François Payard on the Cookies That Time Forgot

December 17, 2015 10:29 am Last Updated: December 17, 2015 10:29 am

Pastry chef François Payard is a man who’ll skip dessert and spring instead for cookies and ice cream. 

His father, who owned a bakery, was the same way. Payard’s latest book “Payard Cookies” is dedicated to his memory. The family bakery in the south of France was one of the first to have a long display of ice cream cakes—made with raspberry sorbets, parfaits with kirsch, or frozen pineapple.

“When you buy the [ice cream] cakes, what do you buy with them? Always cookies,” Payard said.

“In the old days there were a lot of great cookies,” he added. “The French forgot a little bit about the cookies and became obsessed with macarons and American chocolate chip cookies, you know?”

Friends who perused his new cookbook felt like they were taking a walk down memory lane. “Oh, I forgot about this one!” they would say.

There are the so-called “dry” cookies, such as crumbly sablés, and “soft” ones like financiers. 

One of his father’s specialties, featured in the book, was the gommé, a cookie made with almond paste, egg whites, and an arabic gum glaze to seal the cookies after they came out of the oven to keep them soft. 

In the old days, you used to be able to walk into a French bakery to select cookies one by one and compose your own box. But those days are gone. At Payard’s bakeries, that practice ended as operations expanded. 

Pastry chef François Payard at his kitchen at François Payard Bakery on Houston Street in Manhattan. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Pastry chef François Payard at his kitchen at François Payard Bakery on Houston Street in Manhattan. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

“Even in Paris, in most pastry shops you can’t select cookies one by one,” he said. “Everybody pre-packs because we all have the same problem. When you have too many shops, how can you control everything? The soft cookies, they have to be in the refrigerator no more than two or three days or they get dry. The hard cookies, during the summer they get soggy.”

There’s also less appreciation for the skill it takes to make a beautiful cookie, he said, showing a photo of an exquisitely decorated cookie. “I used to love to have these beautiful cookies. I remember people were telling me, ‘Oh, $8 for a cookie!’ I told the lady, ‘Ma’am, if you make it, I buy for $10. It’s beautiful.’

“It takes time, it takes practice. A lot of people now don’t have piping skills anymore,” he said. “Everybody wants to be a pastry chef, but they want to go fast and forget about the details. If I have to do them all myself, forget about it. Now you can see there’s a lot of big companies doing cookies, but look at the refinement. It’s nothing like that.”

“Payard Cookies” leans Gallic, but also has cookies from other traditions, especially Italian ones (the Italians, he pointed out, have not forgotten their cookies) and some German ones like the crescent-shaped kipfers. A feature of Payard’s cookies is that they are modest in size—just one or two bites at most.

It’s a cookbook that is not meant to be a coffee table book. Payard hopes readers will make use of it.

Payard personally loves the “dry” cookies like sablés. He used to make them at Daniel when he worked there, but they were too fragile for his shop. The buttery cookies simply melt in the mouth. “Even a simple recipe with six or eight ingredients, you’ll say, ‘Wow, so simple and so good,'” he said.

Tips for Bakers

“It will change your life if you use a scale,” said Payard, “because pastry is all about science.”

He also uses Plugra butter, which has a higher butterfat content. If you use regular butter, he said, “it will be good, but it will be dry.”

Recipes From ‘Payard Cookies’

Bâtons Maréchaux

Almond Vanilla Financiers

Mini-Cannelés

Calissons d’Aix

Kipfers

Chocolate Chip-Almond Balls