Remember when we went to Paris and visited the Poilâne bakery? And that we had a nibble of the famous punitions - the little "punishments" biscuits?
Well, I finally decided to try them out and even purchased a very special cookie cutter for this recipe. I wanted to surprise my parents with the biscuits and as they are musicians, what would be better than a cookie shaped like a musical instrument.
I did a quick search on google for the recipe and found out that it is in one of Dorie Greenspan's books. But not only that - it's available on Amazon and in the "Look inside" feature, that particular recipe can be viewed in all its glory.
So, I read through the pages and since I don't have a food processor, it would have to be manual mixing. Not just that, I decided to try and follow M. Poilâne's own instructions. Somehow I managed to get confused and swapped the order of the egg and butter, but I don't think it mattered - when using a food processor, the butter goes in first. I also utilised the fact that only one of my hands would be making the dough, so I went a bit mad on photos...
Makes about 50
280 g plain or extra fine sponge flour
125 g granulated sugar
1 large egg at room temperature
140 g unsalted butter at room temperature
- Make a wide well from the flour on the work surface.
- Create a smaller well with the sugar inside the flour.
- Place the butter in the middle of the sugar and massage it in, just using the fingers of one hand.
- Take care not to incorporate any flour.
- When the sugar-butter mixture is smooth and creamy, make a hole in the middle and add the egg.
- Now carefully incorporate the egg, again careful not to mix in any of the flour. It will look like scrambled eggs, just keep stirring and it'll get smoother.
- Finally incorporate the dough and really be careful not to over-work it. This dough felt so soft and smooth to the touch, I was sorely tempted to just keep kneading. Maybe it's because I've started using the extra fine sponge flour.
- Now divide the dough into two parts, flatten each to a disc and wrap tightly with cling film. Then chill for at least 4 h or overnight. Or it can be frozen at this point.
- Pre-heat the oven to 170 °C and line some baking sheets with baking paper.
- Starting with one disc, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to 4 - 5 mm thickness, then cut out the desired shape and place on the baking sheets. Make sure to leave 2 - 3 cm between each cookie.
- When it's not possible to cut out more cookies, gather the offcuts, squeeze together gently and wrap up in the cling film again, flatten and put back in the fridge, the repeat the previous step with the second disc. Keep doing this until all the dough has been used up, alternatively freeze it.
- Bake one tray at a time for 10 - 12 minutes, until the get a little colour around the edges - adjust the oven temperature and baking time, if needs be.
- Let cool on a wire rack. Once cooled down, store in an airtight container or freeze.
I got 44 biscuits from the dough and a round blob of about 3 cm diameter. So pretty spot on. Two things I found useful - first to only use one hand to mix the dough, so that if I need to grab hold of anything else, I have a clean hand. Second, the dividing of the dough before chilling. Comes in handy if you feel there's too much dough to do in one go, like with the vanilla hearts and mazarins.
In the instructions, there was a mention of the old-fashioned way of doing these biscuits - brush with egg and sprinkle sugar. Now I have a jar of granulated sugar that has had two vanilla pods stuck in it for a couple of years and at the beginning of October, I filled up a second jar and added some bruised fresh rosemary to it. So, I brushed some with whisked up egg and sprinkled some of my infused sugars. I also made some with regular sugar and some just with egg. Flavour-wise I couldn't detect the infused sugar, and visually they aren't as pretty as the plain ones.
No wonder that Poilâne just do the plain ones, they definitely look nicest. The sugary ones fluffed up quite a bit and reminded me of the ladyfinger biscuits I made some time ago. The ones with just egg wash didn't work either - the top surface shrunk together and the egg ballooned and ruined things.
Another unfortunate thing was that what started as a violin shape, ended up as a guitar shape - the wider parts of the biscuits just flowed out so much more. I guess I should have used the cookie cutter on the ready biscuits as well as soon as they were out of the oven, but I just didn't feel like fiddling that much with them. No pun intended. I think next time, I'll use infused sugar in the dough rather than sprinkle on top.
Lundulph and I tried a couple of the plain ones and they were nice, Lundulph liked the texture in particular. They weren't very sweet either, I imagine they would be nice if partly dipped in dark chocolate too. As it happened we ate a couple from the very last ones that I rolled out and I think they felt a bit on the coarse side, not entirely brittle melt in the mouth. I hope all the ones before are better.