Excerpted from The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photographs by Deborah Jones
Coconutty by Thomas Keller
Corey [Chow] created a caviar course based on the Girl Scout cookie called 'Samoas', and the pastry team at Per Se developed this cookie based on the same. Here coconut cookies sandwich chewy toffee ganache, and the assembled cookies are dipped in chocolate. The inner texture is kind of like a cross between a Mounds bar and the caramel layer in a Mars Bar, so you get the best of both. This particular cookie began at Per Se when we first developed our biscuit box, offering a selection of cookies at the end of the meal in what was becoming an increasingly fluid dessert service. You might, for example, receive an ice cream course, a glazed peach with cream, and a cookie - a perfect series of sweets to conclude a meal.
For the Coconut Sablé
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Add the coconut oil. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the sugar and vanilla and cream for 4 minutes more, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat for 2 minutes more, ensuring the mixture is fully combined.
Meanwhile, using a spoon or silicone spatula, mix the flour, desiccated coconut, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl to disperse the ingredients evenly.
Stop the mixer and add the dry ingredients all at once. Mix on the lowest speed just until the dry ingredients have been fully incorporated.
Cut two large pieces of acetate in half. Turn the sablé dough out onto a work surface and divide it into two equal pieces. Place one piece on a sheet of the acetate and shape it into a flat rectangle. Top with the second sheet, then gently roll the dough to an even layer that is ⅛ inch (3 millimeters) thick. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the sablé dough, still in the acetate, on sheet pans and freeze until firm, about 1 hour. The frozen sablé dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly coat two half sheet pans with nonstick spray and line them with parchment paper.
Remove one sheet from the freezer and remove the acetate from one side of the dough. Flip it over onto a cutting board and remove the second piece of acetate. Punch rounds of dough using a 2-inch (50-millimeter) plain round cutter. If the dough cracks, it may be too frozen; allow it to temper for a moment before continuing. As you punch each round, transfer it to one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the second sheet of sablé, placing the rounds on the second prepared pan. The trimmed dough can be brought together, rerolled, and frozen to make more sablés.
Bake the cookies for 3 minutes. To keep the cookies flat, remove each pan from the oven and lightly tap on a heatproof surface to release any air pockets that may have started to form. Return to the oven and repeat with the second sheet. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes more, until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature before filling.
The cooled sablés can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day.
For the Toffee Filling
Mix the cream and vanilla together in a spouted measuring cup.
Place the sugar in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Without stirring, allow the sugar to begin melting. Once it is half melted, stir and cook until it reaches a light caramel color. Mixing with a silicone spatula, gradually add the cream, about 1 tablespoon at a time to begin. (Adding the cream slowly will prevent the sugar from seizing up.)
Remove the pot from the heat and add the chocolate and salt. Mix with a spatula to fully melt and emulsify the chocolate. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and, using the spatula, stir in the butter; the heat left in the mixture will melt the butter. Using the spatula, mix in the desiccated coconut to combine. Press plastic wrap directly against the surface of the toffee filling to prevent any condensation or a skin from forming. Let the filling rest at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour before assembly.
Match the cookies in pairs and place them side by side; the bottom cookie should have the smooth side down and the top cookie should have the smooth side up. Transfer the toffee filling to a piping bag fitted with a #804 (⅜-inch/10-millimeter) plain piping tip. Pipe about 12 grams of filling onto the center of each bottom cookie. Place the top cookie over the filling and press gently to fully attach the cookie and press the toffee filling to a layer just under ¼ inch (6 millimeters) thick, with a 1-millimeter gap around the edges of the cookies. Arrange the cookies on a half sheet pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes to set.
Remove the cookies from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before coating them with chocolate. Set up a dipping station: you will need (from left to right) the cookies, the tempered chocolate in a medium bowl, a small bowl with the toasted coconut, a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and a dipping fork.
Hold the dipping fork in your dominant hand and a cookie in the other hand. Place the cookie, top-side up, into the center of the bowl of chocolate so it is floating on the surface. Gently press down in the center of the cookie until the bottom and sides of the cookie are completely submerged in the chocolate, taking care that none of the chocolate goes up and over onto the top of the cookie. Use the dipping fork to lift the cookie. Holding the cookie over the chocolate, tap the stem of the fork on the edge of the bowl to allow excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Wipe the last drip on the edge of the bowl.
Gently place the cookie in the bowl of coconut to coat the bottom and sides. The coconut will stick to the still-wet chocolate. Carefully remove the cookie and avoid leaving any chocolate in the coconut. Set the dipped cookie on the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
Set the pan of finished cookies in a cool place for 30 minutes to give the chocolate time to fully set. Store the cookies in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 2 days.
Tempering Dark Chocolate
Proper tempering ensures chocolate has the smooth mouthfeel, shiny appearance, and clean snap when it is broken or bitten into that we all look for in a good bar of chocolate. Dark chocolate consists of cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar, and often an emulsifier. It is the fat crystals in the cocoa butter that give chocolate its physical structure, and it is these crystals that we are manipulating when we temper chocolate. When you purchase chocolate, it is tempered, but melting destroys the cocoa butter crystals. If it is allowed to set straight from this state, it will cause “bloom”: the surface of the chocolate will become dull, with a white coating, and upon breaking, it will crumble rather than snap. Tempering the chocolate is necessary when you are using it as a coating. It is not important if the melted chocolate is incorporated with other ingredients in baking.
A laser thermometer works well for taking accurate readings when tempering chocolate. To read the temperature, position the thermometer a few inches from the surface of the chocolate and shoot the laser eye into the middle of the surface area.
During tempering, the chocolate is taken through three stages:
Melting: 131° to 136°F (55° to 57.7°C)
Crystallization: 82° to 84°F (27.7° to 28.8°C)
Working: 88° to 90°F (31.1° to 32.2°C)
We like to use the seeding method: adding small pieces of tempered chocolate to the melted chocolate. Adding tempered pieces to the melted chocolate promotes the formation of the type of cocoa butter crystals that are needed to form a good temper. All the chocolate is chopped into small pieces. A portion (about two-thirds) of it is melted to 131° to 136°F (55° to 57.7°C) and held here for 5 minutes to allow a good amount of the cocoa butter crystals to be broken down. Then the remaining chocolate is added and mixed in, gently, to start the crystallization process. Once enough crystallization has occurred and the chocolate is at around 82° to 84°F (27.7° to 28.8°C), the chocolate is gently warmed over a water bath to 88° to 90°F (31.1° to 32.2°C). It is now “in temper” and at the working temperature.