Because I lack the patience to wait in long lines, fight the crowds at historic sites and deal with other cranky, sweaty tourists, while friends are off baking at the beach or exploring national parks, I spend the summer tucked in my kitchen, reliving past vacations through food. Few sweets remind me more of poking around picturesque French villages than palmiers. Originating in Southern France, these flaky, caramelized cookies are a mainstay of patisseries and, in my case, the perfect breakfast-on-the-go. What can I say? Whether at home or on the road, I like my breakfasts small, portable and sweet.
Palmiers get their name from their unmistakable shape. In French palmier means “palm.” Along with being compared to palm leaves, they have been likened to butterflies, eyeglasses, hearts and elephant ears. If I’m baking these cookies, they might resemble a palm tree or, on an especially harried day, a work of modern art.
How do these cookies end up looking like palm leaves? Imagine dozens of layers of buttery puff pastry dusted with sugar and folded over and over again until they form a long, plump log. The log is then sliced and the slices are baked. As they bake, each layer of pastry expands and then comes together with the other layers to form a palm-shaped cookie.
Traditionally, palmiers consist of two ingredients—granulated sugar and puff pastry or, to be more precise, laminated dough. A laminated dough consists of alternating layers of paper-thin dough and butter that, when baked, puff up. Although you can make your own puff pastry, I tend to take the quick route and just buy it in the frozen foods section of my local grocery store.
If you’re a purist, omit the grated lemon zest in the following recipe. That’s the original French way to make palmiers. However, if you’re a fan of cinnamon, check back in a few weeks for another delicious take on this classic confection, cinnamon palmiers.
Makes 3 dozen
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Grated zest of 4 lemons
1 pound (2 sheets) puff pastry, defrosted
In a small bowl stir together the sugar and grated lemon zest until well combined. If you’re uncertain what grated zest is, see the photo below. You don’t want strips of lemon peel but instead the grated peel or zest of the fruit.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with some of the lemon sugar. Place a sheet of puff pastry on top of the sugar and then sprinkle sugar on top of the pastry. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry until it’s roughly a 12″ x 24″ rectangle. Sprinkle more sugar on top of the rolled out pastry.
Bring the shorter ends of the pastry to the middle, leaving a half-inch between to two edges. Dust with sugar and then fold each end so that the two edges touch. Dust with sugar again and make one final fold, bringing the one half over the other. Think of this as closing a book and bringing the pages together. Repeat the dusting, rolling, dusting and folding steps with the other sheet of puff pastry.
Refrigerate the palmier dough for 30 to 60 minutes. This will make it easier to slice.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from refrigerator. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into half-inch cookies. Place them 1 inch apart a lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, until the bottoms have turned golden brown. Turn the cookies over and bake for another 5 to 8 minutes, until crisp and golden. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing and placing in an airtight container. The cookies will keep for up to 3 days.