french vanilla sablés

I recently went to the cheesecake factory in the first time in forever. it was certainly a walk down memory lane – when I was in middle school, the cheesecake factory was so popular that every location I went to had a 30 minute wait. my friends and I loved eating a slice of cheesecake after shopping so we’d stop in to pick up a buzzer, then kill another 30 minutes wandering around the mall. I wonder if they still have those buzzers somewhere in the back, gathering dust.

I can distinctly remember the last time I went to the cheesecake factory. it was the spring of my senior year of high school and I was down in baltimore for a former friend’s senior piano recital (mine had been earlier that month). my piano teacher took us out to the cheesecake factory at inner harbor and told us we could order anything. j and I knew that our teacher was a huge health fiend and we wanted to impress her, so we ended up with lettuce wraps and two kinds of salads! I can’t even recall if we ended up ordering cheesecake – my lasting memory is of feeling very silly and dissatisfied with what amounted to three gigantic plates of lettuce.

despite our poor food decisions, I look back on that night with happiness. to share a meal with my mentor, a woman I admired so much, I’d written part of my college essay about her, and with my best friend at the time felt like the perfect bookend to four difficult years in the competitive classical music world.

since then, much has changed. I thought j and I would be lifelong friends, but turns out life had other plans. I also kind of thought I’d walk away from piano forever – at that point, I was just so done with the competitive classical music world and it hadn’t really entered my mind that I could keep playing just for pleasure. (I’m glad I eventually came around.) my tastes in desserts have changed as well – I remember thinking the cheesecake factory had the best pastas and that nothing was more delicious than their oreo cheesecake. I used to be able to eat two slices all on my own and still want another!

these days, my tongue – and my metabolism – prefer desserts that are not overwhelmingly rich. lately, I’ve been really enjoying these vanilla sablés, buttery one-biters with a bit of sanding sugar crunch sprinkled on top like a layer of freshly fallen snow. they’re simple yet beautiful, especially as they catch the light nestled in the gift box of cookies.

makes ~30 cookies

226 g (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, room temperature
100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
30g (1/4 cup) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
280g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
sanding sugar, for sprinkling

dorie greenspan. dorie’s cookies. new york: houghton mifflin harcourt publishing company, 2016.

1 in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter, both sugars, and salt on medium speed until smooth but not fluffy, ~3 minutes. reduce mixer speed to low and one by one, beat in yolks, followed by vanilla extract. (I used a rubber spatula and mixed by hand in a large bowl.)
2 turn off mixer and add flour all at once. pulse mixer until risk of flying flour has passed. with machine on low, mix just until flour disappears into dough. give dough a few turns with a sturdy flexible spatula to make sure there are no flour streaks. (again, I mixed by hand with a rubber spatula.)
3 turn dough out onto counter and divide in half. shape each half into 9-in log, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze for at least 3 hours and up to 2 months.
4 when ready to bake, preheat oven to 350ºF.
5 slice logs ~1/3-in thick. place rounds ~2 in apart on parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with sanding sugar. bake one sheet at a time on a center rack for 17-20 minutes. let rest for ~10 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

*cookies can also be baked in muffin tins: 1 instead of rolling dough into logs, roll each piece 1/4-in thick between pieces of parchment. slide parchment-sandwiched dough on baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour, or refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
2 grease a regular muffin tin, cut out dough rounds with a 2-in diameter cookie cutter, and drop rounds into muffin tin. save dough scraps, gather, re-roll, chill, and cut. sprinkle tops of cookies with sanding sugar.
3 bake at 350ºF for 16-19 minutes, let rest for 10 minutes, then carefully lift cookies out of tins onto wire rack. let cool to room temperature.

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