Friday, February 10, 2012

Palmiers... The Perfect Valentine Cookie

For years, my "go to" cookie for Valentine's Day was a sugar cookie made from a no-fail Betty Crocker recipe (Sugar Cookie Cutouts); one that still gets a good bit of use on other occasions. Though pretty standard fare, this cookie was nonetheless a welcomed Valentine's Day tradition in our home, and one that I might have continued had we never packed up all our belongings and moved to Holland.

Arriving in the land of tulips and windmills in the summer of 1996 began, for us, a study in balancing life. Unlike our grab-and-go lifestyle here in the States, the Dutch have a different rhythm; one that was, for me, most poignantly illustrated by the manner in which they enjoyed their coffee...  served in a porcelain cup... on a saucer... at a table... with a little cookie tucked in alongside to dip and nibble.

Sometimes it was a little gingerbread cookie that was served, or a little sugar cookie, or a mini stroopwafel. It truly didn't matter what cookie arrived as each was such a little treat to enjoy.

And then, one day, it was a palmier... and that lovely reaction of isn't it wonderful to receive this generous little morsel changed.

More and more I found myself secretly hoping for this crisp, yet delicate little cookie at each and every service. And yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that I was increasingly disappointed if it was not. I found I quickly developed an affinity for this cookie and, with it, a somewhat unattractive quality of being let down when I received my order and spied anything less than a palmier.

This subtly sweet, crisp cookie is not only pretty -- with gentle layers of golden, caramelized puff pastry magically transformed to mimic the shape of a heart -- but equally appealing to eat. Sweet flavors of sugar and butter thread throughout its folds, and an ethereal texture lightly gives way with each bite to expose the delicate nature of the many-layered dough. And, with the availability of frozen puff pastry, incredibly easy to make.

It's a perfect cookie most any time of the year, but especially so for Valentine's. Perhaps with a cup of coffee... in a porcelain cup... on a saucer...

adapted from a few recipes, most notably from The Barefoot Contessa
makes approximately 24 to 30 cookies

Though a bit pricier, I especially like the Dufour brand of puff pastry (which I purchase at Whole Foods). However, Pepperidge Farm is another brand I've tried and liked. Depending on the brand, you may get one or two sheets of dough, and differing sizes. In general, I've found that working with a square or rectangle, anywhere from 10" to 15" is easiest... producing a nice, average-size cookie. So, depending on the shape and size of your puff pastry, roll it into a square or rectangle between 3/16" and 1/4"thick.

The shape of your final cookie will depend on whether you roll or fold your dough. I prefer folding as it results in what I believe to be a more elegant shape, similar to a heart (this can be further promoted by gently...and carefully... pinching the bottom of each cookie during the baking process. Using a bit of foil to tip your fingers helps!).  (Rolling the dough forms more of a round, spiral shape to each side of the cookie).

1 14-ounce package Dufour Classic Puff Pastry (1 sheet), defrosted according to package directions
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sugar and salt. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of sugar over work surface. Add cinnamon to remaining sugar mix and combine thoroughly. Lay dough onto sugared surface and gently unfold. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cinnamon-sugar mix over top and carefully roll to desired size (15" x 12" is the size I used). Be careful not to overwork the dough as it can damage the layers of puff pastry and result in a leaden cookie.

Beginning on one end (of 15" length), carefully fold dough 1/4 toward center of sheet. Repeat with opposite end and gently press down...

Sprinkle entire surface of folded dough with 1/2 of remaining cinnamon-sugar mix. Repeat 1/4 fold of each side toward center ...

Sprinkle folded dough with remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture and press lightly. Then fold sides together and press lightly, again...

Cover dough with plastic wrap and place in fridge for 1/2 hour to chill. Remove from fridge and return to sugared work surface. Carefully trim each end to make a nice uniform edge. Cut slices (approximately 3/8" to 1/2" thick) from "log" of folded dough. Gently tap each cut surface into sugar and place on parchment-lined baking sheet (2 inches apart), cut-side up.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes, then gently turn each cookie over and continue baking for another 8 to 9 minutes, until golden. Place cookies on a rack to cool, caramelized side up (once you turn the cookies, you'll see the first side is beautifully caramelized and golden... more so than the underside...).

* These cookies are also referred to as palm leaves, elephant ears, french hearts, pig's ears, butterfly cookies, glasses... and perhaps, other names.

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