Saturday, December 21, 2013



It's becoming something of a Christmas tradition that I make palmiers, French butterfly cookies, for The Gastronomer's family.  The recipe is from Ina Garten of the Food Network, and even though it is of the semi-homemade variety, with the primary ingredient being store-bought puff pastry, the cookies tend to be a hot commodity.  It's an extremely simple recipe, but the execution is a bit delicate--a ruler comes in handy for rolling the dough out to the proper size and folding it accurately, and the cooking times must be very precise because the palmiers brown rapidly.  I've developed a few tricks and tweaks to Garten's recipe to make them come out perfectly, including cutting the amount of sugar nearly in half, which is essential for pleasing my Vietnamese clientele who like desserts that are "not too sweet".  I also couldn't help noticing that some of Garten's measurements don't add up; for instance, clearly if you cut two 13-inch long logs into 3/8-inch slices, you'll end up with ~69 cookies, not 40-45.  1/2-inch slices are probably closer to what she intended--these are thinner than you might think.  One thing that is cool about this recipe (besides the revelation that if you bake puff pastry on its side, it magically grows into a butterfly) is that the sugar on each sides of the dough acts to both sweeten the cookies and keep the puff pastry from sticking to the counter and rolling pin.

Recipe adopted from Ina Garten.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Combine the sugar and kosher salt. Pour about 3/8 cup of the sugar/salt mixture onto a flat surface such as wooden board or clean countertop, and smooth it into an even rectangle slightly larger than a sheet of puff pastry. Unfold one sheet onto the sugar and pour 1/4 cup of the sugar mixture on top, spreading it evenly on the puff pastry.

With a rolling pin, roll the dough until it's 13 by 13-inches square and the sugar is pressed into the puff pastry on top and bottom. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they 2/3 of the way towards the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough (I like to set a 12" ruler beside the dough for these steps to guide my folds--if you place the ruler so that the 6" mark lies at the center of the dough and the dough extends about 1/2" past each end of the ruler, then the first set of folds should go to about the 3 3/4" mark on one side and to about 8 1/4" on the other side). Then fold one half over the other half as though closing a book. You will have 6 layers.

Slice the dough into 1/2-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Bake the palmiers for 5 to 5.5 minutes, until the bottoms have just begun to brown.  Remove them from the oven and flip them over with a spatula.  At this stage, the puff pastry will have expanded laterally considerably, but the dough will still be malleable.  Reform the cookies back into tight butterfly shapes by gently pushing on the sides (I use a spatula in one hand and a butter knife in the other).  If you do this at the right time, they will retain their shape for the remainder of the cooking process (this step was pioneered by The Gastronomer).  Return the baking sheets to the oven and bake for 4 more minutes, until the tops are golden brown.  Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a baking rack.

While the first batch of cookies is baking, pour an additional 1/4 cup of sugar onto the working surface (you can re-use whatever sugar remains from the previous batch), and set the second sheet of puff pastry on top of it.  Spread the last 1/4 cup of sugar smoothly onto the top of this sheet, and repeat the rolling out, folding, and baking steps from above.  You can re-use the parchment paper for baking--knock off any pieces of burnt sugar first.

Yield: 48-52 cookies
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 35 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
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