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Every February you can count on two things being in the French news: pictures of pastries and chocolates for Valentine's Day; and pictures of the president petting a cow. February is when the Salon d'Agriculture sets up in a huge convention space in Paris, and it's absolutely obligatory for the president to make an appearance with at least one farm animal and at least one made-in-France piece of farm gear. I wish you could have seen the always elegant M. Chirac with a cow.
I don't go to the fair for the animals or the heavy machinery (although every French schoolboy does); I go for the food, and there's so much of it that it's hard to take it all in. The Salon is where I saw a stained glass cookie, which I recreated for Baking Chez Moi, that delighted me.
The "windows" of the stained glass cookies were made from heirloom candies and speckled with seeds and spices, and the parts of the cookies that weren't cut out were decorated with tiny bits of herbs. France has a long history of artisanal candy making—centuries ago, candies were made in monasteries and some still are—and old-fashioned candies continue to be cherished.
Back in New York, it became clear that heirloom wasn't going to be practical, so that's when I started using Life Savers. I know they're not the same as violet candies from Flavigny, but...
I opt for simple—I cut the dough into small rounds and then cut out a smaller round to fill with crushed candy—but you can go wild with these, cutting out many windows in whatever shapes you like. Let your inner cathedral builder loose. This dough is also delicious baked into plain cookies.
If you'd like to use these cookies as ornaments for a Christmas tree, cut the cutouts larger and, right before you slide them into the oven, poke a small hole in the top of each cookie—I use a drinking straw to do this—so that you'll be able to run ribbons through the baked cookies.
For the cookies:
- 2 sticks (8 ounces; 226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups (340 grams) all-purpose flour
For the decoration:
- 1 egg, for glazing
- 15 Life Savers or other hard candies
- Small seeds, such as poppy or flax (optional)
- Fresh herb leaves, such as tarragon, thyme, or cilantro (optional)
- Sugar, for sprinkling