Punitions are petite butter cookies made famous by the French bakery Boulangerie Poilâne, where you can help yourself out of the basket by the register as you pay for your pain Poilâne or buy ‘em by the box. Une punition is ‘a punishment’ in French, and M. Poilâne tells Dorie Greenspan that in Normandy, grandmothers baked these simple cookies and then called in their charges for ‘punishments,’ beckoning them over while hiding the cookies behind their backs. This is how they do punishment in France, you see: eat this, become as fat as an American! OK, that last part was my embellishment.
The important part of punitions is that you need absolutely pristine, lovely, unsalted butter. These are butter cookies, and with so few ingredients, one must use the best. I use, of course, our excellent local Noris butter. I found this tastier than the cultured Vermont Butter and Cheese Company butter, somehow clearer and purer in heart. (Oregonians, the Noris website is up again, and you can check out their products here.)
Something else I love about these petite punitions is that they’re delicious as is, but you can also add one (ONE!) extra ingredient to personalize them. For us, that would be fresh roasted Willamette Valley hazelnuts, the best example of the specimen in the whole world. The internet tells me that up to 99% of the country’s hazelnuts are grown here in the Willamette Valley, and they’ve been grown here for 150 years. We get hazelnuts that are huge and plump and roasty, collected from local trees and sold at markets in the fall. I’m not sure if the variety that remains here is different than what is shipped out, but man o man, is it better than what you can get elsewhere.
But in the interest of keeping it local, I’d suggest you substitute hazelnuts for whatever local add-in might be yummy. I could see adding macadamia nuts to punitions in Hawaii, or a bit of candied Meyer lemon peel in the SF Bay Area, or a few dried cranberries in Bandon, OR, or some maple sugar in rural Connecticut. One more ingredient is the limit, though. I wouldn’t recommend doing anything fancier with them, although the temptation is huge. NO SPRINKLES. You’ll get a spanking. I mean it.
You can see from the Poilâne website or Chocolate & Zucchini (both linked above) that punitions are tiny, with fluted edges. When I bake mine with hazelnuts, I prefer to chill the dough in a log and slice thin, irregular, rustic-looking cookies with a sharp knife. But you might prefer to roll them out and cut them in fancier shapes. My only advice is to keep them small.
Retrogrouch recently ate a plate of these cookies made from local eggs from our CSA, Oregon flour, and the Noris butter, plus some Willamette Valley hazelnuts; he’s a glutton for punishment.
I liked those munitions cookies, he said, they were tasty.
Bang bang, I said, in complete agreement.
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in Paris Sweets)
5 oz unsalted, fresh, high quality butter (1 1/4 sticks or 1/2 cup plus 1/8 cup), at room temperature
Slightly rounded 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts
Process butter until smooth in a food processor with the metal blade. Scrape down, add the sugar, and process until thoroughly blended into the butter, scraping down the sides once or twice.
Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10-15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel. Add hazelnuts and pulse a few more times to blend.
Roll dough into log on saran wrap and wrap tightly, chilling in the refrigerator for at least four hours. If you opt to roll out the dough later instead of slice it, form the dough into two equal-sized flattened disks instead.
When you are ready to bake, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
You’ll want cookies that are between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Either (A) cut log in slices that are no more than 1/4 inch thick with a sharp, thin knife, or (B) roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick, and cut with a cookie cutter no more than 2 inches in diameter. Place on cookie sheets, leaving about 1 inch space between them.
Bake the cookies for 6 to 8 minutes, or until they are set but pale. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.
Greenspan says the dough can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month. The finished cookies can be kept in a tin at room temperature for about 5 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.
Makes about 4 dozen small cookies.