Poilâne sablés made with the finest cornmeal have the texture of the nicest shortbread and the colour of the sun. Recipe comes from the famous Parisian Poilâne bakery owner, Apollonia Poilâne.
Sometimes nothing but a plain, simple biscuit will do. A cup of tea and a biscuit is the famously British way of dealing with stress, calamity, grief, earthquake and war. That a cuppa and a biccie will fix all the ills of the world is a nice sentiment, albeit a little superficial.
But I admit I suffer from occasional bouts of nervous biscuits munching. When I have a problem or a difficult decision to make (I hate making decisions), the biscuit jar in the kitchen or a dark corner at the back of the sweets cupboard is my recourse.
The biscuit jar is usually full of digestives or shortbreads but sometimes it decoratively houses giant meringues. Meringue definitely won’t do for stress though – wrong texture, too sweet, no crunch. Nor will chocolate bars or truffles that sometimes can be found in The Jar. However much I like chocolate, it is not my weapon of choice against worries.
If The Jar should unusually be empty (or full of meringues) there is always something stashed at the very back of my sweets, treats, odds and sods cupboard.
It could be very dry sponge fingers that I got for tiramisu, or a packet of Fox’s Crunch leftover from some building works (it’s awfully snobbish of me but I don’t bake biscuits for builders and tradesmen but buy them. And pretend to myself I need to test the competition when I scoff the rest of the packet after the work is done).
So there is always something dry, crunchy and biscuity to be found, with the worst-case scenario of oatcakes, if all else fails.
I don’t drink tea so the cuppa element is redundant or replaced with coffee. But nervously nibbling on one biccie after another does miraculously help resolve whatever my issue is. Even if it doesn’t help my weight management.
Poilane bakery cookies
And the plainer, the simpler, the better my saviour biscuits. Like these, the trademark Poilâne bakery mini-sun round and golden ones with an almighty beautiful crunch.
The recipe is authentic although sourced via NY Times Cooking, by Apollonia Poilâne, the current owner of the famous Parisian bakery. Plain and simple I say that again, as becomes a boulangerie rather than patisserie biscuits.
The biscuits are sablés, the French version of shortbread. Made with very fine corn flour and plain flour, they have wonderful short and crunchy texture, and look jolly and yellow, ‘like minisuns’ according to Mme Poilâne.
Corn flour or corn starch for the Poilâne cookies?
The only problem is sourcing appropriate flour for the cookies. It is NOT cornflour, aka cornstarch, the very fine white powder used widely for thickening and in Asian cuisine.
Nor is it cornmeal (polenta) as the flour needs to be finer than even fine cornmeal. But that is the right track so I have simply put a quantity of fine cornmeal through a coffee grinder to achieve the finer-than-fine corn flour.
The coffee grinder is a very useful appliance, incidentally, even if hardly used these days in most houses. I keep mine for precisely this purpose: grinding grains, spices, sugar, poppy seeds and occasionally coffee. The mix of flavours doesn’t matter: you can easily clean the grinder after or before each use milling a small amount of rice, breadcrumbs or oats in it, then brushing it out with kitchen tissue. You’re welcome.
Chilling shortcrust pastry
As I have believed for a long time now, the best results with shortcrust or sablé pastry are achieved when the pastry is made with very soft butter, briefly chilled in bulk and the cut oven-ready biscuits are chilled very well and baked from very cold. This is the case here, and the result is excellent.
The pastry is made by creaming sugar with eggs and then with the soft butter before flour is added. The first chilling serves purely the purpose of firming up the pastry so it can be nicely rolled out. Of course, you can apply the ‘fat sausage’ biscuit method where you shape a fat log with the pastry and then slice it into discs when firm.
The biscuits bake for about fifteen minutes and it’s important not to overbake, or they will be excessively brittle. Cooled, they go into my biscuits jar and I can safely embrace the next worry coming my way. I’ve got the biscuits to help me fight it!