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!
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!
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!