"Punishment" cookies

I recently made a batch of these butter cookies for my son's 7th birthday.  I took them to his party at the bowling alley as a little snack alongside the chips and pretzels. 
When we went to Paris this past Spring, Poilâne Bakery, with their world-famous rounds of sourdough bread, was a must-visit destination for me.  We got a little lost along the way on a rainy afternoon but we eventually made it.  While I was eager to try the bread, I kept an eye out for their punitions®, or "punishment" cookies, which you can reportedly find in a basket at the counter and help yourself to a sample when you pay for your purchases. 
Sure enough, these thin, little 1 1/2 inch cookies were sitting in a bread basket on the table and I got the chance to try their famous butter cookie (they are also available for purchase in small sacks).  The story goes that these "punishments" or "punitions®" were called such because grandmothers in Normandy would make these and jokingly call out to the children to come "get their punishments".  It's such a good story and part of the charm to these cookies, I think. 

The cookies at Poilâne were excellent - simple yet spectacular in a quiet sort of way.  The flavor was subtle - not overly sweet or buttery, just simple and harmonious.
At home, I made these 4-ingredient cookies plain, sprinkled a few with sanding sugar, and even filled some with ganache a la Smitten Kitchen (it was for a children's birthday party, afterall). 
I think my homemade version came pretty close to the real thing - but not quite.  I'm sure it's the ingredients (French butter, for one) as well as the fact that they're made by very experienced hands at Poilâne versus a food processor at home.  But even though you may not be able to replicate the exact experience, these are still very good.  The cookies are crisp, buttery, and not too sweet.  I'd take this kind of "punishment" any day.

Dorie Greenspan adapted Poilâne Bakery's recipe for these cookies in her very adorable book, Paris Sweets, which features recipes from some of Paris' greatest pastry shops.  Instead of working the dough by hand as they are done at Poilâne, she's made it accessible to the home baker by using the food processor.

Oftentimes, I divide a recipe in half but you really can't do that in this case because there would be just too little to work with to mix properly in the food processor. 

Because these cookies are meant to be small and thin, using 1 1/2 inch fluted round cookie cutters, one recipe yields as much as 50 cookies.  I didn't have the 1 1/2 inch cutters; instead, I used a larger, 2 1/2 inch, cutter as well as a small, about 1-inch, cutter.  I like these cookies on the thin side so I *tried* to get them closer to the thinner end of the recommended 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness.  You could certainly cut these out into any shape you like but I really like the simple "coin" shape with the fluted edges for these cookies.

You can make the dough and store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.  Using the food processor, blend 1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) of room temperature unsalted butter until smooth.  Since you're not working with much butter, you'll need to scrap the butter from the sides of the bowl quite a few times to properly process the whole thing.  Then add a slightly rounded half cup of sugar and continue to process until combined, scraping down the bowl as often as necessary.
Add a large egg, process and scraping the bowl, until the mixture is smooth.
Then put 2 cups of flour into the food processor and pulse 10-15 times.
It's done when the dough clumps and looks like streusel.
Turn the dough out onto your counter.  I placed it over a sheet of wax paper.  Use the wax paper to pull the dough together and form it into a ball, then divide the dough into two.
Shape each piece of dough into a disk (I can never get mine quite round for some reason), wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 4 hours or up to 4 days.
Before you plan to roll out the dough and bake the cookies, bring the dough out from the fridge to sit at room temperature until it's just softened enough to roll.  As I've mentioned before, rolling out cookie dough is not something I particularly enjoy or do very often but sometimes it's worth the effort.  Dusting the surface and rolling pin with some flour, roll the dough out to about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick (I think thinner is better than thicker) and cut with cookie cutters.

A small 1 1/2 inch fluted round cookie cutter is the standard for these cookies.  Since I didn't have that size, I used my 2 1/2 inch cutter as well as a smaller one, which worked really well in using up the dough.  Scraps of dough can be gathered, chilled and re-rolled one more time.  I also used both parchment and silpat to bake these cookies and both worked equally well.
For some of the cookies, I brushed the top with egg wash and sprinkled the tops with over some sanding sugar.  I thought the kids would like that. 
Bake the cookies in a preheated 350 degree oven until set, about 8 to 10 minutes.  I baked mine closer to 10-12 minutes.  I was hoping they'd brown a bit but the cookies stay rather pale after baking except for some browning along the thinner edges.  Let the cookies cool on a cooling rack. 
To play around a bit more, I filled a few cookies with some leftover ganache I had in the fridge.  To me, almost everything is better with some dark chocolate ganache.
I made these for my son's 7th birthday party and served these sweet "punishments" in a totally loving way.  The birthday boy enjoyed them before and during the party, and I think his little friends did too.


Recipe:

Punishment Cookies (Poilâne Bakery's "Punitions®")
Adapted by Paris Sweets from Boulangerie Poilâne

- Approximately 50 cookies (keeping in mind this depends on thickness and would change if you use different size cookie cutters like I did) -

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Slightly rounded 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour

Place butter into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Process, scraping down the bowl as often as needed, until butter is smooth.  Add sugar and process, scraping the bowl as necessary, until thoroughly combined.  Add egg and continue to process, scraping again, until the mixture is smooth and satiny.  Add flour all at once and pulse 10-15 times until dough clumps and looks like streusel. 

Turn dough out onto a work surface (I laid it on top of wax paper).  Using your hands or the wax paper, gather the dough into a ball and divide it in half.  Form each into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for 4 hours or up to 4 days.  (Dough can also be frozen for up to a month).  You can also roll the dough immediately, if necessary.  It will just be stickier to handle.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks positioned in the upper and lower third of the oven.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats.  Let dough sit at room temperature until just slightly softened enough to roll out.  Roll dough into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut cookies using a 1 1/2 inch fluted round cookie cutter.  Place cookies on baking sheets, spacing about an inch apart.  Scraps can be gathered, chilled, and cut one more time. 

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until cookies are set but still pale.  Thinner edges may brown slightly, which looks and tastes great.  Allow cookies to cool on cooling racks.  They can be stored in an airtight container, at room temperature, for about 5 days, or frozen for up to a month.

Options:  If you don't mind veering from tradition, you could brush the cookies with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water) and sprinkle the tops with sanding sugar before baking.  Or sandwich a couple of cookies with chocolate ganache.  If you consider that these are basically plain butter cookies, I think you can also flavor them by adding things like citrus zest into the dough. 


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