Friday, April 13, 2012

Perfecting The Butter Cookie

When I read the essay by Dorie Greenspan -The Perfection of Butter Cookies- in the April/May 2012 issue of Fine Cooking and saw the ingredients, I was encouraged. This recipe looked a lot like my grandmothers. Of course, that’s what I thought 73 times before this and every one of them were not quite the cookie I remembered. Maybe it was just a fleeting memory of my childhood past.

I did remember that grandma’s recipe had 3 key ingredients: butter, vanilla and confectioners’ sugar.

After all this time, I really needed this recipe to work so I bought, at the author’s suggestion, the best butter I could find: French Beurre D’ Isigny. Once you’ve had good, French butter, you’ll never go back again.

The butter is the essential ingredient that makes these cookies melt-in-your-mouth. Standard american butter just doesn’t cut it although I’m sure that’s what my grandma used…or did she make her own butter?

I love to read Al Goetze’s (Chief Spice Buyer at McCormick) Field Reports as he journeys to exotic destinations in search of spices. I’ve already decided in my next life, I’m going to have his job.
In this report on vanilla, he writes something I didn’t know - how vanilla beans are cured. After you read this, you will have a new appreciation for just how long it takes to get them to perfect:

“Equally important as proper growing of vanilla beans is how they are cured to bring out their full flavor. Curing is a manual process that began in the early 1900s. The mature green beans are picked and, within a short period of time, placed in boiling water for three minutes to arrest growth. Then, they are sweated in burlap-wrapped piles or wooden boxes for three days, which continues the curing process. After that, the beans are sun dried for two to three months, during which time the farmers bring the beans outside each morning and spread them on pieces of burlap to soak up the sun’s direct rays. Each afternoon, the beans are wrapped and returned inside for the night. The final stage is allowing the beans to further cure in wax-lined wooden boxes, which brings out their full flavor. The end result is a rich, dark brown, moist, and pliable bean that is loaded with aroma and flavor.”

The addition of the vanilla beans in the sugar made for an easy method to flavor the sugar before you add it to the mix.

Confectioner’s Sugar:
It’s more common to see Confectioner’s sugar in cookie icing than in cookie dough so this was the one ingredient that I did remember.

Confectioner's sugar is actually granulated sugar which has been mechanically ground into a very fine powder.

So, has the ultimate butter cookie recipe been perfected?

Ask me later. I’ve only polished off my first half dozen.

Bon Appetit!

Butter Cookies
2 soft, plump vanilla beans
1/3 cup granulated sugar
8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter, preferably high-fat European-style, softened
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1-1/3 oz. (1/3 cup) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 large egg yolks
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
Sanding sugar, white or colored

Tip: Once you’ve scraped the pulp from the vanilla beans, stash the pods in a canister of sugar to make vanilla-sugar.

Cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape the seed pulp into a small bowl; add the granulated sugar. Using your fingers, rub them together until blended.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, mix the butter on low speed until smooth and creamy (you don’t want it to get light and fluffy), about 1 minute; mix in the salt.

Add the vanilla sugar and the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl as needed.

Add 1 egg yolk and mix for 1 minute. Still on low speed, mix in the flour just until blended; the dough will be soft.

Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it gently a few times. Divide it in half and shape each half into a 9-inch log. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. I refrigerated it overnight.

Position oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking liners.

Sprinkle about 1/2 cup sanding sugar onto a piece of waxed paper. Combine the remaining egg yolk with a splash of water in a small bowl and whisk with a fork. Brush each log with the egg wash and roll it in the sanding sugar until evenly coated. Trim the ends of the logs if they’re ragged. Using a knife, cut the dough into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Put them on the baking sheets, leaving about 2-inches between rounds.

Bake the cookies, rotating and swapping the baking sheets’ positions halfway through, until the cookies are brown around the edges and golden on the bottom, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool on the sheets for 5minutes; then carefully transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before serving.
Sabl├ęs shouldn’t be eaten warm; they need to cool so that their texture will set properly.