After years of careful data collection and observation I have come to the conclusion that my internal compass does not point due north, but rather to the nearest source of delicious food.
In San Francisco, I managed to stumble upon a pie shop that served a wide variety of sweet and savory pies, tarts, and galettes.
Fifteen minutes after arriving in Aix-en-Provence, I had located a bakery, a fromagerie, a candy shop and 5 gelato stands.
During a torrential thunderstorm in Barcelona, it somehow happened that we were right next to a café that served churros con chocolate.
So it’s no surprise that while window shopping in Nice in a shop that sold mostly soaps and souvenir ashtrays, I managed to find a 10g bag of pure vanilla bean powder. Not only did this make my suitcase smell fantastic, it also means that any time I need to buy a vanilla bean and remove the seeds for a recipe, my work will already be complete. Naturally, I had to buy it.
Back home, I decided to incorporate the vanilla bean powder into a traditional French cookie, in homage to the vanilla’s origin. For holidays and special occasions, the French serve cookies called Sablés—small, sliced rounds of cookies that melt in your mouth. Sablés
literally means sandy, a reference to their delicate and crumbly texture.
In order to achieve this unique texture, modifications must be made to a regular cookie dough with butter and eggs .The moisture content must be much lower than normal, so 1 hardboiled egg yolk that has been sieved into fluffy strands replaces the normal egg. When I first made Sablés, I was worried that the entire batch would taste (and smell) like a sulfuric hard-boiled egg, but that wasn’t the case. It is impossible to discern even the slightest hint of cooked egg in the cookies.
In my experience, these cookies are perfect for crowd gatherings (like dinners at the pool)—the dough can be made ahead of time, and the cookies are small and numerous enough so that each person can try the amount that he or she wants.
Vanilla Bean Sablés
Makes about 40 cookies
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
1 large egg
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla bean powder
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- Place the egg in a small saucepan along with enough water to cover the egg by one inch. Bring the water to a boil, remove pan from heat, and cover for 10 minutes. Place the egg in a bowl of ice water for 5 minutes, then peel the egg and discard the white. Press the yolk through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, salt, and egg yolk on medium speed until light a fluffy, 3-4 minutes.
- Add the vanilla bean powder and mix until fully combined.
- Add the flour and mix on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly flour surface and divide in half. Shape each half into a log about 6 inches long and 1.75 inched in diameter. Wrap each log in parchment and twist the ends. Chill the dough until firm—45 minutes in the freezer or 2 hours in the fridge.
- Before the taking the dough out of the fridge/freezer, preheat the oven to 350F and line to baking sheets with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to the countertop and slice into ¼ inch thick rounds using a sharp chef’s knife. Make sure to rotate the dough with every cut so that one side doesn’t become flattened.
- Place cookies 1 inch apart on the baking sheets and bake until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. This will take 15 minutes with two cookies sheets in the oven at once, and 12-13 minutes with only 1 cookie sheet in the oven at a time.
- Let the cookies cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool fully.
Note: If you don’t have vanilla bean powder, substitute 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract for the ¼ teaspoon vanilla bean powder.