[From the archives. I’m not making a lot of cookies these days, but when I do these are still big favorites. They are quite plain but buttery-good, rather like shortbread but a little less rich. They are great Christmas cookies. Originally published December 2008.]
When it comes to cookies, I like them rather plain and not overly sweet. This traditional cookie from the Bretagne (Brittany) in France is so plain and simple, that the ingredients really shine. It is made of flour, sugar, egg, and the famously delicious salted butter (beurre demi-sel) of the region. Somewhat related to shortbread or sablé cookies but not as rich, for me they are almost the perfect cookie, and very more-ish.
The salted butter is the key to this cookie’s distinctive nutty, buttery sweet-salty flavor. The best salted butter from the Bretagne and other regions along the Atlantic in France are creamy-fresh and rich, with little glistening crystals of salt still visible. If you can get a hold of really good salted butter, you can use traditional recipes and the cookies will turn out the way they should. If not, some adjustments need to be made. So, I would recommend following the variation of the recipe that meets your butter quality.
(You might see something called galettes bretonnes au sarrasin. These refer to a thin crêpe or pancake made out of buckwheat (sarrasin) flour, usually served with a savory filling. I love those too, but these article is about the cookie galettes bretonnes.)
Version 1: Use this version if you can get really good salted butter with a slightly cultured (sour) taste.
Version 2: Use this version if you are using supermarket-level salted butter, but you don’t want to mess with adding salt and so on.
Add to the ingredients listed for Version 1:
Version 3: Use this version if you don’t have access to cultured salted butter, and want to replicate the salty/cultured (sour) taste as closely as possible.
Method for all 3 versions
Sift together the flour and baking powder.
Mix together the sugar, salt (if applicable) and butter. Add the flour mixture and rub well into the butter-sugar mixture with your fingers. Add the egg and vanilla if you’re using Version 2, plus just enough milk or buttermilk so that the dough comes together cohesively. Form into a ball, flatten and wrap in plastic.
(If using a food processor or mixer, you can combine the butter, sugar and flour mixture first, then add the liquids. Don’t overmix this dough after you add the liquids or the cookies will be a bit to tough.)
Chill the dough for at least an hour, until firm. This dough is quite soft so this chilling step is very necessary.
Heat the oven to 180°C / 355°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon liners.
Flour your work surface and a rolling pin. Roll out the dough to about 3mm / 1/8 inch or so thickness. Cut the dough out into shapes. Put the cut out dough onto the lined baking sheets.
To prevent the cookies from puffing up in the middle, press down with the tines of a fork, or prick with a fork. (Traditionally the cookies are pressed with a pretty pattern.) (Note: I actually forgot to do the pressing bit for the cookies in the photo! Tastewise they don’t change much, so you can omit the pressing part if you don’t mind the slight dome in the middle of each cookie.)
Beat up the extra egg and add a few drops of milk. Brush the surface of the cookies with this eggwash. (You can just use the yolk with a bit of milk, which would give you a deeper golden glaze. You can also add a pinch of salt for an extra bit of saltiness.)
Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets. Bake for another 5-7 minutes, until the cookies are a golden brown on top.
Cool completely on a rack - these are cookies that taste a lot better when cooled and crispy, rather than soft from the oven. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 48 small, 36 medium or 24 large cookies
A few years ago, way before this blog was even a glimmer in my eye, I decided that I was going to decorate our Christmas tree with iced spice cookies. I was inspired by the gorgeous photos of large trees covered with big iced cookies shaped like Christmas ornaments and penguins and such that appeared in - yes, you might have guessed, Martha Stewart Living.
Once I committed to this, I had to see it through. Our tree wasn’t huge, about 6ft / 180cm or something tall, but it took ages to make enough big cookies to adequately cover it, even though we also decorated the tree with several glass ornaments, not to mention the fairly lights. I was baking cookies and icing the beasts for a solid week. I made about 200 cookies in total in the end: about 150 of them ended up on the tree, 20 or so fell and crashed while I was trying to hang them, and the remaining ones ended up as gifts, wrapped in cellophane.
When the tree was finally decorated with all those cookies, it really looked spectacular. (The photos were taken on a pre-digital camera…and the photos are packed away in boxes, awaiting our soon-I-hope move.) Besides looking great, it smelled wonderful too.
My plan for those cookie-ornaments was to serve them with coffee after a Christmas party. I imagined the scene…friends gathered around the tree, picking their favorites…the village church bells ringing in the background…as I lovingly touched one of the hanging cookies.
What greeted my fingers was…soggy sponge. The icing side was ok, but the exposed cookie side was almost wet. Dismayed, I inpected the other cookies. They were all the same - heavy with moisture. I took one off and bit into it. Ugh! It had absorbed Essence of Pine from the live tree. I spat it out.
I don’t remember what I did serve at that party, but it certainly wasn’t Soggy Pine Cookies. Thankfully, the cookies did manage to hang on the tree until we put it all away a week or so later.
So…if you do plan to have cookies or other edibles on your tree, use an artificial tree, wrap your goodies tightly in cellophane or something, or - well, just have some airtightly-packed reserved. (Besides the moisture issue, you may also need to consider the presence of various hungry critters…)
When I originally wrote this back in 2008, I really didn’t think we were going to be moving away from Switzerland to France. But now 3 years later - here I am. We even considered living in Brittany for a while before settling on Provence. A lot has happened over the past 3 years. Looking back on recipes I’ve written out in the past brings back all kinds of memories - of our old house in the suburbs of Zürich; of people who are no longer with us, especially my father and Martha …and a lot more.
So if you care to, please share a dish or recipe that brings back special memories for you, good and bad, in the comments.
Happy Holidays to you all!