Window-shopping in food halls is one of my favorite things to do in France. I have long fallen under the spell of French gâteaux that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Sugar or cream coated, they glistened in the window of patisseries with the sweet promise of delighting my tastebuds. During my stay in Roanne, a few streets over, was the Gautheron Bakery. They offered a wide range of French pastries- éclairs, proliferoles, saint honores, fraisiers, palmiers, fruit tarts, croissants… I had to limit myself to two per day during tea-time (mostly because I wanted to save some room for the cheese platter at dinner =P) It wasn’t until my fourth or fifth visit, did I notice this plain-looking cookie…
Sablés, also known as French shortbread, are classic French cookies originating in Normandy France. The name ‘Sablés’ is French for “sand”, which refers to the sandy texture of this delicate and crumbly cookie. With its crispy exterior and cakey, tender interior, unlike its counterparts in patisserie, it has got a more subtle sort of elegance.
They were ridiculously easy to make and roll out; some of the easiest cookies I’ve made. These humble-looking treats are everything you’d want from a classic shortbread: crispy, crumbly, sweet, salty and sugary. They are delicious plain, but are also a blank canvas for experimentation, they can be sandwiched together with jam, chocolate ganache or our favorite Nutella!!!
Ingredients (yields 18 cookies):
- 70 grams unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 50 gram granulated sugar
- Two eggs (room temperature) – reserve one for brushing the cookies
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 130 grams all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
- Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes) by a mixer. Add half the egg and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until incorporated.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough a few times to bring it together, and divide the dough in half. Then roll each half between two sheets of parchment or wax paper until it is about 1/4 inch thick. As you roll, smooth out any wrinkles.
- Place the dough on a baking sheet (along with the parchment paper) and place in the refrigerator until cold and firm (about 45 minutes).
- Once chilled, remove from refrigerator and peel off the top piece of parchment paper. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the cookies. Place them on the prepared baking sheets.
- Brush the tops of the cookies with the remaining egg. Make a crisscross pattern on the top of each cookie with the tine of the fork.
- Bake the cookies for about 12 – 14 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
As cliched as it sound, I dreamed about living in France ever since my first visit to Paris in my childhood. Since then I travelled regularly to Europe and Paris was always part of the itinerary. Unlike many childhood memories revisited, Paris didn’t disappoint. But part of me just wondered… how would it be like to be living in the less touristy part of France. I mean to actually become part of the neighbourhood… to know all the best local boulangeries… to have the lady at boulangerie prepared my favorite baguette pas trop cuite without asking… to commute home by walking all those secret shortcuts and to greet neighbours with a “Bonjour”…. While quitting my job and living in France is a dream both abstract and impractical, at least in the near future, I instead signed up for an one-week immersion program. This time ditching the usual tourist trail and hit the French countryside.
It had been a dream come true to immerse myself in the language that I have come to passionately love, which sounds echo in my ears like musical notes. During the one week time I spent at l’Ecole des Trois Ponts (meaning three bridges school) on the outskirts of Roanne, I had three hours of instruction every morning on grammar followed by pastry class in the afternoon, and mealtime where only French is spoken. In the pretty campus, which is a recently renovated 18th-century chateau, I did not have to worry about anything but learning French. My room was cleaned by a maid everyday, a talented chef prepared lunches and dinners for us and good local wines, cheese always accompanied them. I had the opportunity to sample 25 cheeses in a week. They were so irresistible that I gave up any thought of dieting and tried every single one.
The afternoon pastry class was equally engaging… I learnt French classics such as croissant, fruit tarts and macrons. Unlike cooking, where you can follow your own taste. Patisserie is a science, weighing your ingredients and careful calculation are in most cases absolutely essential. I was in awe of a country that has developed bread and pastries so divine out of nothing but flour, sugar and butter.
I still remember the day I had my croissant class. Shattering the shell to reveal supple number of layers, there is no croissant as crispy and fluffy or as buttery as the one you eat, still warm from the oven.
And I went to bed that night with a big, fat satisfying grin on my face and my fingers smelling like butter =)
So there is that place that you have always wanted to… you even had the perfect itinerary planned out… but somehow you can’t seem to convince anyone else to go with you. What can a girl do? Um… wait? Pray that her perfect travel companion with come along one day?
I inhaled deeply, booked the flight and train ticket online after staring at the computer screen for 15 minutes. Finally took the plunge and travel sans accompaniment, and i ended up having one of the best trips in my life =)
Roanne- a little town located northwest of Lyon on the Loire River. It is a commune in the Loire department in central France. For many years, it has been known as a mecca for gastronomy (largely because of the famous Troisgros family, and I will write more about that on my next posts…). After 13 hours of flight and another 5 hours travelling on train, I finally arrived in the little picturesque town. While my mind dizzy with jet lag and excitement, I took a quick shower and couldn’t wait to go out and explore…
I walked around town aimlessly… and so my edible adventure in France began… There were open-air markets that flooded with bright, late-summer produces- soft-skinned peaches, zesty herbs, delicate asparagus, bakeries that enticed me with the aroma of freshly baked croissants, fromageries that lured me with perfectly ripe Brie…