No one will guess they're slice-and-bakes.
Dark Chocolate Sables
Credit: Caroline Rogers

For the office cookie swap this year, I plucked a recipe from the not-so-distant archives. This recipe for Dark Chocolate Sablés (pronounced "sah-blays") was published in the Southern Living Cookie Cookbook feature in the December 2016 issue, and something about the crisp and buttery dark chocolate-dipped discs spoke to me. Later, I realized that they reminded me of a dark chocolate version of my favorite cookie recipe of all time (have you heard of "The Cookies"?). These sablés are shortbread-adjacent, special enough for the holidays, and one batch makes a bunch, so they're great for a cookie swap.

I was eager to try out this recipe even though, as I later learned, sablé dough can be a challenge to work with. Sablé means "sandy" in French, and the name is a nod to the dough's delicate, sandy texture. The main ingredients are sugar, chocolate, and butter, with a little salt to bring out the depth and complexity of the chocolate. The ingredients list is short, which is always a plus, but the recipe does require chopping, melting, and dipping chocolate, which means you have to spend some time and effort on the minutiae of the method. (It's worth it though.)

So, with my mise en place at the ready, I set about making the sablés. I wouldn't say I nailed it, but I did learn a ton along the way, and isn't that the joy of cooking? First lesson: The recipe will still work even if you accidentally melt the butter completely while trying to soften it. (A real and present danger of life lived without a microwave.) Also, the method instructs you to chop the chocolate finely, but I realized about halfway through the first bar that chopping chocolate is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks.

That's where lesson two comes in: After I finished chopping the chocolate, I realized that I could have just used a box grater instead. I'll try that next time because I think it would save time and help me avoid messy, melty fingers, which is an unavoidable side effect of the dreaded fine choc chop. In any case, you shouldn't skip this step: The slivers of bittersweet baking bar make the dough taste very delicious. Just put on a podcast and do the work. It'll take two minutes, tops (Five if you're chopping with a knife, and ten if you're chopping with a dull knife, like I did.)

After the dough comes together, you're supposed to shape it into two logs, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze for 30 minutes. After that, it's time to slice and bake. Because this dough is sandy—it's in the name, remember?—it's also prone to crumbling. Exceedingly prone. And that's why we have lessons three through five: After struggling with the crumble for many minutes, I found three techniques to help keep the dough together. First, It's important to roll the dough into a dense log before freezing it. Any parts that are only loosely compressed are likely to split when you try to slice them. Next, it helps to freeze the dough for longer than 30 minutes. Overnight is great. You'll have to let it thaw before slicing, but it makes the whole process easier. Finally, if your dough log is crumbling, run your knife under hot water. I heated the blade of my (admittedly very dull) knife between every slice, and it helped the cookies come out in neat little discs rather than crumbled heaps of sandy dough.

Once you've sliced, it's time to bake. The recipe says that the cookies are done when the bottoms have browned, 11 to 13 minutes. Because the cookies are already deep chocolate brown in color, it will be difficult to tell when they've darkened, but if you look closely enough and check often enough, you can tell the difference between done, nearly done, and overdone. Let them cool, dip and decorate, and you're done! What you end up with are cookies that are not overly sweet. They have a rich, deeply chocolatey flavor that pairs well with a cup of coffee or tea. Texture-wise, they are crisp and chocolatey and satisfyingly crumbly.

Also, these cookies make your kitchen smell amazing, like your own personal Willy Wonka-style chocolate factory. Truly, even when I unwrapped them at the office cookie swap the next day, they still had an unbelievably chocolatey aroma. (It goes without saying, but this is not a cookie recipe for someone who doesn't like chocolate.) You can make the cookies with or without the final chocolate dip, but I'd recommend going all in with a generous layer of melted chocolate because it adds extra sweetness and is just very good. Live a little!

Another thing I love about this recipe: You can store the dough in the freezer for up to a month, which means that you'll always be just a few minutes away from a batch of freshly baked dark chocolate sablés. Bake a plate of these for your next cookie swap, and you'll be living in a world of pure chocolatey imagination.

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What's your favorite cookie recipe to bake during the holidays? Do you have a go-to sablé or shortbread recipe?