Saffron Coconut Sablés (butter cookies) encrusted with nuts
This year’s new Christmas cookie is another one for the more sophisticated palette, as addictive as your favorite homey cookies of yore but also perfect to serve at the end of an elegant holiday feast.
Sablés are incredibly simple – they are old-fashioned icebox cookies, mixed ahead, rolled into logs and chilled for a day or more before baking. They freeze well so you can make a big batch in November to bake in December.
I first saw the basic recipe for this cookie (and the other two aforementioned favorites), based on one from Pierre Hermé (the Parisian Pastry chef, famed for his unusually flavored macaroons, among other marvels of patisserie), when baker/artist/friend Peggy Cullen was adapting some of his recipes for Food & Wine Magazine. Inspired by Hermé’s inventive approach to layering flavors, I’ve added saffron and coconut, a little more flour, and a little less sugar, so the scent of saffron pops. The pistachios enhance the crunch and depth. (I ran out of pistachios part way through my baking so I toasted almond slivers, as well as the local hickory nuts I collected this fall– now I have three variations – each subtly different.) The seminal inspiration came from the first bite of an Indian-style rice pudding at a small restaurant in Saratoga using all the same flavorings.
Sablé (prounced sɑbl) means sandy, and this delicious, intriguingly delicate cookie is tender, sugary, a little salty, crumbling on your tongue, lingering and dissipating, until you bite into the next.
This is recipe is well suited to a gluten free flour blend. Store bought gluten-free flours make life easier and better for the wheat-free eater, however, I prefer my own blend, it’s heartier, with more whole grain flour, and loaded with nutrition. Using a small coffee grinder dedicated to spices and grains, I grind measures of organic rolled oats and brown rice, with quinoa and toasted millet, then lightening it a bit with a scoop of corn starch and tapioca.
Sablés are meant to be basic sugar cookies – and thus lend themselves to nuances and subtleties. Yet, even without saffron or coconut, sablés are a luscious, delicate, buttery cookie. To modify for the simplest variation, just leave out the saffron and add a ½ t of pure almond or vanilla extract.
Here’s my selection for 2013’s Christmas cookie. Sweet and rich, and addictive.
Saffron Coconut Sablés
This recipe doubles well.
Yield depends on the size of your cutter. Using a 2” round this recipe yielded about 13 dozen.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you may substitute ½ c flour for ½ finely ground unsweetened coconut, or coconut flour)
1/2-teaspoon baking soda
1/2-teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2-teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c fine ground pistachios (toasted almonds work well)
30 minutes ahead: Start with 1T water in a small pot (or bowl for microwave), add a pinch of saffron (up to 1/4t), heat to boiling, being careful not to boil all the water out, reducing water to 1t. Add 1 stick (8T) butter to the pot, melting it completely over medium heat then allow to cool until solid (place in fridge or freezer for 15- 30 minutes). This deeply infuses the saffron flavor into the butter.
Preheat the oven to 325°.
In a small bowl, whisk the flour (combined with the optional finely ground coconut) with the baking soda and salt.
Beat the chilled saffron butter with the additional 3 T butter until creamy. Then beat in the sugar until light and fluffy. Next mix in the flour blend. It will form a slightly moist dough, coming together on the beaters. Scoop the dough onto a floored surface in order to form a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough quite thin, about 3/8” thick. Before the last roll sprinkle on the nuts and pass the rolling pin over once to set the nuts into the surface. Using a floured cookie cutter (your choice of size. The rounds in the photo are no more than 2” in diameter), stamp out all the cookies you can. Carefully transfer cookies to parchment* paper-lined baking sheets, allowing about 1 inch of space between, though these should not spread very much. You can chill the scraps or just proceed to reroll the scraps and stamp out more cookies (it’s okay that now you are rolling the nuts right into the dough now). Bake the cookies 1 sheet at a time** until lightly browned around the edges, about 14 minutes. Let cool slightly, transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container. These cookies are likely to pick up other flavors so avoid storing them with pother cookies. Can be frozen, can be doubled well.
*I find parchment yields a golden crisp cookie, while silpat liners keep the cookies a very pale color. While this latter attribute can be useful for some recipes, for this cookie, you want them to turn a little brown.
** If you use a convection oven or carefully watch over your trays, you can bake two (or more) cookies trays at a time. Just switch their positions at the halfway point, making sure to turn the tray 180 degrees as well.