Tuesday, August 28, 2012

French Casual

My first experiences with French Cuisine (with a capital C, merci very much) were at Babette, a now defunct brownstone in Manhattan's theater district. The silverware was heavy, the ladies old and the calves brains sauteed in clarified butter. A certain formality still hovers over French dining. It's hard to shake the image of starched chefs, maniacal shallot chopping technique and maybe a baroque birdcage of spun sugar to enclose your single scoop of grapefruit-champagne sorbet. Oui, the French know how to lay out a 5-course dinner like no one else, but in Provence I've discovered a less formal repertoire -the dishes people bring to picnics, and serve with lingering evening aperitifs - savouring the last of the long summer sun.

Our neighbor, Mr. C. (he of the cherry trees), brought these biscuits to a neighborhood picnic and outdoor film screening that we did on the terraced stone steps of the street just behind our house. The kids were up late, school's out after all. Young and old, old timers and city transplants mingled, drank wine and ate quinoa tabbouleh salad. 

Mr. C's recipe is a savory cousin of the crumbly butter cookies that the French call sablés. Rich, perfectly balanced, they are what my British friends would call "moreish" - a succinct way of saying you could eat the whole batch in one sitting. The French, of course, would never do such a thing. Served with plump dates and a glass of roundish white wine, your Labor Day picnic might never be the same... 

Mr. C's Rosemary Olive Sablé "Cookies"

These are extremely easy to make, provided your butter really is at room temperature when you start.

2 scant teaspoons fresh rosemary (approx an 8 inch branch), finely chopped
12 cured black olives, pitted and finely chopped
150 grams (10.5 tablespoons) unsalted butter
200 grams (1 1/4 cup) flour
150 grams (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper

A hour or two before you want to bake, take the butter out of the fridge. It needs to be really soft.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Chop the rosemary, pit and chop the olives, set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, parmesan, rosemary, and a grinding of black pepper. Add the olives and the softened butter cut into three or four chunks. Knead the butter into the flour mixture with your hands until the ingredients are evenly distributed and a ball of dough has formed. Do not overwork the dough.

Put the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes. Roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper, to a thickness of about 1/4 inch (5mm). Using a 2.5 inch (6 cm) biscuit cutter (the top of a glass will do just fine), cut 16 rounds. Bake on a sheet of parchment paper until fragrant and highly colored, 15-17 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container; they keep nicely for 2-3 days.

Makes 16 cookies.


  1. Lovely. I'll have to be like Mr. C. who I'll assume gets up tres early to beat the heat in order to bake Cookies. Roundish white wine. Who wants more for Labor Day? (Except those here who want fried chicken with potato salad [+beer] which I'm happy to make, too!) Late summer happiness to you across the pond.

  2. Oh. My. Goodness. Those sound like a new definition of "divine"! Can't wait to make some - thank you!

  3. These sound yummy. I have a supply of rosemary in the garden too. Thanks.

  4. Tried these tonight. So flaky! Absolutely love. Thank for sharing!