Sweet Palmiers & childhood memories
Well, now I’ve got one of my exams under my belt, so I can finally justify a little time spent writing up the Palmier recipe. As tricky as these palmiers might seem at first with the series of “Do this, refrigerate, do this, refrigerate, fold this way, refrigerate” instructions, I can guarantee you they’re a lot easier than figuring out whether or not the federal courts should apply Burford abstention. Maybe that’s not too comforting . . .
I made these Palmiers for my mom as one of her Christmas presents. Random, you might think, but there’s a story behind it. When my mom and I first moved to central Ohio, where we lived for about six years, we discovered this magical French-style bakery called La Chatelaine. Okay, my mom discovered it, but that’s what moms are for, right? Discovering awesome things and letting you feel like you helped. Anyway, they had and probably still have the most amazing palmiers ever. It was always a special treat to go there with my mom and get a palmier. Once, we went there or possibly to a different branch of theirs after we’d been sledding, and I swear my toes were about to freeze off. This is not a bad reflection on my mom – she bundled me up really well, but I was having so much fun sledding with my mom that I refused to pay attention to the signals my toes were sending me, namely “Ouch! Take us inside where it’s warm, you evil little girl!” We went inside and had hot chocolate, which they were also pretty exceptional at making. I remember like it was yesterday how my toes felt as they warmed up and de-numbed (or whatever). Shooting pain, people. Soothed by sips of delicious hot chocolate. That’s how good this bakery is – I remember it fondly and happily even when I’m thinking about that time that I almost froze my toes off because I refused to tell my mother I was cold.
All of which is to say that I decided to make palmiers for my mom for Christmas so that we could get all nostalgic and so that I could do something nice for her since she’s awesome and she gave me life and all that good stuff.
I used the Cooks Illustrated recipe for this, but I found their instructions confusing, which is not something I often say about Cooks Illustrated. I may also have willfully deviated from their instuctions at a couple of points, because I wanted to make sure they looked like the palmiers of my childhood, albeit the smaller, more home-cook-friendly version.
Also, I’m sorry, but this takes a long time. It doesn’t actually take a whole lot of active prep time, but you can’t just whip these up on a Tuesday morning. I like that about palmiers. I think it makes them demanding and sassy in a good way. And they have such simple ingredients!
At first, I was all annoyed with Cooks Illustrated for telling me to make a full batch of the puff pastry when I only needed half of it for a batch of palmiers. Then, I got un-annoyed. First of all, one batch of the palmiers only makes about 18-20 little palmiers, which in a house of palmier-lovers will disappear in an instant. Second of all, keeping some puff pastry handy in the fridge/and or freezer doesn’t seem like such a horrible thing. Homemade puff pastry is just so far superior to the store-bought kind, if you ask me.
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
For the puff pastry
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 20 TBSP butter (for real) – that’s 2 and a half sticks
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 TBSP cold, cold water
For the palmiers
- 1/2 batch of the puff pastry (ingredients above and recipe below)
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1 egg
- pinch of salt
Get out your. . .
- Food processor (or pastry blender if you’re totally processor-less)
- Rolling pin
- Plastic wrap
- Pastry brush
- Parchment paper
- Cooke sheet
First, make the puff pastry. Divide the butter into 4 TBSP and 16 TBSP. Cut all of it into 1/2 cubes or something like it, making sure you keep track of which pile is the 4 TBSP and which one is the 16 TBSP.
Combine the 2 cups flour and 4 TBSP of the butter in a food processor. Pulse 12-14 times or process several seconds. You could probably use a pastry cutter for this step but I don’t envy you having to do that! And you’ll probably want to cut the butter in a finer dice.
Add the rest of the butter and pulse several times or process for a couple seconds – or just long enough for the dough to look like it might someday in the near future be dough (someday but not yet). Dissolve the salt in the very cold water and add this to the dough in 3 or 4 batches, pulsing after each addition. The dough should be a rough ball at this point – if not, pulse a couple more times, but do not overprocess. It’s better to pull out all the dough and form it into a rough ball with your hands than to over-process.
Lightly flour a surface somewhere in your kitchen. Take the dough out of the food processor and put it on the floured surface. Form it into a rough rectangle with your hands.
Put this rectangle dough thingy between two large sheets of plastic wrap (at least 12″ x 18″) and, using your rolling pin, roll this into approximately a 12 x 18 rectangle. This is easier to do if you have an assistant like my sister who has much better spatial reasoning skills than I do and loans you her French-style rolling pin. I liked it so much that I bought one using an Amazon gift card I got for Christmas – I figured I needed one soon, anyway, since I’ve been using my roommate’s since we moved in and I’m going to be moving out in June.
Take the top sheet of plastic wrap off of the dough and try to set it aside neatly for later rather than crumpling it up – you’ll need it again soon anyway. Cooks Illustrated says to remove the bottom sheet, too, but I think that’s a waste of time – the dough won’t stick to the plastic wrap, so I see no need to return it to the well-floured surface, since that’ll take extra effort.
For this part, the way you’ve got the dough matters. You want to be standing looking at the dough as if you were the one taking the above picture. Fold the bottom 1/3 or so of the dough up toward the middle and the top 1/3 or so down toward the middle – they’ll overlap.
It was so nice to have my sister around to be my co-chef /assistant photographer. Love that girl.
Now, starting from one of the ends, roll the dough up . . .
Now, tap a good knife on the floured surface to get some flour on its edge and cut the roll in half, like so.
Wrap each half in a sheet of plastic wrap – go ahead and use the used sheets you’ve got in front of you! Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Remove one of the puff pastry squares from the fridge. At this point, if you are not making a double batch of palmiers, you can freeze the puff pastry so that it will last longer, but I recommend leaving it wrapped and putting it in an airtight container to prevent freezer-burn and funky-freezer-smell.
Now sprinkle 1/2 cup of sugar on a surface – perhaps the surface that was so recently floured (although it shouldn’t still be floured when you’re sprinkling sugar on it). You’re going to be making a 12″ x 9″ rectangle, so you only need to sprinkle sugar over that much of the surface. Unwrap the square of puff pastry you’re using and set it in the middle of the sugar. Using a rolling pin, roll it out into a 12″ x 9″ rectangle. Now, here’s the thing. I’m not a magician, I can’t roll a perfect rectangle – relatively circular circle I can manage, but perfect rectangle? Is this “EmandMarthaStewart”? No. So you have two options (assuming you’re not Martha Stewart) – you can either leave it as a close-enough rectangle and you’ll have a couple unusuable scraps at the end after you’ve rolled up your palmiers (as in the picture on the left below) or you can cut off the scraps now (as in the picture on the right). Either one works, either one allows you to sneak a little bit of the dough.
Transfer the rectangle, sugared-side down, to a cookie sheet. Feel free to line the sheet with parchment paper first, since you’ll need a parchment-lined cookie sheet to bake the palmiers, though you’ll want to brush off any excess sugar before you bake the palmiers on it so you avoid little burnt sugar bits.
Put the cookie sheet and dough rectangle in the fridge for 45 minutes to an hour or until firm. This is the one step where you should be most wary of over-chilling the dough. You want well-chilled dough but you don’t want it to be rock-hard, or you won’t be able to roll it up well without cracks appearing.
Now, remove the dough rectangle and put it on your counter – maybe even the still-sugared counter from an hour ago because your mom’s not paying attention so you haven’t yet felt the need to clean her kitchen up. In a small bowl or cup, beat the egg well with a fork or whisk. Using a pastry brush, spread the egg across the top (un-sugared) part of the dough.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt over the egg -washed dough. If you don’t feel like carefully sprinkling it, just dump it in the middle and spread it around with your hands.
Now, you again want to stand facing the long edge of the dough. Fold the bottom 1/8 of the dough up – halfway to the halfway mark of the dough. Repeat with the top 1/8. That sounds complicated – just try your best to make it look like this.
Then fold each of those edges up all the way to the middle, like so:
Now comes a slightly trick part – you’re going to fold this in half. All of the palmier recipes say it’s kind of like closing a book – I’ve never had to be so delicate in closing a book before, but I can’t think of a better simile. Once again, if all else fails – make it look like this:
Sorry for all of the shadows. I was tired and sick of taking photos. Now use your rolling pin and roll it up and down the dough to sort of smush this together a little bit – not too much, just enough to make sure the “pages” of the “book” stick together. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or until firm.
When the dough is firm, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the dough with a very sharp knife into half-inch slices. You should have about 18 to 20 slices. Discard or munch on any scraps – anything that’s missing part of its middle or an edge.
Arrange the slices onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving at least two inches between each slice because they’ll expand significantly in the oven. You’ll need to hold them pretty carefully while you’re arranging them so that they keep their shape.
You’ll probably either need two cookie sheets or to cook them in batches. If cooking in batches, only slice half of the dough and refrigerate the rest while the first half is baking.
Bake on a middle rack for 18 to 20 minutes or till golden brown, rotating the cookie sheet halfway through the baking time. You may have to remove one or two of your palmiers before the rest are done, if your oven has hot-spots.
Transfer to a cooling rack. Do your best to let them cool until room temperature before serving, or they’ll basically crumble in your hands. Store in an air-tight container if you manage to have leftovers – which you should try not to have, since they’re best fresh.
Note for those at high altitude: I made these without any difficulty when visiting family that lives at high altitude by cutting the sugar just a little bit – there was no leavening agent that needed to be cut, so this was the only change.