When I visited La Grande Epicerie last year in Paris, I was pleasantly surprised by all the Christmas goodies that were there, including French Christmas cookies like these!
French Christmas Cookies
The Grande Epicerie is a high-end grocery market in Paris, sort of like a glorified version of what Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma would be if the two became one.
There were all sorts of festive little treats, including hot chocolate sticks (basically sticks with chocolate that you could stir into hot milk to create instant hot cocoa), tissue-paper wrapped nougat (the French’s favorite confectionary), and the most beautifully decorated French Christmas cookies I had ever laid eyes on.
The cookies were much-loved butter cookies, also known as sablés to the French, that were iced and designed with such care and skill, that I honestly didn’t want to eat any of them at first.
I wanted to buy a bunch of them to hang on my Christmas tree because they were just so gorgeous, they looked more like ornaments than anything you could do with food.
I specifically remember an angel cookie that had been dusted with gold and embroidered with gold pearl sprinkles…what a sight! But alas, the foodie in me took over and I unwrapped one to try. It was absolutely divine.
Sablés are pretty much a combination of a sugar cookie and a shortbread cookie. They’re crisp like a sugar cookie and buttery like a shortbread cookie.
However, they’ve got a little bit of that sandy texture that would disqualify them from being a true sugar cookie, in addition to the fact that they’re not as sweet. Still, they don’t crumble as easy as a shortbread cookie so they can’t really be classified as such either.
However you want to look at these French Christmas cookies, the irrefutable fact is that they are incredibly delicious.
I used Dorie Greenspan’s recipe to make the traditional sablé dough, but I added in some seasonal touches that I had tasted when I enjoyed these cookies in Paris last year.
This included adding some cinnamon and cloves to the dough, along with a bit of orange zest, to really make these French Christmas cookies an unmistakable holiday treat.
For the icing, I used royal icing, and I applied the icing using my preferred method to decorate cookies: food-grade paint brushes (like these). I find that I have more control decorating this way, but it’s a personal preference, so do as you please.
I was aiming for a sort of winter wonderland theme, and wanted to create a uniform set of cookies that would look minimalist and elegant.
Once your cookies fully dry, feel free to place them in a tissue paper lined tin container or wrap them up in cellophane. They make darling Christmas gifts!
French Christmas Cookies
Buttery sugar cookies decorated with royal icing.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/8 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1 large egg yolk keep the white for the icing!, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour plus more for rolling out the cookies
for the icing
- 2 egg whites room temperature
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar or a splash of fresh lemon juice
- 3 cups of powdered sugar sifted
- 1 drop blue food coloring
Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the salt, ground cinnamon, and cloves; mix to combine. Now, add in the egg yolk and vanilla extract and mix until the egg is completely incorporated. Add the flour and mix just until the flour is incorporated; don’t mix anymore than you need to.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and pat down so that you get a 1 inch disc. Refrigerate the dough until it’s thoroughly chilled, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Take your dough out of the fridge and let the dough sit on the counter for about 15 minutes to slightly thaw. If you try to roll the dough out right away, you’ll end up with a lot of cracks in the dough.
Dust your counter space with flour and place the dough on this surface. Roll the dough out so that it measures 1/4 inch thin. Always roll the dough in one direction, rotating the dough every once in awhile; don’t roll back and forth.
Take your preferred cookie cutters and cut out the shapes you like. The cookies won’t really spread so you can place them fairly close to each other on the baking sheet. Place the sheet with the cut out shapes in the fridge to chill for 10 minutes.
Bake the cookies for about 18 minutes. They should be golden along the edges. Let the cookies continue to rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes once they are out of the oven. If you try to remove them sooner, they will be too soft.
Transfer the cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, create the royal icing by whisking the egg whites with the cream of tartar or lemon juice just until the egg whites are frothy and have lost some of that yellowish appearance. Then add the powdered sugar in, one cup at a time, whisking after each addition. Once the icing is white and thick, stop mixing.
Remove about 1/3 cup of the icing and pour it into a separate bowl. Add the drop of blue food coloring and whisk to combine. Paint the white icing onto the snowmen, and paint the blue icing onto other shapes. Wait until this base coat of icing has completely dried (2 -3 hours) before decorating the cookies with further embellishments (such as the snowman’s scarf, polka dots, or iced borders).