Moving from positive beliefs to the palmier, there’s something so simple, and yet, so special about these small pastries from the Bakehouse. Crunchy sweetness. Compelling caramelization of sugar. A whole bunch of butter. There’s no frosting to obscure their simple elegance. It’s a pastry that approximates what you would get if you took the best parts of a croissant’s buttery, flaky, crunchy crust, add a bunch of sugar, and then baked it without a lot of surface area so most all of what you end up is lovingly caramelized by that magical Maillard effect. A Palmier, I’m thinking, is something someone ought to write poetry about.
Palmiers are indeed made from laminated dough, similar in style to the croissant, but without the yeast that makes the croissant rise. In the same way that a baguette brings the maximum of crust to the bread world, the palmier does much the same for pastry. You get a whole lot of crunch and almost no soft interior.
Amy Emberling, co-managing partner at the Bakehouse, says,
“They are like croissants and French baguettes and strudel to me—baking miracles. There are only a few ingredients: flour, butter, sugar, salt, a touch of lemon, and plain old water. Nothing unusual. Yet through some precise techniques, it’s possible to make these buttery, flaky, crisp, really delightful cookies.”
The obvious thing to do with a palmier is to simply eat one. Great with coffee or dipped into hot chocolate. You can also crumble it over gelato. Or pudding. Or rice pudding. If you like a sweet-savory combo, you can also spread one with cream cheese—killer! If you enjoy your salads slightly on the sweeter side, crumble one over top to add the kind of crunch you get from croutons. Break some over buttered noodles for a really nice dessert pasta—a bit of a high-end version of unbaked noodle kugel. Whatever you do with them, know that palmiers are crumbly, crunchy, butter-laden, caramelized awesomeness.
Historically, the palmier probably dates back to the turn of the 20th century, so it’s not all that old in the scheme of the culinary world. Interesting in that it’s a chocolate-less pastry that came to prominence at the same time that chocolate was going mainstream. The name palmier in French means palm, which is what the pastry resembles visually. Palmiers appear around the world with various names and in slightly different forms. In the States, some folks call them “elephant ears.” Or in Germany, it’s “pig’s ears.” French Jews, I’ve read, serve them for Purim—they’re said to resemble “Haman’s Ears.” In China, they’re called “butterfly pastries” because they look like butterflies too. In Switzerland, people call them “Hearts of France.” In Spain, they finish them with chocolate and/or coconut; in Puerto Rico, with honey. Given that they’re so universally loved, perhaps the palmier, like the palm leaf which it’s made to resemble, could be a universal pastry symbol of peace. Bring a bag of them with you as a peace offering; think peaceful thoughts when you eat them.
P.S. The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, born in Rome of Polish-Byelorussian ancestry, did write a poem about “Le Palmier,” written to his lover, but focused overtly on the palm tree, not the pastry. The poem is a calligram—a style in which the words of the poem are printed to resemble the subject of the piece—in this case, a palm tree. Apollinaire died of the Spanish flu, in France, in 1918.
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- Ship sweet palmiers to a loved one!
- Learn how to make “palmiers & puff pastry” in your own kitchen.