Does this type of cookie look familiar to you?  You know, those tins you buy at the store around the holidays filled with really yummy, slightly crumbly butter cookies?  Guess what?  You can make them at home.  I’m pretty overjoyed about this myself.  I’m normally not one to buy cookies from the store, but any time one of those tins appears at my dad’s house I’m all over it.  There is something about them that is totally irresistible.  I’ve been wanting to make these since last winter but never got around to it.  So many things to bake, so little time!

Of course I know I can always count on Cook’s Illustrated for a stellar recipe and they certainly delivered in this case.  The dough requires very few ingredients, but in the usual Cook’s Illustrated fashion, they have included a special technique to take the recipe to the next level.  In this case, that step is using a soft-boiled egg yolk in the dough.  It sounds a little weird, I know, and I was very skeptical.  Now I don’t know if it really matters because I haven’t tried these without the soft boiled yolk but I can say that I think these cookies are just perfect.  The buttery flavor and slightly sandy texture are spot on.

The article includes a recipe for a basic sablé dough, as well as numerous variations for a range of other shapes and flavorings.  As you can see, I tried a few of these variations myself: the basic sablé, chocolate swirls, vanilla pretzels and chocolate sandwiches.  And let me tell you, I loved every single one of them.  Like, really loved them and didn’t want to share them.  I try not to be overly effusive so you know when a recipe really stands out for me – this is one of those times.  Another huge plus is that the dough for all of these is formed into logs, chilled in the freezer, then sliced and baked (obviously the pretzels are shaped after chilling).  This means they are really convenient for holiday baking because you can make and freeze the dough ahead of time, and then bake when needed.  I still have more than half of these batches in my freezer waiting to be included in this year’s treat bags.  But I really just want to eat them myself.  I love these cookies!

French Butter Cookies
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Yield: about 40 cookies
For the dough:
1 large egg
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. (2¾ oz.) sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups (7½ oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour

To finish:
1 large egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tsp. water
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Place the egg in a small saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water.  Bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, cover and let sit 10 minutes.  Meanwhile fill a small bowl with ice water.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the egg to the ice water and let stand 5 minutes.  Crack the egg and peel away the shell.  Separate the yolk from the white; discard the white.  Press the yolk through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, salt and cooked egg yolk.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Turn the mixer to low, add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Add the flour and mix on low speed just until combine, about 30 seconds.  Use a spatula to press the dough into a cohesive mass.

Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a log about 6 inches long and 1¾ inches in diameter.  Wrap each log in a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Twist the ends to seal and firmly compact the dough into a tight cylinder.  Chill in the freezer until firm, about 1 hour.  (At this point, the dough can be stored in a freezer bag and frozen for up to 2 weeks.)

To bake, preheat the oven to 350 ˚F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using a chef’s knife, slice the dough into ¼-inch thick rounds, rotating the dough log every few slices so that it does not become misshapen.  Place the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Brush lightly with the egg white mixture and sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar.

Bake until the centers of the cookies are pale golden and the edges are slightly darker, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking.  Cool on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Pretzel Cookies
Follow the recipe for French Butter Cookies, increasing the vanilla extract to 1 tablespoon and reducing the chilling time to 30 minutes.  Slice the dough into rounds as instructed.  Form each round into a ball.  Roll into a 6-inch long rope with tapered ends.  Twist into a pretzel shape.  Brush with the egg white mixture, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake as instructed.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Follow the recipe for French Butter Cookies.  Slice the dough into 1/8-inch thick rounds.  Omit the egg wash and sprinkling sugar.  Bake the cookies as directed, reducing the baking time to 10-13 minutes.  When all the cookies are completely cool, melt dark or semisweet chocolate, spread a thin layer onto one cookie and sandwich with another cookie.  Let sit until the chocolate has set completely.

Black and White Spiral Cookies
Make one batch of French Butter Cookie dough.  Make a batch of chocolate dough by following the recipe for French Butter Cookies, reducing the flour to 1 1/3 cups and adding ¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder with the flour.

To form the spiral cookies, halve each batch of dough.

Roll out each portion on lightly floured parchment or wax paper into a 6- by 8-inch rectangle, ¼-inch thick.  If the dough is at all soft, chill until firm enough to handle.

Place one rectangle of the chocolate dough on top of one rectangle of the plain dough.

Roll out the stacked dough into a 6- by 9-inch rectangle.  Starting at the long end, roll each stack into a tight log.  Twist the ends of the parchment and chill for 1 hour.  Omit the egg wash and sprinkling sugar.  Slice and bake as directed.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated Entertaining, Holiday 2010