The simple perfection of the French butter cookie... French supermarkets devote an entire aisle, sometimes two, showcasing the hundreds of varieties of this time-honored delicacy. Common names include galettes, palets, biscuits, and sablés. Galette is used broadly in French to describe various types of rustic flat, round, freeform crusty cakes, pastries, or cookies. The basic recipes involve butter, sugar, flour, eggs, a little baking powder, and vanilla (or brandy). Galettes des Rois (King’s cakes) are one of the oldest and most celebrated cakes in France. They adorn every pastry shop in France during the month of January to celebrate the Epiphany. Made in all sizes, these galettes are puff pastry typically filled with frangipane (a buttery almond filling). You will also find ones filled with chocolate. It is confusing as galettes are also the name of the famous savory buckwheat flour pancakes typically found in Brittany and Normandy. We Americans know the sweeter version of these pancakes made with wheat flour as crêpes.)
Although regional origins, flavors, embossed designs, and packaging may differ, most cookies conform to the 2.25 inch diameter and 0.25 inch thickness. Leave it to the French to have conforming standards to their simple sugar cookies. There is also an unwritten rule that 50 percent of the recipe has to be butter (30 percent) flour, and sugar (20 percent). We’ll follow the rules in this case. Remember, these traditional proportions create perfection. But after living in France for the last 4 months and spending lots of time in the cookie aisle, I can report that my two favorites so far definitely break the rules! The first are Palets Bretons boasting a 0.5 inch diameter. Afterall, palet means ‘’puck.’’
St Michel – La Grande Galette 1905
This galette is the star of the show, the cookie that makes you forget all others you have ever tasted before in your life. These are 3 inches in diameter with a standard 0.25 inch thickness. The secret ingredient is Sel de Guérande (Brittany salt) which give them a subtle salty sweet crunchiness. They come in sachets of 3 cookies each as you cannot eat just one!
It is always fun to share your favorites! Mere Poulard Galettes are one of my favorite gift boxes to send to friends and family in the US. The cookies arrive in this bright red tin decorated with scenes of Mont Saint-Michel. The galettes are wrapped in sachets of six, so they stay fresh longer and are easier to share.
With this galette obsession also comes my own personal attempts at replicating and maybe someday trumping all these store bought versions. A lofty goal I realize but never say jamais! The following shortbread based recipe is my favorite.
Shortbread With Salt
Based on a Michael Chiarello recipe
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar (sifted)
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon Fleur de Sel, plus a pinch for sprinkling
2 cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
In a heavy-duty stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar, about 30 seconds. Mix in the lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup flour until combined. Add the remaining flour and mix on low speed just until the dough begins to come together. Move the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pull the dough together into one or two balls with your hands. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Roll the dough into an 8 by 8-inch square, about 1/3-inch thick. Cut the dough into 16 (2-inch) squares. If you prefer round cookies, you can use a round cookie cutter. If you own cookies stamps, now is the time to use them to press the design into the dough. Finally, sprinkle them with the Fleur de Sel.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly space the little squares on the paper. Bake until light golden brown on the edges, 50 to 60 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet. Serve at room temperature.
Variations: To add a little peppery spice to this salty-sweet cookie, add 2 teaspoons of Quatre Épices to the flour before mixing in with the butter and sugar. These cookies pair nicely with your next wine and cheese tasting event, including red, white, and dessert wines.
Hopefully, you have now gained an interest in embarking on your own galette tour.