an hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease a baking sheet with butter.
  5. Working with one ball of dough at a time, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/2 centimeter (1/5 inch). Use a cookie cutter to cut out cookies, and transfer them on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  6. Prick the cookies all over with the head of a pin, and slip into the oven to bake for 12 to 15 minutes, keeping a close eye on them, until golden and just slightly browned at the edges.
  7. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, and keep in a tin box in a dry place, safely away from little mice... (See note).

Notes

The mice note is not to be taken literally: the expression petites souris refers to members of the household, most likely children, who may sneak into the kitchen, filch a cookie or two or three, and accuse the mice when confronted about the mysterious disappearance.

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Petits Beurres Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Petits Beurres Recipe

This recipe is reprinted from Mes Recettes pour votre dessert by Marmiton, published by Société Anonyme d'Imprimerie et Editions Catholiques du Nord (Lille). Edition and date unknown (the front and back pages and covers are missing) but the book was first published just after World War I. The other book I have in this collection has no date either, but was the 9th edition.

Ingredients

  • Farine de gruau, première qualité : deux cents grammes
  • Beurre frais : quatre-vingt grammes
  • Sucre blanc tamisé : quarante grammes
  • Sel : cinq grammes
  • Six cuillérées à bouche de crème double

Instructions

  1. Dans un saladier, travaillez ensemble le beurre et la farine, de façon à obtenir quelque chose comme du pain émietté. Faites un trou dans le milieu, déposez-y le sucre, le sel et la crème et travaillez le tout sans perdre une minute. Votre pâte étant bien lisse, réunissez-la en une boule que vous laisserez reposer au frais pendant une heure dans le saladier qu'il faudra couvrir.
  2. Alors vous étendrez cette pâte au rouleau, sur votre planche à pâtisserie légèrement farinée, en lui donnant un demi-centimètre d'épaisseur. Avec un emporte-pièce à petits beurres, vous couperez vos gâteaux, vous les poserez sur une plaque beurrée et les piquerez à l'aide d'une aiguille. Faites-les cuire à four modéré jusqu'à ce qu'ils soient de couleur blonde. Laissez refroidir et mettez-les en boîtes de fer-blanc dans un endroit sec, hors de portée des petites souris...
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Petits Beurres Cookies

  • Adele

    I love the petits beurres, but I think I’ll love this recipe even more for their texture. Thanks for the info on LU. I’ve always been curious about the connection with the Burry company here in the U.S. — for a while in the 70′s my favorite cookie was the Burry LU chocolate chip cookie, made with delicious dark chocolate chunks. I helped out in the summer camp kitchen that year and admit to being one of the petites souris………………..

  • http://lobstersquad.blogspot.com lobstersquad

    I´ve never had petits beurres, but Petit ecolier is one of my favourite indulgence buys if I´m on a huge shopping trips. We´ll have to try and make Lu Spain stock petits beurres, but in the meantime, I´ll try these.

  • TJ

    For some reason, I read that as pizza cookie cutters, and couldn’t for the life of me imagine what those would look like! Round? or slice shaped? why would you need a cutter for that? But now that I’ve seen the cutters, I also see my mistake in reading.

    The cookies sound delicious. I’ve seen Petit LU for sale in a corner shop where I often supplement my lunch, maybe I’ll try them sometime.

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    I second Petit Ecoliers-like a candy bar on top of a cookie. I’ve seen them in the States for twice what they cost in France.

  • http://kitchenette.blogspirit.com kitchenette

    La recette a l’air parfaite, et j’aime bien le côté très directif des instructions qui caractérise les anciens livres de cuisine!

  • http://leschroniquesdevilleray.blogspot.com/ Anne de Villeray

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe, Clotilde! I love petits beurres and I can’t wait to try making some myself. In my French Canadian perspective, “farine de gruau” would be oat flour… Is using wheat flour an adaptation of yours or does “gruau” have a different meaning in France?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Adele – Lu makes chocolate chip Petits Beurres now! Not bad at all.

    Lobster and Linda – Ah yes, Petits Ecoliers, another classic! For those of you who are not familiar with them, they are simply a petit beurre with a rectangle of chocolate (milk or dark) on top. I used to love those, but now I find that the chocolate is not dark enough for my taste, and I prefer to eat petits beurres with a square of good chocolate on the side…

    Anne – To be truthful, I didn’t think twice about it, because I thought the petits beurres I wanted to make were made with wheat flour. I’ve just checked a dictionary (http://atilf.atilf.fr ), and found this definition for farine de gruau: “fine fleur de froment obtenue par un broyage particulier de la partie la plus dure et la plus riche en gluten”. Froment is wheat, right? I am not sure if this means a refined or whole grain flour, but all-purpose wheat flour seemed to work well. A bit of oat flour would probably make a lovely variation though, or I might try it with a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat next time, it should give the cookies an interesting depth of taste… Thanks for prompting these thoughts!

  • http://www.xanga.com/chef_kayenne kayenne

    the ingredient list reminds me a bit of pastry crust, although, a bit more moist probably. sounds yummy! i’d probably throw in a touch of citrus zest or toasted seeds/nuts for contrast. even crushed rolled oats. likewise, making these with a dollop of jam on top(like danish or thumb cookies) would probably be lovely.

    i can almost taste ‘em!

  • http://www.xanga.com/chef_kayenne kayenne

    in line with the petits ecoliers, why not melt some good quality 65% bittersweet chocolate and half dip these biscuits to be served with fresh fruits next time company is expected? =D

  • Kyna

    Thank you so much for this link to your rhubarb compote. The rhubarb in our garden is going mad (it’s blocking the path to the soft fruit and the peas, which will never do) so I’m searching for recipes that use it. For some reason I hadn’t looked for it on your site but now that you have shown that rhubarb recipes may be found here I have searched and am delighted, particularly as your compote uses an entire kilo of rhubarb – pea pinching expeditions later in the year may not be impossible after all…

  • http://areyouhungryyet.blogspot.com Katie

    Clotilde, have you tried the Petit Ecolier Extra Dark? They’re 70% vs. the 45% “regular” dark. I had no idea there were also white and milk-hazelnut petit ecolier as well.

  • http://cookbookaddict.blogspot.com julie

    Great, I didn’t know you could bake them yourselves, I’ll make sure to give them a try!

    Merci pour la recette;)

  • http://www.kitchenbeard.com kitchenbeard

    Do you think using a silpat would work as well as a buttered baking sheet, or is this an instance where you want that extra fat induced crispiness?

  • http://www.genevestewart.com Geneve

    These sound like the perfect cookie to have on hand when you want just a little something sweet. I love LU brand cookies – I had no idea that the company was so old and had such a history.

  • http://www.lacerise.blogspot.com Astrid

    Thank you for this recipe! A long time ago I had an internship in the marketing department at LU; I didn’t enjoy the job much but I did like the cookies. Even visiting the factory didn’t turn me off, to the contrary. Though the quantities were industrial, the ingredients looked like the real thing (imagine egg whites flowing down pipes from the ceiling, and being beaten to soft peaks in a bath-tub-sized Kitchenaid mixer…). And the smell was great! My favorite part of the job was going to the “R&D” department: a huge bakery where they fiddled with ingredients and continuously made you taste different concoctions. Of course you had to learn to speak intelligently about your impressions, not just mumble “mm, ‘s good!” with crumbs falling out of your mouth…

    By the way I was always intrigued by the fact Utile is the maiden name of Mr. Lefèvre’s wife. How modern that she got to have it appear in their company’s name!

  • http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com Carolg@PB

    I was just in Paris and was interested to see that my friends had stacks and stacks of LU PBs lined up in their kitchen like their bottles of Vital — an essential staple of life. I’ve always nibbled just the borders, leaving the interior intact. I’ll try an ears only approach next time. Thank you Clotilde

  • Therese

    I’ll definitely try to make my own petits beurres – thank you for another great recipe!

  • http://www.himonkey.net monkey

    i would never have the self control to nibble only the ears/toes of a petit beurre… although, i might break them off and reserve them to savor after eating the rest of the biscuit.

  • rachmouse

    Yum!

    One wonders, however, why the aforementioned family member calls the corners “thumbs” and not “toes” if that is what they resemble.

    ;-)

    -mouse

  • http://www.wemusteat.blogspot.com motoko

    hello Clothilde, thank you for yet another charming idea for a nostalgic gouter. It’s curious, I noticed my daughter as a baby always nibbled off the browned corners first whenever I gave her a Lu biscuit… Also, please know that I took the liberty of using your lovely recipe for yogurt cake. Merci encore.

  • http://www.dessertfirst.typepad.com Anita

    Clotilde,
    I love the little tidbits of info you give in your entries, like les petites souris! And such a charming recipe. I love how French cookies can appear so simple yet are simply so delicious…

  • http://wiegottindeutschland.blogspot.com Véronique

    I’ve discovered a Petit Beurre cutter in Düsseldorf, where God and I live. It’s delivered with a set of letters so that you can emboss a text on it if you wish. Now I feel like buying it…

  • http://www.frunt.org Ant

    Sounds delicious. I’ve always been fond of petits ecoliers. (The biscuits, that is.)

    btw, I tried your lemon curd recipe. It turned out really well – very tasty indeed. I did the halved version, with one egg and one yolk, so it was a little darker in colour than yours. I loved it though, and may well end up making it again soon.

  • Christy

    You’re hell on a diet, ya know!!! Now, if you could only find a recipe for the galettes de beurre. We love those and buy them whenever in France, but we limit ourselves to only one pack while there and one to take home. I’ve yet to meet an American cookie that tastes so good in cocoa or coffee.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Katie – I think I’ve tried the extra dark once (as opposed to the chocolat fin), but I’m not entirely sure. Will look for them again.

    Kitchenbeard – I’ve baked half of my batch on a sheet of (ungreased) parchment paper, and they turned out fine. Less golden and crisp beneath, but delicious nonetheless, so you could certainly use the silpat.

    Astrid – I am with you 100% on the maiden name thing! How very modern. Then again, perhaps it was her father’s money funding the business and asking that his name be used too? :) I don’t know.

    Rachmouse – Hm, I may have made myself unclear: the family member thinks the tiny dents on the straight sides of the cookie make the baby’s non-thumb toes, while the slightly larger corners make the thumbs. Hence, corners=thumbs. (This is much more difficult to explain than I thought!)

    Motoko – I was very pleased to read about your daughter and her friend making a yogurt cake, and extremely proud that it is the first cake they ‘ve ever baked!

    Véro – I’ve emailed you to know more about the cookie cutters!

    Ant – Your petits écoliers note made me laugh out loud. For non-French speakers, “petit écolier” means “little schoolboy”. Now go read Ant’s comment again… :)

    Christy – I’m not sure what galettes de beurre are. Are they “galettes bretonnes”, or perhaps “galettes au beurre”? Do you remember a brand name? The problem with replicating that kind of cookie in the US is that the flavor is largely dependant on the butter and flour one uses, which are quite different on either side of the Atlantic…

  • http://gimps.de Maria loves pictures

    Thank you for sharing the wondreful recipe with me. Le Petit Beurre are indeed delicious as you said.

  • Michelle

    Clotilde…J’aime la partie de la recette qui dit: “…travaillez le tout sans perdre une minute”! Ma mère prenait toujours un petit beurre l’après-midi avec son thé. Merci pour vos pensées sur les petits trésors!

  • Céline

    Coucou !

    j’ai beaucoup aimé l’évocation du “close member of the family” qui mangeait les pouces, et tout particulièrement celle de la tiny chestnut!! J’ai ri toute seule en repensant à cette histoire (… et on sait ce qu’on pense dans la famille des gens qui rient tous seuls !!! :-)
    Bon allez, j’arrête là les private jokes familiaux…

    Gros bisous
    Ta soeurette.

    PS : on aura compris que je ne suis pas ce close member of the family… Si ce n’est ni toi, ni moi, l’étau se resserre… ;-)

  • http://passionfusion.canalblog.com Stéphane

    AH parfait! j’ai longtemps cherché une recette de petits beurre, c’est vrai qu’on finit toujours par les acheter et qu’ils ont ce petit goût particulier… J’essaye et on verra ;-) Merci!

  • Dan Dx

    The best way to eat Petits Beurre :
    A Petit Beurre, a thick layer of butter from Britany (the salted one), a second Petit Beurre on top and one month low fat diet for cholesterol reasons… But it’s worth it!

  • Christy

    I think they may, in fact, also be called galettes bretonnes. I don’t remember the brand – but I know they are usually no more than 9 to a pack and almost all the chains where I lived near Annecy carried them in national brands but also store brands. They’re very crumbly, always circular, 1/2 inch thick and golden. Delish!

  • http://cookbookaddict.blogspot.com julie

    I made those today with wholewheat flour, very very nice and as you said, not rich and yet flavoursome!Thanks again for the recipe!

    On trouve de la farine de gruau assez facilement dans les régions de l’Est, elle est recommandée pour toutes les pâtes levées. Un peu ce qu’on appelle “bread flour” en anglais.

  • Riana

    Thanks for sharing the recipe – I love petit beurre! How fun to make something I can get a hold of. Next time I will try it with wholewheat flour or oat flour if I can get my hands on it.

  • http://www.supercinski.net rachel

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I just got around to trying it yesterday and they were a wonderful treat. While honeymooning in Paris, my husband and I fell in love with strawberry tartlettes from the Monoprix (or any other grocery in Paris). I tried making the petite beurres into thumbprint cookies and filling them with homemade strawberry preserves after they cooled and it turned out close to the tartlette, but not quite. Between these and your recipe for Clafoutis a la Fraise, I am never going to lose weight!

  • Isis

    Great entry, just love petits beurres. Not sure if I will make them, but than … one never knows. Of course having a petits beurres cookies cutter would do it.

    Below a link to the recipe for galettes bretonnes:
    http://adelirose.free.fr/rec.php?rec=1383

    Is this what you were looking for?

  • http://www.bikinionlinesurvey.com jeremy

    Thank you for posting your recipe. It is very easy to follow and the petits beurres I made taste delicious.

  • Monique

    un grand merci pour cette recette presque impossible de trouver …et pour votre presentation “delicieuse ” bilingue

  • http://limeydi.com Diana Clark

    I am searching for another delicious cookie recipe, the “galette au beurre” available in Europe from Bonne Maman but which is only available in the USA at enormous expense – a deliciously thin, crisp butter cookie – I found a recipe on line in French but it is lacking in reassuring specificity … what exactly, for example, is the temperature of a “feu doux”? (see below) Je vous serais gré de fournir tout renseignement possible et vous en remercie d’avance, vous mon bienfaiteur inconnu (ma bienfaitrice inconnue)
    150 g de sucre, 250 g de farine avec la poudre levante, 60 g de beurre, 1 oeuf, 1 à 2 cuillerée de lait. Mettre le sucre et la farine dans une terrine, ajouter le beurre, l’oeuf et le lait. Pétrir jusqu’à ce que la pâte soit lisse et ferme; faire une boule, l’aplatir au rouleau (? quelle epaisseur???) puis la découper à l’emporte pièce ou avec un verre. Dorer le dessus de chaque galette avec un jaune d’oeuf. Cuire à four doux (? température?) sur une plaque (?graissée ou non?) pendant 10 à 15 minutes.

  • Meg

    If you google “Brigitte keks” you will find a cookie cutter that not only has the perfect shape, but you can write personalized messages on them too. I haven’t found a distributor in the US, but you can email the fellows at coolinarium.de and they will guide you through their ordering process.

  • Annie

    Meg,
    I used a Brigitte Keks cutter and they turned out wonderfully! I had to make them a tiny bit thicker so the words printed in would be legible, but it still works. Also, I was able to locate the cutter on German ebay for about $20 shipped to the US. Totally worth it!

  • http://www.kemalandsheila.com sheila @ Elements

    Thanks so much for the wonderful recipe! I just made some last night and they tasted wonderful!!

    I used coconut cream instead of regular cream though because that’s all I had in my fridge. I’m very happy with the results, but I’ll try using regular cream as recommended to see if that will make the cookies a little lighter and airy.

    Anyway, thanks so much again!! :)

  • http://www.thegreenmixer.com tanja

    Hi there!
    I made this recipe the other day (twice actually) and they were a big hit! Mille merci pour la recette

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