Brittany is a charming region in the north of France. It is very close to the UK, with which it shares some traditions and cultural aspects. The region is also famous for two great local products, amazing butter and addictive sea salt. No wonder, then, that the recipe for Sablés Bretons, also known as a French Butter Cookies or Breton Biscuits, a classic French cookie and a specialty of the region, is characterized by a remarkable amount of high quality butter and a perfectly balanced salty aftertaste.
The name „Sablés“ is French for "sandy", which refers to the sandy texture of this delicate and crumbly cookies. The traditional shape is round with or without fluted edges and the tops of the cookies are usually brushed with an egg wash to give them a shiny appearance. The finishing touch, the criss-cross pattern gives the cookies their signature look. There are many different recipes of this cookie, but usually consisting of several simple ingredients: butter, sugar, wheat flour, and fresh eggs.
Other famous Breton pastries include the much-beloved „Kouign Amann“ a Breton cake made with bread dough and high quantities of butter and sugar. Or the „Far Breton“ ("far" from the Latin "farina", meaning flour) a custardy pudding cake, similar to a clafouti but with a dense, smooth, flan-like texture that was originally eaten by agricultural workers who took it into the fields for their lunch. It is a kind of baked custard made more special with rum soaked prunes and is common in bakeries and homes in Brittany.
Sablés Bretons can be eaten as simple cookies or biscuits, but also used as tart crusts, with their very rich taste and crumbly texture, making it an exceptional choice for a summer fruit tart. To take a look at Sablé Breton Galettes with Lemon Curd and Berries, please refer to this previous post of mine right here.
The flavor of these Sablés Bretons is dependent on the quality of your ingredients, especially the butter. High-quality fresh, salted butter is what gives these cookies their wonderful flavor so use the very best you can afford. There are many excellent French salted butters on the market today that have an excellent flavor, so make sure to use a good brand as the delicate flavor will be noticeable here.
The dough for these buttery treats is quite sticky and I like to roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper. If the dough gets too warm and soft, you can place the rolled dough in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes until it firms up enough to cut.
Sablés Bretons - French Butter Cookies
(about 30 cookies – recipe adapted from Little Flower Baking by Christine Moore)
- 2/3 cup (5.2 ounces, 150g) best-quality salted butter, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Guerande 'Fleur De Sel' Sea Saltleur de sel (for more info, look here) OR Maldon Sea Salt (for more info, look here)
- 4 egg yolks, (L), free-range or organic
- 1 cup (200g) superfine baking (caster) sugar
- 1 3/4 cups (210g) AP (plain) flour
- 4 tsps aluminum-free baking powder NOTE: it is important that you use aluminum-free baking powder as this recipe calls for quite a bit of baking powder and regular baking powder tends to have a tinny taste, which you want to avoid that in these cookies at all costs. I used so-called "Weinstein" baking powder from the health food store
- 1 egg (L); free range or organic
- 1 tsp of water
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a bowl, cream the butter and salt together on low speed until smooth, about 30 seconds.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, gradually adding the sugar while whisking, until the yolks are light and fluffy – about a minute. With the mixer on low, add the egg yolks to the butter, stopping the mixer to scrape down any butter clinging to the sides so it all gets incorporated.
- Sift together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl, then stir that into the creamed butter mixture until it’s completely incorporated. (Taking care not to overmix the dough).
- Pat the dough into a rectangle about 1-inch (3cm) thick, wrap in plastic, and chill for one hour. (The dough can be made up to five days in advance, and stored in the refrigerator.)
- Line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Have a pastry scrape or thin metal spatula handy.
- Cut the rectangle of dough in half and place one piece between two large sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough until it is between 1/3- to 1/2-inch (1,25cm) thick. Peel off the top piece of parchment paper and, using a 2-inch (5cm) round cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough, place them on the prepared baking sheet at least 1/2-inch (2cm) apart. You may need to coax them off the parchment with the pastry scraper or spatula.
- Roll the second piece of dough, cut out circles, and put them on the other baking sheet. (Scraps can be gathered up and rerolled to make additional cookies.) Chill the baking sheets of cookies in the refrigerator or freezer until firm.
- To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Adjust the oven rack to the middle of the oven.
- Beat the egg in a small bowl with the teaspoon of water. Remove one sheet of cookies from the refrigerator or freezer. Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg wash then use a fork to cross hatch a pattern on the tops of the cookies. Bake the cookies until the tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheet in the oven midway during baking.
- Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Brush the second baking sheet of cookies with the egg wash, rake a pattern across the tops with the tines of a fork, and bake them. NOTE: the cookies will keep for up to four days in an airtight container but I doubt that they will last that long.
In my humble opinion, absolutely everybody needs a cookie tin bursting with these buttery homemade Sablés Bretons - French Butter Cookies treats- ready for visitors or a quiet moment with a cup of your favorite tea or coffee for dunking.