French Butter Cookies

Does this type of cookie look familiar to you?  You know, those tins you buy at the store around the holidays filled with really yummy, slightly crumbly butter cookies?  Guess what?  You can make them at home.  I’m pretty overjoyed about this myself.  I’m normally not one to buy cookies from the store, but any time one of those tins appears at my dad’s house I’m all over it.  There is something about them that is totally irresistible.  I’ve been wanting to make these since last winter but never got around to it.  So many things to bake, so little time!

Of course I know I can always count on Cook’s Illustrated for a stellar recipe and they certainly delivered in this case.  The dough requires very few ingredients, but in the usual Cook’s Illustrated fashion, they have included a special technique to take the recipe to the next level.  In this case, that step is using a soft-boiled egg yolk in the dough.  It sounds a little weird, I know, and I was very skeptical.  Now I don’t know if it really matters because I haven’t tried these without the soft boiled yolk but I can say that I think these cookies are just perfect.  The buttery flavor and slightly sandy texture are spot on.

The article includes a recipe for a basic sablé dough, as well as numerous variations for a range of other shapes and flavorings.  As you can see, I tried a few of these variations myself: the basic sablé, chocolate swirls, vanilla pretzels and chocolate sandwiches.  And let me tell you, I loved every single one of them.  Like, really loved them and didn’t want to share them.  I try not to be overly effusive so you know when a recipe really stands out for me – this is one of those times.  Another huge plus is that the dough for all of these is formed into logs, chilled in the freezer, then sliced and baked (obviously the pretzels are shaped after chilling).  This means they are really convenient for holiday baking because you can make and freeze the dough ahead of time, and then bake when needed.  I still have more than half of these batches in my freezer waiting to be included in this year’s treat bags.  But I really just want to eat them myself.  I love these cookies!

French Butter Cookies
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Yield: about 40 cookies
For the dough:
1 large egg
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. (2¾ oz.) sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups (7½ oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour

To finish:
1 large egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tsp. water
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Place the egg in a small saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water.  Bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, cover and let sit 10 minutes.  Meanwhile fill a small bowl with ice water.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the egg to the ice water and let stand 5 minutes.  Crack the egg and peel away the shell.  Separate the yolk from the white; discard the white.  Press the yolk through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, salt and cooked egg yolk.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Turn the mixer to low, add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Add the flour and mix on low speed just until combine, about 30 seconds.  Use a spatula to press the dough into a cohesive mass.

Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a log about 6 inches long and 1¾ inches in diameter.  Wrap each log in a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Twist the ends to seal and firmly compact the dough into a tight cylinder.  Chill in the freezer until firm, about 1 hour.  (At this point, the dough can be stored in a freezer bag and frozen for up to 2 weeks.)

To bake, preheat the oven to 350 ˚F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using a chef’s knife, slice the dough into ¼-inch thick rounds, rotating the dough log every few slices so that it does not become misshapen.  Place the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Brush lightly with the egg white mixture and sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar.

Bake until the centers of the cookies are pale golden and the edges are slightly darker, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking.  Cool on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Pretzel Cookies
Follow the recipe for French Butter Cookies, increasing the vanilla extract to 1 tablespoon and reducing the chilling time to 30 minutes.  Slice the dough into rounds as instructed.  Form each round into a ball.  Roll into a 6-inch long rope with tapered ends.  Twist into a pretzel shape.  Brush with the egg white mixture, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake as instructed.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Follow the recipe for French Butter Cookies.  Slice the dough into 1/8-inch thick rounds.  Omit the egg wash and sprinkling sugar.  Bake the cookies as directed, reducing the baking time to 10-13 minutes.  When all the cookies are completely cool, melt dark or semisweet chocolate, spread a thin layer onto one cookie and sandwich with another cookie.  Let sit until the chocolate has set completely.

Black and White Spiral Cookies
Make one batch of French Butter Cookie dough.  Make a batch of chocolate dough by following the recipe for French Butter Cookies, reducing the flour to 1 1/3 cups and adding ¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder with the flour.

To form the spiral cookies, halve each batch of dough.

Roll out each portion on lightly floured parchment or wax paper into a 6- by 8-inch rectangle, ¼-inch thick.  If the dough is at all soft, chill until firm enough to handle.

Place one rectangle of the chocolate dough on top of one rectangle of the plain dough.

Roll out the stacked dough into a 6- by 9-inch rectangle.  Starting at the long end, roll each stack into a tight log.  Twist the ends of the parchment and chill for 1 hour.  Omit the egg wash and sprinkling sugar.  Slice and bake as directed.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated Entertaining, Holiday 2010

80 Responses

  1. You’re amazing!! These look just like the ones that come in the tins 😀 I find those irresistible too! I love it when my parents get them as gifts, me and my brother end up eating the entire can 😛 These look dangerously good, I’ll have to make sure I don’t make (and eat) too many♥


  2. i was never a huge fan of butter cookies but yours look so pretty! especially the swirl and chocolate sandwich

  3. I love these cookies! I always used to get them in the blue tin. This will be a great treat to give to my relatives at Christmas.

  4. Oh wow – these look amazing – better than any of those grocery store tin cookies! This is such a great idea…we’re are definitely going to be making these.

  5. Do you know how long these will stay good for once baked?

  6. I love those cookies too! Especially the pinwheel ones. Thanks for the recipe!

  7. Annie,
    Thanks so much for posting. I need to make gifts for my coworkers. This is the ticket. I can’t resist these cookies either.

  8. I find those cookies irresistible as well. You did a beautiful job!

  9. Yours look like they came from the store–gorgeous!

  10. I love these cookies from the tins especially the pretzel ones! I will definitely have to try these. Thanks for sharing!

  11. These are definitely being put on my Christmas baking list! Thanks for sharing!

  12. The ones in the tins better be shaking in their boots cause these look AMAZING!! WAY better than a tinned cookie anyday! I’m so excited that you posted this, I love those cookies, can’t wait to make some for holiday baking soon 🙂

  13. Oh, thank you for posting this!! These are my dad’s FAVORITE cookies! I can’t wait to make him a batch this weekend. Now, if I can only keep myself from eating them….

  14. mmm…I may have to try these as the sandwich cookies but sandwich them with nutella spread – one of my favorite treats.

  15. These look delicious! Great recipe.

  16. Oh many, these are my FAVORITE, I’m the same way.. I won’t want to share them. Can’t wait to make these, thanks for posting an easy way to do so! Have you ever made peppermint bark? I know it’s not a lot of baking but I’m always on the hunt for a great recipe.

  17. Yep! These are absolutly making it into my Christmas Packages!
    Can’t wait to make them! 🙂
    Thanks Annie!

  18. I have always loved sables and have made several kinds. When CI published this recipe I bought a copy and make the cookies that day. Like you, I found the boiled egg odd, but CI recipes are terrific so boil I did. They are the best sables/ French butter cookies I have ever had. They are better than many I had in France! I encourage everyone to give them a go. You will not be disappointed.
    As always, Annie, your bog rocks!

    • Glad to know you’ve tried multiple versions and the boiled yolk in fact does make a difference. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Just awesome, I am sure many people are going to try and do these ones after your fabulous post 🙂

  20. These are gorgeous! I made this recipe last year but stuck with only the plain vanilla dough. (My pretzels certainly didn’t look as fabulous as yours, though.) I made a simple confectioner’s sugar icing flavored with peppermint for one of the sandwich fillings.

  21. Those look amazing!!! Can’t wait to make them 🙂

  22. these cookies look great, and they certainly bring back memories. my grandpa use to keep these around his house a lot when i was growing up and i’d be nibbling on the constantly!

  23. Every time I think I have my cookie plan in place you come up with something else that looks too good to pass up! I feel this is a rather welcome problem. These look easy enough that I can whip up a batch tonight and cook them when time permits and there is nothing better than that. I have always loved these cookies.

    Just one rather dumb question, is there a difference between “softened” butter and room temperature butter?


  24. Oh, I love those cookies! My grandpa and I share a tin every Christmas. I love the sablé cookies. I’ll have to try out the recipe!

  25. Those are so pretty! I’m putting them on my next year list – I’ve already made too much this year!

  26. I was interested in thse cookies too, especially with the cooked egg yolk trick. I’m glad to hear such a great review!

    But, don’t you mean a hard-boiled egg yolk, not soft-boiled? Soft-boiled eggs have a solid white but liquidy yolk.

    • No, CI calls it soft boiled. This is only brought to a boil, then set aside, then put in an ice bath. The resulting yolk is definitely not hard-boiled but not totally liquidy.

  27. Oh, Annie, these are so lovely, and I bet perfectly buttery and delicious, too. These cookies would make a very thoughtful holiday gift, that’s for sure. Thanks so much for sharing this classic recipe!

  28. Wow! Yours turned out beautifully! You are super talented! I love recreating something I love that is manufactured so you can make sure the ingredients are fresh and natural! No preservatives here. I’ll take one large tin full please.

  29. I’m so excited to try these! I absolutely love the store-bought ones. I’m a little nervous about the cooked egg but I’m totally up for it!

  30. Those are beautiful! Next year these are definitely on my baking list. Thanks so much for sharing your talent!

  31. Well those look awesome! Totally like the tins of cookies I’ve spent my childhood hogging 😉

  32. I love those tins! Wonderful to know how to make them at home:)

  33. I so DID NOT need another thing to bake this month. But they are so cute and look so yummy I’m doing it. Thanks!

  34. I think it’s the tin — any cookies in a tin are immediately irresistible. These look spot on!

  35. Gah! Those are seriously so cute I can’t stand it. Isn’t it funny how CI busts out with the weirdest steps/ingredients? I used to think they just put them in there for laughs, but it really does make a difference!
    I haven’t had one of these cookies in YEARS, but now I’m thinking of making them for Christmas day…

    • I know! I just made their French-style stuffed chicken breasts for dinner last night and they also had weird steps. But wouldn’t you know it, they were unbelievable! Will be blogged soon 🙂

  36. Beautiful job on these cookies. They call to me.

  37. Those tins are most definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. I can’t wait to try making my own. Yours look beautiful!

  38. Hi there, how many batches of dough did you make to make all of the different cookies? They look great, I’m gonna try them now! Thanks again for inspiring me to get back in the kitchen!

  39. And sorry, one more question – did these “puff up” or expand while baking?
    Getting ready to put them in the oven! Yum!

  40. Ok, I just took these out of the oven, and even before you answer my questions above, I just have to say – WOW. These. Are. Delicious.

    Oh, wow. Amazing. Burning my mouth because they aren’t cool yet. But wow.

    😉 Thanks again. You rock.

  41. oh my gosh! the pretzel cookies! i’m allergic to the store ones, and you have no idea how happy i am that i can make them at home. thank you!

  42. I was all set on making Nutella Pinwheel Cookies tomorrow but your post has made me change my mind. I’m all about the Black and White Spiral Cookies now 🙂

  43. They look amazing – I can’t wait to try them!

  44. Annie–
    These butter cookies sprinkled with sugar and swirls of chocolate are the perfect accompaniment to a delicious holiday party. 😉

    They were not delicious. They were delectable.

  45. Yum! I’ve literally been holding out on starting a “Cook’s Illustrated” subscription because I will be too tempted to try many delicious creations like this when I need to focus on studying for the state bar exam to become a licensed attorney. On the Cook’s Illustrated site (, they include three videos regarding the recipe that might be helpful to your readers, too!

  46. I always wonder to make these swirls in the cookies. Thanks for the tip! I bookmark the recipe.

  47. Annie,

    You are incredible in the kitchen. As an aspiring culinary journalist, I look at your blog daily for inspiration through photography, fun stories, and recipes alike. My question is, how do you have enough time to do this?! Are you a stay-at-home mom that just cooks and bakes all day? This is not to be patronizing, but I can’t imagine having a life outside of a blog that is this intricate, advanced, and time-consuming!

    Thanks for a great blog to bookmark — keep doing what you’re doing!

    • Actually I’m a physician doing my residency. You can read more about me on the About Annie page. I’m just organized.

      • Wow, you are more incredible than I could have imagined! I read your About Annie page awhile ago, but I must have not seen that. You’re my new role model.

  48. Annie – anything you make is better than the store version! Kate

  49. I have always adored these cookies and I look forward to them this time of year. I’m sure these are even better since they’ll have that homemade charm and taste. Yum!

  50. beautiful!!

  51. I made these yesterday (sandwich kind) and they are so good! I am going to make another double batch this weekend 🙂

  52. Thanks so much for posting this great recipe! I saw it on Friday and it totally inspired me. I made them on Sunday 🙂 I did the vanilla-chocolate spirals, the vanilla pretzels, and some chocolate pretzels too–all are amazing. Can’t wait to put them in Christmas goodie bags. I’ve got them baked and waiting in the freezer now. Thanks again!

  53. Wow! That is amazing that you totally replicated this classic tin cookie. And yours look even better! I will need to try this…. definetely on the “to do” list…

  54. I love your site Annie and like everyone else was oh so excited to make these at home. I had problems though. I got the egg soft boiled and followed the directions, but my dough was too crumbly. It was a pain to roll into logs and then slice without them breaking once cooled. It was immpossible to make the pretzels as the dough fell apart- I even tried adding a little extra butter to soften it but that didn’t work. I live in Arizona. Maybe it was too dry? I have no idea. I really wanted pretzels but the round cookies worked- and tasted amazing. Any suggestions for next time?

    • You know, I made them again this weekend and had the same experience. I think it is because this time I measured by volume and not by weight, like I did the first time. I am going to update the recipe to include the weights so that you can have a more reliable result.

  55. Annie,

    I read the directions for the pinwheel cookies wrong and wrapped the white and black doughs up seperately and froze them without rolling them out and making the pinwheels first. Do you think if I let the dough sit out I’ll be able to roll them out or do I have to start over completely?


    • Gosh, I don’t know! I guess if they sit out until they are pretty soft you could probably re-roll them. Good luck!

  56. Trying to make these now and the dough is very crumbly, won’t form into a log. 😦 Also, I filled my pan with one inch of water, but now I am thinking you mean one inch above the egg? I don’t think that would make that huge of a difference though.

    • Please read the above comments, I just discussed this same issue with another reader. I think the ingredients need to be measured by weight to have a consistent result.

  57. Also! My grocery store did not have that sugar. I know what it is, I’ve bought it before. So I got some green and red sanding sugar that look to be the same size. This recipe is driving me crazy but I really want it to work!

  58. Annie- I let the dough soften and it was fine. I did have to add more butter because the dough was way too crumbly, but you’ve addressed that issue already.

    Another problem I had was that when I was trying to slice the dough it was falling apart. I think the dough was too hard. Have you encountered anything like that?

    I’m determined to get this right!

    • I had a couple other readers ask about the crumbly dough, and I actually experienced that myself this weekend. I think that measuring by weight instead of volume is really important for this recipe. I’m going to update the recipe with weight measures as soon as I have a free moment (am on call this week, so not home much).

  59. Just when I thought my xmas cookie list was complete! Now I’m going to have to add these cookies which all look fantastic. Thanks a bunch 😉

  60. These turned out amazing! The pretzels are my favorite. I also made a batch with 1/2 a teaspoon of almond extract and the turbinado sugar and they were delish!

  61. I’m gonna be honest I just made these and I found them really frustrating. My dough was also really crumbly. The recipe was also frustrating because for all the work I put in it didn’t make very many cookies.

  62. I saw a lot of comments about the dough not turning out, I don’t have a food scale, so I was hesitant to make this. I had absolutely no problems! They turned out wonderfully! I followed the above directions precisely, and they are great! Just wanted to let people know that it worked for me, so that you aren’t dissuaded by other comments. Make these! 🙂

  63. Thanks Annie! These are good. I didn’t have a scale so I just added more vanilla after reading the other comments about the dough being crumbly and I didn’t have a problem. Thank you again.

  64. Hi Annie! I loveee these cookies! Can’t wait to try a homemade version. Do you have any suggestions for making these without a stand mixer or hand mixer. I was thinking about using my food processor…Do you think that could work?

    • I really think a mixer is important to get the dough to the correct texture. I don’t think a food processor is capable of appropriately creaming the butter and sugar, etc.

  65. Annie- You mentioned before that it is better to weigh the butter instead of measuring it. How much butter in weight do we need? I’m going to make a second attempt at the pinwheels this week!


    • It’s not the butter that needs to be weighed, but rather all the other ingredients. I’m updating the recipe with weights now.

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