sables, three ways: (the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012 cookies)

Cookie swaps? Fun. Cookie swaps with over 500 people scattered across the world? Agonizing, but in a fun way. There’s so many things to consider! Transport time, crumble factor, freshness window, packing methods; it’s all critical. Not to mention the apprehension of sending your beloved cookies to complete and utter (but nice) strangers. And not that I really have a reputation to speak of, but if I do, it was on the line because of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012.

I must have looked at hundreds of recipes; at least it felt like it. Nothing came to the forefront. If it was exciting, there was no way it would ship well. If it was shippable and would stay fresh, I was less than enthusiastic about it. Until it dawned on me that I should just make what I consider to be a holiday classic: the chocolate and vanilla spiral.

I had an idea to make this a “variations on a theme” type of project. However, we were told to send one cookie to three people, and i didn’t want to be busted by the Swap Police, because it seems like a bad first impression to make, getting kicked out of your very first cookie swap, right? Right.

So i made three cookies for each person. Or did I? Because technically, these three cookies all come from the same dough, which means I think this counts as one cookie. It also means I just made all your last-minute cookie gifting much easier, because you can make a tray of these things, all different, and all you have to do is crank out a very basic recipe and add things when needed. Let’s get to work.

What you see above is a vanilla sablé, a chocolate sablé, and a chocolate/vanilla spiral sablé. They all come from the original vanilla dough, which you chocolatize by reducing the flour and adding some cocoa powder (and espresso powder, if you so desire). Whatever you do, it all gets rolled into logs and placed in your fridge until they’re ready to cut; hardly any work (and hardly any mixer time to get there.) Want spirals? It’s just an added step of rolling out your dough, pre-fridge, into rectangles and rolling them tightly together.

I’ve had trouble with spirals before: sometimes there can be unevenness, and holes where there shouldn’t be. Indeed, my first batch of these had issues, but not with taste. I corrected them and in the process found a way to make the most perfect spiral ever; no holes, no wasted edges, and a great way to get the dough to stick together without sticking to your rolling pin and making a huge mess.

If you ever find yourself in a long-distance giving situation, give these cookies a spin. They’re sturdy, easy to work with, can be made ahead, and their flavor just deepens as they wait to arrive at their destination. Three cookies out of one dough not enough? Then take the singular dough and roll them out into pretzels. Use the instructions found here (this is a different, and wonderful, chocolate pretzel cookie recipe I did a while back) for rolling them out, and make sure to sprinkle them with sanding sugar a la the solid chocolate and vanilla sables here.

The holidays are here. I have not made one single food gift yet, except for these cookies, so please excuse me while I bust a move.

These cookies were for a great cause: childrens’ cancer research. To find out more about the project, head over here. To sign up for information about next year’s swap (bloggers; you know you want to!), head over here.

Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook by the editors of Cooks Illustrated.

Sablés, Three Ways (Vanilla, Chocolate, and Spiral)

for the vanilla version:

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (scant, if you wish)
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • 1/4 cup turbinado or sanding sugar, for dusting

for the chocolate version:

  • follow the recipe above, reducing the flour to 1 1/3 cups and adding 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder  and 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder along with the flour.

for the spirals:

  • You will need at least one log of each dough (1/2 recipe) to form your spiral cookies. Instructions for rolling are below.

To make the cookies (vanilla or chocolate):

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, add the egg yolk and vanilla, and beat for another 1/2 minutes until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together your cocoa powder, espresso powder (for chocolate version), flour, and salt. Scrape down your wet ingredients into the bowl again, and with your mixer on low speed, add your flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides again and stir on low speed a few seconds more, making sure everything is homogenous and there are no dry bits. If some still remain, remove your bowl from the stand and use a spatula to incorporate everything the rest of the way.

Remove the dough from the mixer and press firmly into a ball. Divide the ball into two parts, rolling each one out into a log. Be careful as you do this: doughs of this nature (on the drier end of the spectrum) tend to make gaps inside themselves. I take each ball and press it firmly into a sort of flat log shape, then ease volume into the middle of it not by doing a complete roll, but just pressing the long sides towards each other. You should be able to feel a void in the center when you roll, and if one exists, you’ll need to start your log over.

Once your logs have been rolled, wrap tightly in parchment paper or plastic wrap and for solid vanilla cookies, refrigerate at least 2 hours until firm. For the spiral cookies, only refrigerate dough until it is slightly less soft, about a 1/2 hour.

For spiral cookies:

After your dough has chilled for its 1/2 hour, it should be a little easier to handle. Using a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap per log, gently roll out your chocolate and your vanilla dough, side by side, to keep an eye on their approximate size and shape. Think about volume: This is essentially a double dough, so you’re going to want to roll it out into a rectangle with the long sides being the ones you spiral in. Aim for a thickness of about a 1/4 inch or thinner.

Once your dough is rolled, measure each rectangle to make sure they are similar in size, and roll a little more to fine tune, if needed. Holding your parchment paper/plastic wrap vanilla dough sheet, lift it and drop it, sandwich-style, on your chocolate dough, aiming for symmetry. Trim or shape away any loose ends. Lay the now-free parchment paper/plastic wrap over top the vanilla dough, and use your rolling pin to lightly roll the two into each other. It strengthens the bond between the two doughs so they stick together.


I should note that these photos were taking during attempt one: the principal is exactly the same, but my edges, as you’ll notice, are uneven. Try to not do that; they should be as even as possible on both sides.

To roll these as smoothly and hole-free as possible (you really don’t want to mess this up, so go slowly and think about your strategy), take your dough rectangle and position the longer sides of it top and bottom. The dough should still be on top of either a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap.  Using your fingers, take the long side of the rectangle closest to you and roll it tightly upwards, folding it down into itself, to form the core of the spiral. Use your fingers and the pressure from your hand to seal it on itself and close any gaps.

Lift the parchment paper/plastic wrap up and around your spiral core so it’s tight to the dough again.  Using your right hand to pull and your left arm, elbow to palm, to provide even pressure, pull the parchment paper/plastic wrap slowly away from you, bringing with it the cookie doughs. While doing this, your left arm should be providing an even pressure on the log. Why do this? Because using your entire arm means your dough is being pressed at all angles and down the entire length of the log. For you, that means no gaps or weird holes in your spirals, and it should ensure a nice, tight,  perfectly round cookie.

Keep pulling until your log is complete, then roll over so the seam is facing up. Press any errant parts of the seam gently into the log, then place seam-side down onto a new sheet of parchment or plastic wrap. Roll tightly in this and refrigerate the log for at least 2 hours until firm.

Baking the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

For all types of cookies (vanilla, chocolate, or spiral), remove from parchment paper/plastic wrap and using a thin-bladed, sharp knife, cut into approximately 3/8-inch slices. Why not 1/4 inch? You can do that, but I enjoy a thicker cookie, so go anywhere up to 1/2 inch but remember that you may want to adjust your time by a minute or two either way.

Place your cookie slices on the sheet pan, at least 1 inch apart. For the spirals, just place them in the oven. For the solid vanilla and chocolate versions, use a pastry brush to brush the tops with your egg white/water mixture and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Place in the oven, one sheet at a time, and bake for around 13-15 minutes, until just firm and just barely starting to brown on the bottoms. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

As i made them, this yields 20-24 cookies per whole batch of dough; approximately a 3-inch cookie. It’s not so easy to make smaller spirals, but the solid vanilla and chocolate versions can easily be rolled into longer logs to make smaller, more plentiful batches.


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  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats December 12, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Oooh, your little cookie packages are so pretty!!! And your cookies too, obviously 🙂 I want to do the blogger cookieswap! Do you have to get picked to do it or can you just sign up??

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      thank you! it was actually a “Plan B” pack job, because initially only three of the containers were to be filled, and a little card was to go in the fourth slot. my cookies? TOO FAT. So, Plan B was spreading them into the fourth slot.
      Anyone can do the cookie swap! The link is in the post, but it’s just something you sign up for. There are minimum requirements (like you have to have been blogging for at least two months, have posted recently, etc…all of which you’d meet), but other than that, it’s very straightforward and tons of fun! I think the link right before the recipe is the one you can click on to subscribe for updates for next year; do it! 🙂

  • Reply Ashley December 12, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I love your reasoning! One dough –> 3 cookies = just 1 type of cookie. It’s brilliant! And it’s marvelous, from packaging to the handwritten cards!

    I feel you on researching what seems like hundreds of recipes. The last I looked, I had lists of potential Christmas cookie candidates on 2 pieces of paper, for a total of 25+ recipes. Oof. So if you need ideas for next year, just let me know, I’ll save you some research time!

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      I want to tell you; it took me forever to decide on one. FOR. EVER. If i were normal i would have just picked one and gone with it. but nooooo. 🙂 thank you.

      why do we do that to ourselves?? People love cookies. Period. And yet we wrack our brains trying to think of “the perfect cookie.” (Why did i just think of the SNL “perfect cheer” skit!) I also had notes, diagrams, etc. Girl, we will TALK around september next year about this, because i’m starting early. I want to compare notes.

  • Reply natalie December 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

    your packages were SO CUTE … and the cookies were SO GOOD. as soon as i opened the box my whole kitchen smelled like chocolate and butter (i consider this to be a GOOD thing… a VERY GOOD THING).

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      aw thank you! You’re the one who thought to send a little side gift with yours, and i totally stole the bakery box from you (I’m officially acknowledging that here). STOLE it.
      I am unbelievably happy that my chocolate and butter got to fly around your kitchen for a bit. We’re totally cookie swapping again. Like, in April, when i start eating cookies again. Gear up.

  • Reply Sue/the view from great island December 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Your cookies look professional yet homemade at the same time—the best of both worlds! Wish I had participated, I’ve got to do it next year for sure, it sounds like such fun.

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks Sue! I was going for that…just something polished but also not snooty. 🙂 And easy: i felt like the whole idea of a cookie swap/recipe share would be to use a recipe that was accessible, you know? That way it ends up on others’ gift-giving lists someday (hopefully.) You should totally participate next year! I’m going to; it was stressful trying to determine which recipe to make, but in a very fun way. I loved that we all had to post our recipes on the same day; what fun to see everyone’s cookie swap ideas!

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina December 12, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Your cookies put my cookies to shame!!! I feel so unworthy! I didn’t roll anything or layer anything, and I only made one kind of cookie.


    Next year, 10 layer cookies it is. 😉

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Jen: that is bupkis. I LOVED those hot chocolate cookies you made they were BEAUTIFUL! Do you know how much more fun it would be to eat one of those? WAY. more fun.

      don’t tempt me/put ideas in my head.

  • Reply Emma December 13, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Boyfriend bought me more butter while I was out of town, so I’m all set for some holiday cookie baking action in the kitchen! Yay:)

    I adore icebox cookies. These are presented so beautifully – I bet the recipients are enjoying the heck out of them!

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:56 pm

      YAY for butter refills!
      Aren’t they great? I love them – same reason. And so easy always to make, especially when you have little spurts of time available to you. And i’m a sucker for neatness, and icebox cookies are yes, SOOOO tidy.

      I hope everyone liked them: i worked very hard to make them exactly right, so i hope they arrived all safe and sound.

  • Reply movita beaucoup December 14, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Perfect treats in perfect packages! This makes me think I should actually start thinking about the holidays…

    • Reply shannon December 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Nah. Let’s wait until next year. 🙂

  • Reply Fatima December 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    These cookies were sooo good!! Thank you so much for sending them 🙂
    I really liked the texture, they were perfect and the wrapping was too cute too.

    Happy Holidays,

    Fatima M.

    • Reply shannon December 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      i’m so happy you liked the cookies, Fatima! i’m happy they survived the trip to your house intact. 🙂 happy holidays to you also!

    Leave a Reply to Fatima Cancel Reply