Are sables just cookies or much more? This past week I baked sables also known as French shortbread. I didn’t think much of it at the time. We were having a friend visiting from San Francisco and I was in my second week of teaching diversity in the city (a course that explores diversity in Paris through culture, immigration, religion, fashion and lastly food).
I had put aside a few to give Lesley Porcelli, the food writer and baker, and upon eating the rest she emailed me “I was really, really smitten with those plain cookies! They were total perfection” (as opposed to the chocolate sables I usually bake). Then three days later she texted, “my father-in-law wants your shortbread recipe. We all love it”.
These cookies are a variation of Dorie Greenspan’s cornmeal shortbread, but the difference was that I didn’t use lemon zest or vanilla, and substituted lemon extract for both.
I didn’t think these cookies were blog worthy until I realized sables are much more than a cookie…they are symbolic of my first trip to Paris from 2009 when I discovered French pastries and and financiers (my other favorite french treat). And now that I am taking my students to Paris in January, I think it’s time I share the sables with my class as well.
Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies
(recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon (I used lemon extract)
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted, room temperature butter (use Kate’s butter if you can find it)
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, or 1/2 teaspoon of pure almond extract (remember I skipped this and used lemon extract)
In a medium size bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in the cornmeal, and set the mixture aside.
Working in the bowl of a stand mixer or other large bowl, rub the sugar and zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and extract to the bowl and, using either your stand mixers paddle attachment or whisk, or a hand mixer, beat on medium speed until the mixture is very smooth (about 3 minutes).
Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until the flour streaks have disappeared into the dough (do not over-mix).
Roll the dough into two logs of dough, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or freeze for one).
Getting ready to bake:
Preheat the oven to 350F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats.
Place one of the rolls of dough onto a cutting board and slice about a 1/2 inch apart.
Place the baking sheets in the oven and immediately lower the oven temperature to 300F. Bake the cookies for 25-30 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking time. The cookies should just slightly golden.
Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.
My students in SOC 399/Diversity in Paris will be sampling more Parisian French, Lebanese French and Moroccan French treats when we travel there this January. Check back for more of our culinary adventures. Currently they are exploring how contemporary diversity in Paris is changing its culture, art and culinary landscape.