brown butter and sage sablés

Happy Sunday! We’re back with our 41st bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person as we continue to make our way through the Bars & Cookies chapter. This week, we made Brown Butter and Sage Sablés!

Lauren’s Take

Happy fall everyone! This week we’re coming at you with another cookie recipe, and I gotta say, this one did not disappoint.

After not enjoying last week’s bake, I was nervous to once again combine savoury flavours in a sweet cookie. I also had never worked with sage before and was interested to see how the flavour would play out. But once I read “brown butter” in the title, I knew that this was probably going to be delicious! I mean, when has brown butter ever failed you in your life?

The cookies this week are called “sablés” which is a French shortbread-like cookie. Sablé means “sandy,” so the idea is to have a cookie with less sugar and more butter, in order to make something less sweet that melts in your mouth.

In general, making shortbread is super simple, but for this recipe, there were a few things that added some complexity. First, you have to make the sage brown butter, which requires a lot of patience and instinct. You heat the butter with the sage leaves and steams over low heat, until the butter foams and the leaves crisp up; this took about 10 minutes for me. You then remove the sage (saving it on a plate for later) and pour the butter into a bowl to chill COMPLETELY until it starts to firm up once again. This took a lot longer than I thought it was going to. In total, to get the butter back to a firmer, but not hard, consistency, I left it for about 35-40 minutes. Claire warns not to rush this process or to let the butter become too firm, as it will affect the milk solids in the butter.

Once the butter is ready, you cream it with sugar and lemon zest (classic Claire move), using the stand mixer. Once pale, you add egg yolks and vanilla and then add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt). Once the dough comes together in the mixer, you separate it into two equal portions and create two logs of dough. The dough isn’t dry, per say, but it does have a crumbly texture to it. I used Claire’s technique to form the logs, which involved putting the dough on parchment paper and using a bench scraper to force it into shape. The two logs are wrapped in parchment paper and then plastic wrap and left to chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours (mine stayed in for closer to 4).

While my dough was chilling, I made the sage sugar for the outside of the cookie. You take half of the reserved, crispy sage leaves and crumble them into brown sugar. This mixture will coat the outside of the cookies.

Once the dough is ready, you roll the logs in the sugar, and cut each log into about 18 equal discs. Full disclosure, I found the sugar didn’t stick very well when I rolled it, so I patted it on throughout. And my logs weren’t the most round shape, so I had some funky looking discs, but it all worked out. When cutting, the dough was definitely easy to slice, but did keep its shape!

The discs are placed on a baking sheet and baked for 20-25 minutes (mine took 22), until the outer edge starts to become golden brown. You let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets before removing.

These cookies are SO well balanced. The lemon is not overpowering but adds a perfect kick to the sweetness of the sugar. And the brown butter and sage flavours add an amazing depth to the cookie as well.

I love the texture of the sablé and the little crunch the sugar on the outside adds. The sablés are so incredibly light and melt in your mouth, but hold so much flavour! It’s an excellent cookie and I know they’re gonna be a showstopper at Christmas! 5 stars from this baker!

Julia’s Take

Go figure that what’s supposed to be one of the simpler bakes in the book—and something I’ve made a bunch of times before (shortbread cookies)—caused me the most trouble I’ve had so far. This bake took me on a ride!

The process itself has a few fancy additions to Claire-ify it, of course, and some waiting time but otherwise it couldn’t have been simpler. I started off by melting two sticks of butter with the fresh sage until it started to brown (is there anything that smells better than browned butter?!); the sage is removed and set aside and the butter then cools until it’s starting to solidify but isn’t completely solid. I think (but can’t be sure) that this is where I went wrong. My butter was potentially a little TOO solid, which messed with the texture of the dough, but ultimately it remains a bit of a mystery.

Regardless, the cooled butter is mixed with sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest, and eventually the dry ingredients (AP flour, cornstarch, salt) until a dough forms. My dough at this point was absolutely too dry, and I should have trusted my instincts, but I know it can be a fine line with shortbread—you don’t want the dough TOO dry or the cookies won’t form properly, but you also don’t want it too wet or you won’t get that soft, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth texture that shortbread is known for. Since I had seemingly done nothing wrong in the 3 simple steps it took to make this dough, I decided to just go with it, formed my dough into two logs like Claire instructs in the recipe, wrapped them in parchment and plastic wrap, and let them sit in the fridge for two hours. It was definitely a little tough to get the dry mixture to form into a log, but ultimately it seemed to be holding OK, and I figured some time in the fridge would do the trick.

I was wrong. After waiting two hours, I took my logs out to slice the cookies and ended up with a huge, crumbly disaster all over my kitchen counter. The cookies would just not hold their shape no matter how thick I tried to make the cookies. At this point, it was pretty late and I was out of sage and completely defeated by the fact that I’d just spent months and months constructing the most complex and beautiful pies and tarts but somehow couldn’t master a simple shortbread cookie—so I called it for the day, determined to try again tomorrow.

The next morning, I hit up the grocery store for some more sage and went in for round two. I followed all the same steps, but sent multiple videos to Lauren of my cooled brown butter to get her intel on whether I was letting is solidify too much vs. not enough. Once I felt satisfied with where the congealed butter was it, I moved on to the other steps. After mixing the dough together, I could already tell the difference between this batch and the first; while the dough was still dry-ish, it felt more like a dough and held its shape so much better. I was optimistic!

Fast forward two hours in the fridge, and I was able to cut the logs into cookies with zero trouble. Yay! Each log is coated in a blend of demerara sugar (Claire’s fave) and the crumbled reserved sage that had been fried in the butter. This leaves a ring of sweet, crackly deliciousness around each cookie.

My cookies baked for about 20 minutes and man oh man am I ever glad I decided to try again because these babies were SO GOOD. Sage in a dessert can sound strange because it can be such a prominent savoury flavour, but it just works sooooo well in this recipe. The depth of flavour from the herb plus the brown butter and the little hit of lemon zest is amazing, and the texture is just perfect. A bit of a rollercoaster, but totally worth the ride. 5 stars from me!

Next week, we’re taking on an absolute classic: Chocolate Chip Cookies!

salted halvah blondies

We’ve reached out 40th bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person—can you believe it?! We’re getting closer and closer to the halfway point. Wow! This latest recipe from the Bars and Cookies chapter was for Salted Halvah Blondies, which used some unique ingredients and had us a bit torn on the results.

Lauren’s Take

I can’t lie friends, I’m really enjoying these one page bakes. You look at the ingredient list in the morning, pick up a few things, and are able to bake within an hour without any extreme form of pre-planning whatsoever…I mean?! As a very low maintenance person, I’ve been a big fan of cookies so far.

What I will say, regrettably, is I was not a fan of this bake at all. I already was going into it a little skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I love tahini and mid-eastern flavours, but on a dessert? I was a bit thrown to start.

What was cool about this bake was being exposed to some new flavours and ingredients, specifically Halva. Halva is a Turkish candy type thing! Quite crumbly and sweet and comes in a bunch of cool flavours! I went to the Mid-East Food Centre in Ottawa (such a clutch grocery store), and found everything I needed for this bake! I decided to get pistachio flavoured halvah because yolo.

 

The bake itself comes together very easily: mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet, and then combine. The wet ingredients portion of the recipe is a base of melted white chocolate, tahini, brown sugar, and eggs, with the halvah and dry ingredients gently folded in. The mixture becomes a super sticky and kind of firm (?) batter, that is spread into the pan, topped with sesame seeds and flaky salt and then baked.

The recipe warned not to overtake the blondies as to not dry them out, so I baked for 21 minutes. My edges were golden brown and the centre still wobbled like I was instructed. I let it cool, removed from the pan, and cut them into bars and the inside did not look cooked. It still looked kind of gummy like the batter was, but the rest was a golden brown colour? That was where my confusion started. Then I took a bite and my mouth was confused. I felt like I was chewing hummus but then I would get a hit of sweetness.

I love the idea of the flavours and the attempt at the combination, but this girl was not a fan and neither were a few taste testers. But hey, one dessert being not great out of the 40 we’ve made ain’t bad. I give it 1 star unfortunately.

Julia’s Take

I have such mixed emotions over this bake, and I’m still trying to sort out exactly how I feel about this recipe. First off, I should say that I’m not the biggest blondie fan. While I do like vanilla-flavoured anything, as well as brown sugar, I tend to find them a little overwhelmingly sweet most of the time. I was optimistic that the addition of sesame in various forms, which tends to be a savoury ingredient, would help mellow this out—and I’m assuming that was part of Claire’s thought process when she was developing this recipe (could be completely wrong about that one, but sounds legit).

As much as I miss the challenges and amazing results from the Pies and Tarts chapter, it has already been SUCH a nice break to be baking one-page bar and cookie recipes. I’ve gotten in to the habit of really coordinating my time/schedule around a Dessert Person bake, knowing it will take at least a full day to prepare my various components, and so I’ve found myself putting off the last couple of bakes wondering when I’ll have time to get to them. Then, I finally open the book and start getting ready, and within half an hour I’m all baked up and good to go. What?! How can it be? I’m convinced I’ve done something wrong because it feels too easy, and then I remember we’re in brand new territory now. I’ll take it!

This one was super simple. The dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) are mixed together in a bowl. The wet ingredients (white chocolate, butter, tahini) are melted down and combined over a double boiler, and then the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla are whisked in. Then you gently fold in the dry ingredients and the signature ingredient for this bake—some crumbled halvah. I’d never heard of halvah before coming to this recipe; I learned it’s a Middle Eastern confection that is often sesame based but comes in a variety of different flavours. It sort of looks like firm tofu and crumbles up in a similar way. I wasn’t able to find any in the stores in North Bay, but tracked some down online.

The batter felt more like a dough to me in many ways—it was thick and sort of really held together as you folded it, rather than moving loosely like a liquid would. I love the beautiful, rich golden brown colour it became as I combined all of the ingredients and there was no mistaking the smell of the sesame. Once the batter was spread evenly into the pan, the whole thing is sprinkled with sesame seeds and some flaky sea salt, and then into the oven it goes. The recipe says to bake for 20-25 minutes; I went with the full 25 and they were fully baked through but not dry.

Ultimately, I’m just not sure how I felt about the taste. I did like it—the balance of sweet and savoury was what I was hoping would be achieved with this flavour combination. I didn’t find it veered too much in one direction vs. the other. I really love sesame, so that appealed to me, and the little flecks of salt you get once in a while were perfect. But I just didn’t find myself dying to grab another one. I don’t think I could eat more than one at once, and I think that’s just because the flavour profile was so distinct. I definitely did enjoy the taste and texture though, so I would give this bake 3 stars overall!

Coming up next week: Brown Butter and Sage Sables!  

marcona almond cookies

It’s Bars and Cookies time! A brand new chapter of Claire’s Saffitz’s Dessert Person, and we’re kicking it all off with our 39th bake from the book, the Marcona Almond Cookies.

Lauren’s Take

Hello! With the feeling of fall and a new season in the air, so comes pending excitement of the holiday season and Christmas baking!

The very well-timed and completely unintentional benefits of baking this book in order is that we have started the “Cookies and Bars” chapter during the fall which means lots of already prepped Christmas baking! (I’ve already started to set aside some room in my freezer). My plan is to save about 6-8 cookies from each recipe for the holidays and have the most diverse and impressive spread my family has ever seen (until they go to Julia’s house which will have the same spread).

The chapter starts off with a simple, quick and familiar recipe—Almond Cookies! For the life of me, I could not find the Marcona almonds Claire asks for in the book, so I just chose to use regular almonds instead. These almond cookies, or at least a version of them, are a staple at any Italian holiday, ceremony or large gathering, so it was fun to make something I have such fond memories of.

 

It was so refreshing going from multi-step, multi-page, multi-freakout bakes, to a one-pager where you just mix everything and then bake. You simply put almonds, almond paste (which I made myself again), salt, sugar, vanilla, and eggs in the food processor and combine together. You then put the sticky mixture into a piping bag, and pipe out 24 1.5 inch diameter cookies on a baking sheet. The cookies are brushed over with egg yolk, and an almond is then placed in the centre of each. Then pop ‘em in the oven for 10-12 minutes (mine took 11 to be exact) and there ya have it!



These cookies are chewy and have a great almond flavour if that’s your thing. Simple, fast and delicious, but nothing over the top amazing about them. I give them a 3! (And yes, 6-8 of them are happily sitting in my freezer awaiting the holiday season).

Julia’s Take

 

After a pretty technical and challenging chapter working through Pies and Tarts and learning about so many different types of dough, pastry, mousses, creams, caramels, crumbles, and more, it feels nice to be moving on to this new chapter which, I’m sure will have its learning moments as well, but is sure to be a bit more straightforward and less time-consuming than the last few months have been!

We definitely got off on a very easy foot with the Marcona Almond Cookies. The whole process took maybe 40 minutes max, and that’s being generous. It’s also taking into account the fact that I made the almond paste myself, like I did for the Quince Tart a few weeks ago. If I hadn’t had to do that, these cookies could have probably been fully prepared and baked in 25 minutes or less.

 

Since the process was so simple, there isn’t a whole lot to say! Everything comes together in the food processor; I made the almond paste first—which is just a combination of almond flour, powdered sugar, salt, egg white, and almond extract—and since almond paste was just going right into the cookie dough, I didn’t even have to bother with cleaning the equipment before moving on to the next step. Less dishes is always a big win for me!

The dough is almost like more of a thick batter in my opinion, and is a combination of blitzed up almonds (the recipe clearly calls for the Marcona variety, which are supposed to be a bit richer and fattier, but I couldn’t find any so I went with regular blanched almonds to at least have a similar look), the almond paste, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. It blends up smoothly in the food processor within a couple of minutes, and then you can form your cookies. Claire says you can use a pastry bag to pipe them, or just use a regular scoop; again, I’m all about minimizing the clean up, and pastry bags can be such a pain, so since I was feeling particularly lazy when making these cookies, I just used a tablespoon and scooped out my cookies into relatively uniform little mounds.

Each cookie gets a bit of an egg wash on top, and then an almond is pressed into the centre before they bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Could literally not be easier. Part of me felt like I was cheating out of a bake and couldn’t possibly have done all I needed to because I’ve become so accustomed to long wait times, multiple techniques and components, and frantically checking the oven to see if something is going according to plan.

The cookies weren’t anything life-changing, and I didn’t expect them to be, but they were still a delicious little treat. They’re very similar to an Italian almond cookie called Amaretti which we grew up having in our family; they’re a staple at weddings, and our mom will often make them at Christmas or for other special occasions as well. They have a great chewy texture just like Claire’s cookies, and the almond flavour really comes through. Overall, I’d give this bake 3 stars and am excited to get going on this new chapter of the book!

Coming up next week: Salted Halvah Blondies!