Not long ago while wandering the picturesque streets of the French town Sarlat-la-Canéda, my eyes were drawn to a small pastry shop. Down the center aisle, surrounded by hand made chocolates and piles of jewel-like candied fruits, were cake stands heaped with cookies of all kinds, shapes and sizes.
My eyes were immediately drawn to one cookie, right in the center, golden and topped with a beautiful candied lemon slice. Lovely but honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. How would a whole slice of candied citrus work on a delicate cookie? Would it be too tough? Too sweet? I shouldn’t have worried. The tart but tender lemon slice contrasted perfectly with the buttery cookie below. I instantly regretted not buying more.
A month later, the memory still strong, I recreated that cookie. For the base, a vanilla sablé fit the bill perfectly. Rich and tender with plenty of butter, sugar and vanilla, it’s a classic in the French pastry repertoire for good reason. The lemons, on the other hand, took a bit of effort to decipher. The key to maintaining a lovely slice is to candy slowly and gently. It’s not a quick process by any means but it is pretty easy, mostly hands off and well worth the effort for these beautiful and unique cookies.
Candied Lemon Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies depending on size
For the candied lemon slices:
3-4 thin skinned lemons, well washed and dried
3 cups sugar, divided
3 ¼ cups water + more as needed, divided
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
For the cookie dough:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup powdered sugar, measured then sifted
1 large egg, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
coarse sanding sugar
For the candied lemon slices:
With a sharp knife, slice lemons into thin, even rounds about 1/8-inch thick. Try to slice evenly and take care to keep as much of the flesh intact as possible. Discard ends, carefully remove and discard any seeds.
Bring 1 ¾ cups water and 1 cup sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add sliced lemons and bring back to a gentle boil. Reduce heat as low as possible to maintain a gentle simmer, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cover and let sit at room temperature at least 4 hours or overnight. Gently drain the lemons and discard the liquid – it is rather bitter.
Bring remaining 2 cups sugar, 1 ½ cups water and 2 tablespoons corn syrup to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon slices and bring back to a gentle boil. Reduce heat as low as possible to maintain a gentle simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cover and let sit at room temperature at least 4 hours or overnight.
Bring same mixture back to boil and repeat this process 2-3 more times until lemon rind is tender and translucent, adding ¼ cup – ¾ cup water as needed to keep syrup liquid. If syrup becomes too thick, it may begin to caramelize, which should be avoided.
Remove lemon slices from syrup and spread out evenly on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Let dry for at least 1 hour or overnight. Note: If you care to save the leftover syrup, it makes a rather nice drink mixed with sparkling water.
For the cookie dough:
In a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, mix butter on low speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute (you don’t want it to get light and fluffy). Add sugar, salt and powdered sugar and mix until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape down bowl as needed. Add egg yolk (save white for later), vanilla extract and lemon zest; mix for 1 minute. On low speed, mix in the flour just until blended, scraping bowl once or twice (dough will be very soft.)
Divide dough in 2 or 3 pieces and shape each piece into log slightly smaller in diameter than your lemon slices (the dough will spread slightly during baking). Wrap logs in plastic wrap and roll on counter to round out the edges. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours until firm (dough can be frozen, tightly wrapped, at this point for up to 2 months.)
Position oven racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Whisk remaining egg white with a ½ teaspoon water to combine. Unwrap one dough log and brush lightly and evenly with the egg wash. Sprinkle about ¼ cup coarse sanding sugar around log and gently roll dough to coat, patting sugar where necessary until evenly coated. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into ½-inch thick rounds, turning the roll as your slice to keep the cookies round, and place on the prepared sheet pans, leaving about 1 inch between rounds.
Bake cookies for 9 minutes until they just begin to set but haven’t yet browned.
Top each cookie with a candied lemon slice then return to oven, rotating pans, and continue to bake until the cookies are slightly firm to the touch and golden brown on the bottom, about 8-10 additional minutes.
Let the cookies cool completely on sheet pans.
Pack in airtight container with wax or parchment paper between layers and store at room temperature for up to 4 days.
baking, Christmas, cookie, holiday
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