I have lived in France twice for short periods of time. The first time was for three months on a bike, and the second was for a semester in Paris during my junior year of college. The first time I gained 15 pounds because I simply could not get over how delicious the pastries were (or the bread, or the cheese, or the chocolate, etc.) The second time I was much more careful and tried to stick only to the bread and a little cheese. Once in a while, I would allow myself a treat and there was never a question of what that would be.
I discovered Palmiers in a small town in Normandy about 1/3 of the way into the bike trip. I was 16, homesick, freezing and wet. The first month of our trip was spent in the Loire Valley and Normandy which, in case you are wondering, is not a good place to be biking in late March and early April. We got rained on, snowed on, and hailed on. We did not see the sun once during the entire month. We were sleeping in tents and biking all day. I only took comfort from my friend Jen, the hope of mail at the next homestay, and bakeries.
By this point in the trip, I had established my favorites in the boulangerie. Pain au chocolat was a given, brioche was always welcome when I wanted something more bread-like, a croissant when I wanted something less sweet. Seeing a Normandy is apple country in France, a whole new world of apple pastries opened up to me and I tried every one of them. One day, when I was feeling particularly homesick and wanting a cookie, I opted for a palmier. The charming butterfly shape disguised what a sophisticated treat this was. They are made from puff pastry so the layers upon layers of butter worked into the dough make each bite shatter under your teeth as you enjoy the flakiness of a croissant and the honey sweetness of lots of sugar. They became a true favorite of mine and I asked for them repeatedly during the rest of that bike trip (this contributed to the 15 pounds I gained, in spite of biking 1500 miles).
When I returned to France 3 years later, I asked for them in boulangeries all over Paris. I have gotten them for my boys here in Seattle whenever I see them. And I’ve made them a few times which I highly encourage you to do. You see, there are two ingredients in this recipe. Puff pastry and sugar. That’s it. Of course you can make your own puff pastry but why? Why when there is DuFour out there? Yes, it’s expensive (about $13 for 14 oz.), but when there are only two ingredients, you need to use the very best. I have no problem using Pepperidge Farm (about $4 for 14 oz.) when I am making something savory – when I know the flavor of the pastry is not the star. But if you are going to make these cookies, and you should, use the best. (Update: Thanks to two helpful comments, I can tell you that both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods carry all-butter puff pastry for less than the DuFour. I will be sure to look for those! Update #2: In the Seattle area, you can find terrific and reasonably priced puff at DeLaurenti and Grand Central Bakery. Trader Joe’s seems to be seasonal and I have never found a Whole Foods brand.)
The only real change I made here is an added step of coating each side of the palmiers in more sugar. Yum!
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for dipping
14 oz. all butter Puff Pastry
1. Sprink half the sugar on a clean work surface. Place the dough on top, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining sugar.
2. Using a rolling pin, gently roll out the dough into a 9 x 15-inch rectangle 1/8 inch thick, being careful not to press too hard around the edges. Continually coat both sides with sugar.
3. Place the dough so one of the long sides is closest to you. Using your fingers, roll the dough length-wise into a long cylinder, as tightly as possible without stretching it, as you would a roll of wrapping papers, stopping when you reach the middle. Repeat the same rolling procedure with the other long side until you have 2 tight cylinders that meet in the middle. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap; place in the refrigerator to chill at least 1 hour.
4. Unwrap the dough; using a sharp knife, cut the dough crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick slices. Dip each side of each slice into a shallow bowl of sugar. Place the palmiers on an ungreased baking sheet, and firmly flatten with the palm of your hand. Cover with platic wrap; place in the refrigerator 1 hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the palmiers in the oven and bake 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees; continue baking until the pastry is golden brown and well caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven; using a thin spatula, immediately transfer the palmiers to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve shiny side up.