Ari’s Pick: Palmiers from the Bakehouse

The flakiest butter and sugar you’re ever gonna eat

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.


Ari headshot
Ari Weinzweig
Co-Founding Partner at Zingerman's | + posts

In 1982, Ari Weinzweig, along with his partner Paul Saginaw, founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen with a $20,000 bank loan, a Russian History degree from the University of Michigan, 4 years of experience washing dishes, cooking and managing in restaurant kitchens and chutzpah from his hometown of Chicago. They opened the doors with 2 employees and a small selection of specialty foods and exceptional sandwiches.

Today, Zingerman’s Delicatessen is a nationally renowned food icon and the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses has grown to 10 businesses with over 750 employees and over $55 million in annual revenue. Aside from the Delicatessen, these businesses include Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Coffee Company, Creamery, Roadhouse, Mail Order, ZingTrain, Candy Manufactory, Cornman Farms and a Korean restaurant that is scheduled to open in 2016. No two businesses in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses are alike but they all share the same Vision and Guiding Principles and deliver “The Zingerman’s Experience” with passion and commitment.

Besides being the Co-Founding Partner and being actively engaged in some aspect of the day-to-day operations and governance of nearly every business in the Zingerman’s Community, Ari Weinzweig is also a prolific writer. His most recent publications are the first 4 of his 6 book series Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Series: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business (Part 1), Being a Better Leader (Part 2), Managing Ourselves (Part 3) and the newly-released Part 4, The Power of Beliefs in Business. Earlier books include the Zingerman’s Guides to Giving Great Service, Better Bacon, Good Eating, Good Olive Oil, Good Vinegar and Good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Ari regularly travels across the country (and world) on behalf of ZingTrain, teaching organizations and businesses about Zingerman’s approach to business. He is a sought-after Keynote speaker, having delivered keynotes for Inc. 500, Microsoft Expo Spring Conference, Great Game of Business Gathering of Games, Positive Business Conference at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, American Society for Quality (ASQ), and the American Cheese Society. Most recently, Ari and Paul Saginaw were invited to address an audience of 50,000 for the University of Michigan 2015 Spring Commencement.

One of Zingerman’s Guiding Principles is being an active part of the community and in 1988, Zingerman’s was instrumental in the founding of Food Gatherers, a food rescue program that delivers over 5 million pounds of food each year to the hungry residents of Washtenaw county. Every year Zingerman’s donates 10% of its previous years profits to local community organizations and non-profits. Ari has served on the board of The Ark, the longest continuously operating folk music venue in America.

Over the decades, the Zingerman’s founding partners have consistently been the recipients of public recognition from a variety of diverse organizations. In April 1995, Ari and Paul were awarded the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County’s first Humanitarian Award. In 2006, Ari was recognized as one of the “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America” by the James Beard Foundation. In 2007, Ari and Paul were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Bon Appetit magazine for their work in the food industry. Ari was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Cheese Society in 2014. And Ari’s book, Building a Great Business was on Inc. magazine’s list of Best Books for Business Leaders.

Notwithstanding the awards, being engaged on a daily basis in the work of 10 businesses and 21 partners, writing books on business and in-depth articles on food for the Zingerman’s newsletter, Ari finds time to be a voracious reader. He acquires and reads more books than he can find room for. Ari might soon find himself the owner of the largest collection of Anarchist books in Ann Arbor outside the Labadie collection at the University of Michigan library!

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