As 2017 draws to a close, I think the best dessert I ate this year was ______.
How would you fill in that blank?
You might be surprised to learn that for me, it wasn’t a dessert from our 18 weeks of travelling (like the Pastel de Beléms in Lisbon). In the contest though was the Chocolat-Banane cake from Ganache served at Sonia’s baby shower. And the Neopolitan Diamonds I made to fuel Clare through her essays and exams before Christmas.
Does the word Ispahan mean anything to you?
It didn’t to me either until Sunday morning, August 11, when I opened the New York Times magazine. As soon as I read, “Elevating the Humble Cookie” by Dorie Greenspan, I knew I had to make her accompanying recipe, Pierre Hermé’s Ispahan Sablés.
Before we get to Ispahan, a little about Pierre Hermé, whom you probably know as the world’s king of macarons.
Pierre Hermé comes from four generations of baking and pastry tradition in France. He apprenticed to the greats: Gaston Lenôtre at the age of fourteen and then Fauchon before creating his own brand in 1996 and opening his first Paris storefront in 2001. Now he has 45 stores in 11 countries. The youngest person ever to be named France’s Pastry Chef of the Year, Pierre Hermé is the only pastry chef to have been awarded a Chevalier of Arts and Letters. In 2016, he was named the World’s Best pastry Chef by San Pellegrino’s “50 Best” organization. Vanity Fair, in the same year, named him the fourth most influential French person in the world. He’s the “King of Modern Pâtisserie” to The Guardian. For his artistic flair, French Vogue calls him “The Picasso of Pastry.”
Before we were jubilados, whenever I accompanied Magellan on business in Paris, I’d make a pilgrimage to rue Bonaparte on the Left Bank for Pierre Hermé’s macarons. I think his Praline-Noisettes with their surge of caramelized hazelnuts were my favourite. But that was many flavours ago. Today Pierre Hermé’s most emblematic creation, deemed a French pastry “classic,” is his Ispahan Macaron.
Ispahan was once the capital of Persia. But it’s also the name of a profoundly fragrant rose, whose extracts Pierre Hermé was the first famous pastry chef to infuse into desserts: now, he has a family of about 40 cakes, tarts, ice- creams, jams, croissants…Can you imagine the taste of his most famous macaron—a sensational gerbet of roses, raspberries and lychees?
In my opinion, to make macarons you have to be a Picasso of pastry while a Sunday-morning sketcher can make my version of Ispahan Sablés.
I’ve made only several changes to the recipe for these bite-size cookies—one that Dorie cautions you not to, so consider yourself fairly warned. Her recipe calls for pure rose extract (like Star Kay White at $106 a bottle on Amazon); ¼ teaspoon in the sugar topping and ½ teaspoon in the cookie base. (Let me know how wonderful it is if you decide to splurge.) Dorie’s adaptation calls for freeze-dried raspberries. I think you’ll prefer the ease of my adaptation.
As 2017 draws to a close, the Ispahan Sablés outstanding from our Christmas dinner will be sweetening the singing of Auld Lang Syne.
Ispahan Sablés, Humbled
For the sugar
- 1/4 cup sanding sugar
- 1/4 tsp rose water
- Red liquid food colouring
For the Sablés
- 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
- 1 2/3 cups flour
- 1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp rose water
- 1/4 tsp fleur de sel or your best salt
For the sugar
- Put the sugar into a small zipper-lock plastic bag. Put the rose water and food colouring on top of the sugar, seal and shake, adding more food colouring if necessary.
For the Sablés
- Put the raspberries into a zipper-locked bag, seal and crush them with a rolling pin until pulverized. Place the raspberries in a small frypan and over medium-high heat, cook for a few minutes ,stirring constantly until the raspberry juice has evaporated. Let cool. You should have 1/2 cup of raspberry purée. Mix the raspberry purée into the flour.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until it’s soft and creamy, about 2 minutes.
- Add the sugar, rose water and flour de sea and beat for 3 minutes.
- Add the raspberry/flour mixture. Mix at low speed until the dough forms soft curds.
- Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece into an 8-inch log.
- Spread the sugar onto a piece of wax paper and roll the logs in the sugar until they’re completely coated.Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
- To bake, set your oven to 325 F. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cut the logs into 1/2-inch thick rounds and place on the cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each round. Bake for 20 minutes until the cookies are firm around the edges but the tops are still pale pink. Let them rest for a few minutes before slipping them out of the pans to cool.
Update 1: Freeze-dried raspberries, which Dorie Greenspan’s recipe calls for, are available in Vancouver at Batard Bakery. You’ll need 1/2 cup.
Update 2: Amazon now has Star Kay White’s Rose Extract for about $20 a bottle.