As M. Poilâne explained to me, these plain butter cookies had a special name among the grandmothers who made them in Normandy, his birthplace.
There, they were called “punitions”, or punishments, and as Poilâne tells the story, Norman grannies would tuck these sweet cookies behind their backs and,
with a smile and a slight tease in their voices, invite the little ones to come take their punishment. Needless to say, the lucky kids never had to be asked twice.
– Dorie Greenspan. Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City’s Best Pastry Shops
I don’t know about you, but that’s some [literally] sweet punishment right there. Of course I’m not disregarding the assumed serious grandma torment and harsher punishments meted out to guilty parties in accordance to the severity of their actions, but let’s just take a moment here to ponder: nagging mother, check; strict father, check; never-appeased mother-in-law, check; nosey auntie, check; weird uncle, check. And what of the stereotype, or at the very least, the media’s portrayal of grandmothers, and grandfathers alike? Well, if you were a child of the 80’s, I’m pretty sure you would be familiar with this commercial, thereafter affectionately dubbing the hard candy with soft caramel center the ‘Grandpa Sweets’. And as much as the term ‘gutsy granny’ conjures the image of a no-nonsense, straight-talking elderly lady who could possibly bring the toughest, bulging bicep of a vulgarity-spewing gangster to tears, one can’t possibly ignore the more widely-accepted image of a doting grandmother, ideally baking or cooking away, ever so quick to chase her own daughter out of the kitchen, only to allow her pampered grandchildren have the honour of tasting and helping with her dishes. Unfortunately [or fortunately, depending on your age and personal preference], these are the same grandmas who would smother you with squelchy wet kisses all over your chubby cheeks, even when they’ve outgrown their chubbiness, and even after you’ve consciously made an effort to quickly make a dash for it after greeting her.
I’m speaking through personal experience, of course; no matter how nonchalantly hurried I pretend to be after saying my goodbyes, my grandma would always hold my hand firmly, pull me by the neck down to her height, and proceed to serve me with kisses engulfed with the scent of her traditional medicated oil, amidst my cringing and her ‘Oh, nak lari ye?’ (Oh, trying to run away?) teases. My grandma had passed on three weeks ago, and amongst some of the things I remember her by, I will always recall how she would never have any of us leave her home without eating or drinking something. Being the picky eater that I was, she would constantly tease me each time I gave her tea-time snacks a pass, threatening that the day will come when chickens will just disappear, and I’ll be left with only icky green vegetables to eat. And yet, every Eid she would place a plate of highly-piled fried chicken specifically before me, knowing that it’s my favourite, and possibly the only thing I chose to live on at that age.
I guess it’s true what someone once told me; there will always be a special spot in the heart for grandparents. They may have tens of grandchildren, and many more great-grandchildren, and inevitably there will be distinctive favourites, albeit perhaps not so much in your favour. But at the end of the day, each one of us is blessed with only two special sets of grandparents. And reflecting upon my own relationship with my maternal grandma, I may not have been the favourite, nor the most outspoken of grand-daughter (she would always laugh at my two-liner attempt of talking to her on the phone), but I find myself remembering the littlest things she did with so much fondness and love. It’s the unadulterated, seemingly mundane things she did daily that, as cheesy as it may sound, put the ‘grand’ in grandma. And I can’t think of a better bake for a tribute to all grandparents out there than these buttery punitions, with their simplistic comforting beauty; nondescript in appearance, yet perfectly rich in flavour and texture.
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan; Paris Sweets)
140g (1 1⁄4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1⁄2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
- Using a food processor, process the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, and process until thoroughly blended.
- Add the egg, and continue processing until the mixture is smooth and satiny.
- Add the flour all at once, and pulse for 10 – 15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds like a streusel.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide the ball in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap the disks in plastic. Chill the disks until they are firm, about 4 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch (4 and 7 mm) thick. Using a 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on the lined sheets, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) space between them. (You can gather the scraps into a disk and chill them, then roll, cut, and bake them later.)
- Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are set but pale.
You can sandwich the cookies together with Nutella or chocolate ganache; or brush the surface of each cookie with a little egg wash, then sprinkle cinnamon sugar, poppy seeds, or coloured sugar before baking.