The Provençal Thirteen: Fennel- and Cumin-Scented Sablés

In France, you’ll find sablés,  buttery cookies that originated in Normandy. (You know they had all that butter to get rid of there.) Most sablés are sweet.

But in Provence, for the famous Thirteen Desserts of Christmas Eve, cooks prefer savory little disks perfumed with fennel and cumin.


How did cumin get into mix?

Apparently cumin arrived in Marseilles in spice shipments during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Originating in the eastern Mediterranean, cumin didn’t have to travel far to get to Marseilles. Cumin (or cummin) spiced up old French recipes for a variety of foods, including some cakes and breads still made today. Taillevent (pseudonym for Guillaume de Tirel) included recipes for cuminades (“Comminee“) of chicken, fish, and almonds in his cookbook, The Viandier (fourteenth century), based on a thirteen-century source.

Serve the following savory cumin-infused sablés with Vin d’Orange or other sweet wine.

Sablés Scented with Fennel, Cumin, and Anise

Makes about 18 – 20 2-inch sablés and about 30 -36 1 3/4-inch sablés

2/3 cup all-purpose flour + 2 T.

1/3 cup semolina flour

1/3 cup almond flour

1 t. fennel seeds

1 t. cumin seeds

1 t. anise seeds

1 t. salt

1/2 cup butter

2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix all the dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter as for pastry. Stir in the eggs and mix well. If dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to 1/4 inch in thickness. Cut out dough with a biscuit cutter (I used one with a diameter of 1 3/4 inches). Place on baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart and bake for about 12 – 15 minutes or until slightly golden around the edges. Cool  on rack.

Be sure to read my other posts on Provence’s Thirteen Desserts:

No Partridges, Just Thirteen Desserts HERE

Lillet by Another Means: Vin d’Orange, or, French Christmas Spirit HERE

Citron* (Cédrat), Jewel-Like Morsel of Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts HERE

One of the Thirteen, the Tangerine HERE

Panis focacius, la Gibacié, and la  Pompe à l’huîle, Kin Under the Crust, One of the Thirteen HERE

Begging the Question: Les Quatre Mendiants and Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts HERE

Les Quatre Mendiants au Chocolat, A Candy Offshoot of Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts HERE

Nougat Noir, or Black Nougat, Another of the Thirteen Desserts HERE

© 2010 C. Bertelsen

4 thoughts on “The Provençal Thirteen: Fennel- and Cumin-Scented Sablés

  1. Oh, my! I am going to have to make these sables au cumin. I found sweet fennel seed (fresh, too!) at the farmer’s market this week.

    FYI: Cumin is mentioned in the Bible in Isaiah 28:27, and biblical botanists mention that it was cultivated on Malta at the time, I believe! Thus, I included it as one of the “fitches” (small seeds) in A Biblical Feast. Great post. Merci.

Comments are closed.