Last week marked the official la rentrée, the start of the academic school year and when all of the Frenchies return to work from their long summer vacations. Everyone is tanner, refreshed and ready to work again. Although the office was pretty calm and pleasant during the month of August and all projects were put on hold until September, I was more than thrilled to see all of my coworkers again. Being essentially the only person at the office became too monotonous and quiet after just a couple of days. Without anyone at work, I was like a mute for a couple of weeks. And, if I’m not speaking French at work, the only other language I’m speaking these days is Vietnamese. So, I was starting to fear that what little French I had acquired was beginning to escape me, since I had gone for weeks without any sort of meaningful exchanges in French. I think I can breathe easily for now though, as my French words seem to still be intact!
Traditionally, the folks at my office often bring something edible back from their trips to share with everyone, be it some sort of pastry, fromage, etc. I haven’t taken my vacation yet and had nothing exotic to share but wanted to celebrate everyone’s return, nonetheless, by baking some sweets. Last week, I had made a batch of chouquettes, which are pâte à choux pastry puffs topped with pearl sugar. I thought I had perfected my pâte à choux technique, but I had hastily beaten the dough, so it had not adequately dried out yet before baking. Although they had puffed up impressively while in the oven, they deflated after a couple of hours. But, they weren’t an absolute failure, because I’m finally content with the flavor after much testing and modification of various different recipes-just need to beat the dough longer next time to ensure a sustained puff.
So, with the chouquettes not being a complete success, I decided to try something new. I had recently picked up a new book of chocolate recipes by none other than Le Cordon Bleu! This is one of the few times I’ve come across a book where I’ve actually wanted to try making every single recipe in the book. I started with something easy to be certain I would have something to bring to work Monday morning. Les sablés au chocolat, or chocolate shortbread cookies, required few ingredients and the recipe looked easy enough. And indeed, these couldn’t have possibly been any easier to make.
Initially, I was a little concerned, as the recipe had indicated that the butter should be mixed with the dry ingredients until they attain a sand-like texture, hence the name of these cookies (sablé=sandy). But, the butter had started to soften very quickly because of the heat from my hands and the lack of AC in our apartment, despite having been in the freezer for an hour. Instead of rolling the dough into 2 sausage-like rolls and cutting the dough into little discs, as the recipe had indicated, I wanted to roll the dough out and use a cookie-cutter to get a more uniform shape. But, the dough was just too soft. Once they came out of the oven, I was still unsure about them because they seemed too soft. My husband assured me though, that with the amount of butter that went into the dough, there was no way that the cookie was going to taste bad.
Alas, after allowing them to cool and dry for a couple of hours, they hardened a bit and took on the crumbly, sablé texture. A little taste and I knew that these would be a hit. And, the oohs and aahs of my coworkers confirmed that this recipe is a keeper.
Sablés au Chocolat
[adapted and translated from Petit Larousse du chocolat]
makes about 25 cookies
200g cold, salted butter
50g chocolate, finely chopped
25g unsweetened cocoa powder
80g raw cane sugar
1 egg yolk
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder and cane sugar. Cut the butter into small cubes and mix with the dry ingredients with your fingers until the mixture attains a sand-like texture. Add in the egg yolk and chocolate and mix well. (note: I used unsweetened 61% dark chocolate.) Then, divide the dough into two and roll them into logs with a 3 cm diameter. Refrigerate the logs for at least 20 minutes. Because it was hot that day and the dough was softer than I had expected, I refrigerated them for an hour and moved them into the freezer about 10 minutes before I was ready to work with them. Once refrigerated, cut the logs into 1 cm thick slices and place them on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Be sure to leave about a 2 cm space between the cookies. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for about 15 minutes.
Next time, I think I will bake them for about 25 minutes at a lower temperature (160°C) to allow them to bake more evenly.