Sablés bretons – Breton shortbread biscuits

The sablé breton – literally “Breton sand biscuit” in reference to its short, crumbly, sand-like texture – is an old traditional biscuit from the French Brittany/Normandy region: the glorious land of salted butter! History teaches us that in 1341, King Philip VI of France introduced a national tax on salt, the “Gabelle of salt”, that suddenly made salt very expensive throughout the country. If salt remained used to conserve fresh ingredients, salted butter became a luxurious product that peasants could not longer afford to make… Brittany however was not only exempt from this tax, it was also a region producing its own salt. Quickly, salted butter became a regional speciality, sought after and sold in the rest of the country. Up until now, Breton salted butter is the best you can buy (along with Guerande sea-salted butter: with its natural sea salt flakes, I could eat the whole thing on fresh baguette in one seating).

The sablé breton  (also known as galette bretonne) is a simple and rustic biscuit that goes wonderfully well with a cup of tea or afternoon coffee. The salted butter balances the sugar, making the biscuit light but also very moorish – you’ve been warned!

This was my first attempt at making them and I must say I was very pleased with the finished product. They were delicious and their texture was perfect. *Patting myself on the back for resisting the temptation to keep kneading the dough past the stage where it forms a ball*. The only thing I might change in the future is the thickness: as they cooked, the biscuits expanded a little bit, which made them thinner than I would have wished. I might also try and be a little bit more creative with the top of the biscuit in the future: a criss-cross pattern would look good and rustic. Well, any good excuse to make them again!

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Recipe for +/- 30 biscuits
Ingredients
  • 320 gr. flour
  • 120 gr. caster sugar
  • 1 drop vanilla extract
  • 2 free range egg yolks
  • 200 gr. melted salted butter (ideally French or even Breton but I might be purist)
  • Optional: a lemon zest
  • Egg wash: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
Method:
  1. Pre-heat a fan oven oven to 150 C. Line a large flat baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients (flour and caster sugar) in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the 2 egg yolks, the melted butter, the vanilla extract (and, if using, the lemon zest).
  4. Knead and form a ball. This is where you want to be extra careful not to overwork the dough: just gather it into a ball and put it down.
  5. Cover with clean cling film and place in the fridge to rest for an hour.
  6. Roll the cold dough between two sheets of baking paper to a thickness of about 3-5 mm. I did 5mm and it was a bit too thin to my taste, so I will probably go up to 6-8mm next time.
  7. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter (diam. 7 cm) and place on a baking tray, leaving enough room for the biscuits to expand a little bit.
  8. Brush the biscuits with the egg wash. Sprinkle iced sugar using a sieve.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes. You don’t want too much colour on these, sablés bretons are a very light golden colour.

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Provence style chicken (poulet à la provençale)

The region of Provence is a historical area of the South-east of France that extends from the city of Avignon to the Italian border. It is also where my father’s family is from. Dad was born in Salon-de-Provence from a Corsican father and a French-Italian mother and he grew up between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. As a kid, I spent most of my summers there and will never forget the smells of Provence. The sun, the holidays, the sea, the swimming pool and the fun we had, yes, but mostly the smells.

You see, Provence has a very typical and recognisable landscape: the “garrigue” – pronounced [gah-REEG]. It is a landscape of low and rather dry bushes that grow in the limestone soils around the Mediterranean basin. In this landscape, and thanks to a moderate climate, grow the most amazing and fragrant herbs, trees and flowers: lavender, sage, rosemary, wild thyme, etc. Walking through the garrigue is literally like taking a stroll through a bouquet garni! When we were little and on holiday with our grand-mother, to wash our hands she would make us rub fresh sprigs of lavender and rosemary in our palms under a tap of running cold water. And still nowadays, when she drives around the countryside, she always has a basket and a pair of scissors in the car boot in case she spots fennel plants that will be perfect to accompany a fish dish!

Chicken “à la provençale” is a dish that brings together all that Provence has to offer: sun ripened tomatoes and peppers, fragrant rosemary, wild thyme, spicy “piment d’espelette”… Every time I cook it, I feel like I’m on a holiday in the sun. It is also incredibly quick and easy and therefore perfect for a mid-week quick fix!

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For 4 people.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 big chicken breasts
  • 3 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 25 cl of creme fraiche
  • 1 (chicken) stock cube
  • butter
  • 2 shallots
  • fresh rosemary and whild thyme
  • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 1 pinch of espelette chili
  • salt and pepper to taste

METHOD

  • Season your chicken breasts on both sides with salt, pepper and paprika and cut into 1cm 1/2 cubes.
  • Melt butter in a heavy-bottom pan or skillet and cook your chicken until golden.
  • Then add in the tomatoes and peppers cut into big chunks, the thinly sliced shallots, the espelette and a stock cube, crumbled.
  • Cover with 1 litre of water, and drop 1 branch of rosemary and 1 branch of thyme (whole) on top of the preparation. Turn the hob to a low flame and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, take the chicken out of the sauce and keep warm.
  • Discard the rosemary and thyme branches; then add the creme fraiche to the sauce.
  • Bring to a boil until the sauce has reached a silky consistency.
  • Put the chicken back in and simmer for an extra 2-3 minutes.

Serve with white rice or – highly recommended! – fresh tagliatelles. And please no parmesan, we’re in French Provence, not in Italy 😉

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