Yves Camdeborde’s Sablés (Butter Cookies) Recipe

Menu Fretin is a young French independent publishing house that specializes in culinary books*. Considering the teeny size of the organization, and how crazily difficult it is for an indie to carve a space for itself among the Goliaths of publishing, its book list is impressive, featuring daring projects that straddle the old and the new.

This, to me, is the perfect sablé: a crisp-then-crumbly cookie that tastes of vanilla and butter, with a touch of salt and a caramel undertone.

Menu Fretin has published such historical gems as an augmented edition of Alexandre Dumas’ Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, a biography of Grimod de la Reynière and other assorted texts of nineteenth-century food writing, but also new works by contemporary chefs Olivier Nasti in Kaysersberg, Juliette and Jean-Marie Baudic in Saint-Brieuc, or the twenty-six expatriated French chefs gathered in a collective called Village de chefs.

Late last year, three titles were added as part of a new collection called Menu Festin (small feast). [Update: the 11 slim volumes of the collection have now been reissued as a single book.] For each of these little books, the clever concept is to have a chef come up with a five-course menu (appetizer, first course, main course, dessert, mignardise or pre-dessert) around a particular theme, then lay out the full cooking timeline throughout the book, with a countdown from the first prep steps to the time of serving. Step-by-step pictures and check lists of tasks and ingredients round out the cook’s game plan.

Dimanche en familleOne of these books is called Dimanche en famille and is authored by Yves Camdeborde, the famous Béarnais chef who’s often credited for fathering the neo-bistro trend in Paris, where he now runs the über-popular Comptoir du Relais and the hotel it’s attached to.

As the title of the book suggests, Camdeborde’s menu is for a Sunday family meal, unfolding as follows: his grandmother’s gougères (cheese puffs) as an appetizer, then a beef consommé (or broth) with foie gras ravioli, a salt-crusted chicken with chanterelles and pasta, an Armagnac-soaked savarin (a yeast-raised cake) with apricot marmalade and whipped cream, and some vanilla sablés (sandy butter cookies).

I find the entire menu appealing in a traditional way that evokes a family other than my own, a big old house somewhere south, and a table in a garden under a cherry tree. I probably wouldn’t serve it all in one go because it sounds like a lot of food, even for a Sunday, but I love that each dish helps you learn one or several techniques, and Camdeborde is generous with his tips and explanations.

The first recipe I tried is the one for sablés, as emphatically recommended by Laurent Seminel, who runs the publishing house.

Butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, salt: it looks like a classic recipe for sablés diamant (butter cookies rimmed with sugar), and it uses my preferred technique of slice-and-baking the log of cookie dough. But what makes it exceptionally successful, I think, is that it calls for a low-temperature oven (150°C or 300°F). This allows the sablés to bake gently and evenly, without coloring, while the sugar coating around the sides has time to form a caramelized crust.

And what you get is, to me, the perfect sablé: a crisp-then-crumbly cookie that tastes of vanilla and butter, with a touch of salt and a caramel undertone.

It is a treat on its own, but it works well with fruit salads and ice cream, too. We’ve been savoring this latest batch with my chocolate frozen yogurt), before I was inspired to turn the last few into miniature tartlets, with a smear of crème fraîche and a cluster of wild strawberries on top.

The recipe makes a big batch — the book says it yields eighteen cookies, but mine were bite-size and I got about fifty — so half of the dough may be frozen for on-demand sablés on a later date.

Want more sablé recipes? Take a look at these:
~ Matcha Shortbread Cookies,
~ Squeeze Cookies made with roasted flour,
~ Crisp Hazelnut and Pepper Cookies,
~ Shortbread.

~~~

* In French, the expression menu fretin means things or people of little importance; it is the exact equivalent of the English expression “small fry”. The adjective menu(e) means small, and fretin is the small fish that fishermen throw back into the water because they’re not worth the trouble.

Yves Camdeborde’s Sablés (Butter Cookies) Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Yves Camdeborde’s Sablés (Butter Cookies) Recipe

Ingredients

  • 200 grams (7 ounces, or 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) good-quality unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 90 grams (scant 1/2 cup) sugar (I use a finely ground blond unrefined cane sugar)
  • a good pinch salt
  • 1 or 2 vanilla beans, depending on their size (my vanilla pods are quite fat, so I use just one)
  • 250 grams (8 3/4 ounces, about 2 cups) flour
  • 1 egg yolk or 3 tablespoons milk for brushing
  • coarse sugar for coating (I use a large-crystal unrefined cane sugar)

Instructions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter with a spatula until creamy. Add the sugar and salt and mix them in thoroughly.
  2. Split the vanilla bean(s) down its (their) length and collect the seeds by scraping the insides of the bean with the dull side of a knife. Stir the seeds into the mixture. (Save the empty pods for another use -- to make vanilla sugar or vanilla oil, to infuse in milk, etc.)
  3. Add the flour and rub it into the butter mixture with the tips of your fingers until incorporated.
  4. (Although Camdeborde recommends making the dough by hand to avoid heating it, I confess I've made it in my stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.)
  5. Gather the dough into a ball without kneading. Divide into 4 pieces and roll each piece into a log, about 3 cm (1 1/4 inches) in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap or parchment paper, and place in the fridge to firm up for at least 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can freeze all or part of the logs to bake later; thaw partially at room temperature for about 1 hour before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.)
  6. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°C) and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or a sheet of parchment paper.
  7. Remove the logs from the fridge. Beat the egg yolk, if using, with a few drops of water to thin it out. Working with each log in turn, use a pastry brush to coat the log with egg yolk or milk on all sides, then sprinkle with coarse sugar until coated all over.
  8. Use a sharp knife to slice the logs into rounds, about 1 cm (1/3 inch) in thickness. Arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheet, leaving just a little space around the sablés -- they won't expand much.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes, until the dough is set in the center -- the cookies will barely color -- and the sugar is lightly caramelized on the sides. Let rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  10. The sablés will keep for about a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

Notes

  • I make a mean matcha variation by substituting one tablespoon green tea powder for the vanilla.
  • Adapted from a recipe in Yves Camdeborde's Dimanche en famille (Menu Fretin).

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  • http://dinnersanddreams.blogspot.com Nisrine@Dinners & Dreams

    Great info about indie publishing in France. It sounds like things are similar to what they are here in the US. I love easy slice and bake cookies too. These definitely look worth trying.

  • http://www.positivelybeauty.com Cristina

    These sablés look divine! I like the tip about baking it at a lower temperature to let the sugar caramelise…I think I’ll try this the next time I make my orange, spelt and olive oil biscuits! Thank you Clotilde :)

  • Madonna

    Are those cookbooks available in the US? I’m trying to learn a bit of the language by cooking from French cookbooks in anticipation of another trip to Paris.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Madonna – You can order the books from the Menu Fretin website. Apparently shipping is free for France, and for other countries, it is the standard postal rate that’s applied.

  • Madonna

    Thanks for the quick reply, Clotilde. I love the concept of those books, and I firmly believe you can never have too many cookbooks. Or read too many food and wine blogs.

  • http://operagirlcooks.com Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks

    That looks like such a lovely book! The recipes are homey, but appear so sophisticated to my California cuisine palate.

  • http://www.kitchentravels.com Dawn (KitchenTravels)

    Mmmmmm… sables. Love them. Did you use whole wheat flour in yours? They look too tan to have been made from a white flour.

  • http://www.dessertfortwo.com DessertForTwo

    I can’t wait to try the low cooking temperature! Thanks for sharing!

  • http://buttercreambarbie.blogspot.com tia

    Je viens d’acheter ton livre il y a 2 jours. J’adore la simplicité de tes recettes et la petite narrative en avant de chacune. :)

  • http://www.lemontart.typepad.com/ Tami

    Thank you Clotilde! Being a huge fan of sables, I just made a batch of these and while I’m sure the beautiful Vermont Cheese and Butter Co. butter I used had something to do with it, this recipe is my favourite yet for a classic butter cookie. I especially love the almost Frosted Flake flavour from the caramelized course demerera sugar on the edges. Yummy! These will not last long.

  • Kim

    The cookies look delicious and so simple to make. And I would love to see the recipe for the salt-crusted chicken. I fully confess to being a salt addict, so it sounds divine!

  • http://www.themessyapron.com shannon abdollmohammadi

    Sables are just as wonderful and special as Macarons…I love them both so much.

  • http://www.happywhennothungry.wordpress.com HappyWhenNotHungry

    These Sablés look perfect to snack on with some Greek yogurt, fresh fruit or even a cup of tea! I like how you made them bite-sized as well. Thanks for sharing :-)

  • http://www.georgiapellegrini.com Georgia Pellegrini

    Wonderful! I love the caramelized crust.

  • http://www.cindymcintyre.biz Cynthia

    Thanks for the info! I must try the cookies soon. They look delicious.

  • http://www.boogaj.com Julie

    Thank you for posting this recipe! I made them yesterday and they are wonderful!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Dawn – I didn’t use whole wheat flour, I used the French T55 flour, which is (more or less) equivalent to all-purpose. The color comes from the sugar I use, which is a blond unrefined cane sugar rather than regular white refined sugar.

    Tia – Delighted you like the book, thanks! ^_^

    Tami and Julie – I’m very pleased the recipe turned out well for you, thanks for reporting back!

  • http://www.positivelybeauty.com Cristina

    Clotilde, just letting you know that I used the low temperature baking time for a batch of my spelt & olive oil biscuits, and they turned out much better than in the original recipe – thanks for sharing the tip!!! Next time, I’ll try your recipe, too (need to find an excuse for baking more biscuits….)

  • http://www.soverydomestic.com Maytina

    Slice and bake is my all time fave as well, these sables are going to be fun to do with the girls. I also like making a good tumbprint cookie.

  • Kate B.

    As much as I love the sound of the sables, I must *beg* you to try the recipe for the Armagnac-soaked savarin with apricot marmalade and whipped cream, and post about it! It sounds wonderful! Any suggestions for similar recipes (in English)?

  • http://www.stircrazyblog.com Cailin

    I love how such simple ingredients can result in such deliciously sweet little treats! You’ve made me want to make these AND the chocolate frozen yogurt :)

  • http://www.overlyobsessedwithminutiae.blogspot.com Miss B

    I just made these yesterday — and they came out beautifully. (I used a 1/3 vanilla salt + 2/3 coarse sugar mix to coat the sides, instead of just sugar, and it was perfect. Now I’m considering all the herbs I could add to them for my next batch — lavender, or rosemary, perhaps…)

  • Force Factor

    My mouth is watering seeing these cookies in the photo. I am gonna eat something right now to satisfy my urge to eat.
    Force Factor

  • JACH

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I made these tonight, and they are delicious! They tasted incredibly French, even though I only used normal sugar and butter…now if I used French butter, I can only imagine how great they would be! I will definitely be making these again…

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      So glad you enjoyed them, thanks for letting me know!

  • http://www.livingtastefully.weebly.com/passions-to-pastry.html Eileen

    I will have to try these. I have been without a kitchen for a month now, and all I can think about is getting back into it and baking again. This recipe is on my list of must-makes!

  • julie-anne

    These were wonderful, and their rich buttery goodness reminded us very much of France. Specifically, they reminded us of the tin box of treasures labeled “galettes Cancalaises” that welcomed us when we rented a cottage in Brittany from chef Olivier Roellinger. We savored those butter cookies all week long. Delicious!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      So glad you had good success with these, and that they brought back such delicious memories!

  • Marilyn

    We were lucky enough to get a table at Comptoir du Relais on our last visit to Paris and it’s one of the most memorable meals i’ve had the pleasure to savour and enjoy! Finding the little gem of a book by chef is a perfect gift for my partner and I’ll be making the sables tonight! thank you!

  • Vermeir Johanna

    Dear Clotilde, just made these cookies this weekend with muscovado-sugar and they were truely amazing. Thank you very much for al the great recipies!!

    Now I’m gonna start reading your blog in French, because I’m Belgian and actually my first two languages are Dutch and French. Sadly, my French is very poor, so it’s gonna be a very good excercise for me!

  • Dary

    These are fantastic! Thank you so much for putting them up. They remind me of childhood and much better… and I’m not even a good baker!

  • Maryana

    Those are great sables! I also added some chopped hazelnuts to the dough. Forgot to coat them with the egg or milk mix, but they still came out very well. The texture is extraordinary!

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