My nanna was a great cook; one of the things she made that stood out for me as a greedy child (nothing much changed there then!) was her Sables. French for ‘sand’, they were particularly delicious cheese biscuits with a spicy kick that she would serve with drinks, cut into triangles and sprinkled with salt. Google tells me that they date back to 1670, and originated in Southern Normandy. Asking one day how she made them, I remember her saying. ‘easy as pie – equal quantities of butter, flour and cheese with a large pinch of cayenne pepper’ . I never forgot that, and although I have tried numerous other recipes – mainly for cheese straws (I like the statuesque impact of a spray of them on the table) I always go back to this one. You can’t make them into straws as the dough is too sticky, but they are always a huge hit whenever I serve them.
The brilliant thing is that they also welcome other flavours – I love poppy seeds in the dough itself, but I have also rolled them in the seeds for a pretty, crunchy border, or you can also add herbs (rosemary is good) crushed black pepper, chilli flakes or even garlic. I tend to use Gruyere cheese, but any hard cheese would be good – especially a strong cheddar. I have grated it finely here, but larger bits add a good crunch if you don’t have the seeds. The addition of cayenne pepper is quite unusual however, but it works so well with cheese and I often sprinkle it on cauliflower and macaroni cheese too for a bit of a kick! (see Tomato & Chilli, below). Some recipes advocate an egg yolk, but I’ve always found this makes the mixture too wet.
INGREDIENTS – makes 20 (I often double up….)
75g plain flour
75g cold unsalted butter, cubed
75g Gruyere cheese, grated
½ tsp cayenne pepper
– Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl or food processor. Add the butter.
– bring the mixture together with your hands or pulse in the processor.
– Roll out into a sausage shape, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
– Heat oven to 200 degress and butter two baking sheets.
– Slice the biscuits off the roll in 5mm thickness (I find this easier than rolling out the dough as it’s still quite sticky).
– Put them on the sheets, leaving plenty of room for spreading.
These are best eaten completely cold – I find if they are warm they are a little too greasy (although I know pinching one beforehand is virtually impossible to resist). These are fabulous with a glass of ice cold champagne – or sherry, should you wish to carry on my grandmother’s tradition…