Ohhhh, ‘Murica… You have made me very sad in this election week. But as Stellina Sweets is not a political forum, I shall spare readers from a lengthy diatribe about everything wrong with our government; suffice it to say that the state of politics in this country is nothing short of a clown rodeo… And what’s the best way to deal with such depressing news? Right– PASTRIES. (I’m so glad we get each other.)
In related news, this recipe for Election Day Palmiers is Baked Sunday Mornings‘ first recipe from Baked Occasions! Several of us had the opportunity to be recipe testers on this lovely, lovely new book, and I am so excited to embark on baking through every recipe. (Phew, we are back to an every-other-week baking schedule.) As you might have guessed by its title, the book is organized by holidays and all manner of jovial, dessert-worthy occasions. These mini spiced elephant ear cookies are a cheeky little treat to commemorate our celebratory right to vote. As usual, BAKED puts a fun twist on traditional recipes, and here the addition of cayenne pepper gives the palmiers a great sweet n’ spicy kick.
I’ve never made palmiers from scratch, only with ready-made puff pastry. The next big pastry technique that I’d like to learn is laminated dough, which includes such delicacies as croissants, kouign amann, and some brioche. “Laminated” dough refers to the method of rolling out a block of butter over a sheet of dough, then folding and rolling them together in a specific pattern to create hundreds of layers of butter and pastry. These paper-thin layers will bake up into gorgeous flaky pastry dough when the butter melts in the oven, creating steam pockets between each and every layer. Palmiers fall into this category as well, so I was intrigued to make these. This particular recipe is like a hybrid laminated dough– you don’t roll out the butter block, but you do the “letter folding” technique to create those beautiful layers.
I have to admit though… Curious as I was, I was dreading making this dough because there are a lot of steps and several periods of chilling in the fridge. In fact, I was downright grumpy. And as many times as I’ve made dough (*mostly* successfully), I’m still a little afraid of it. The method for this recipe starts out like a pie dough, where you chill all ingredients beforehand, cut cold butter cubes into the flour in a food processor, then add water (mixed with lemon juice, in this case). You’ll want to have visible butter pieces in your mixture. It was hard to tell how much water to add to the flour/butter mixture in the food processor. I got it to “just hold together” with not-quite-half, but it was completely crumbly. I kept adding a little water at a time, but when I poured out the bowl’s contents onto my work surface, it was still a mess of crumbs that weren’t particularly interested in coming together.
I sprinkled the rest of the water over the mixture and carefully brought it together with my hands, hoping that I hadn’t overworked it; the amount of water in the recipe was just right. (I’d probably just add it all to the food processor next time.) I managed to form it into a cohesive ball and then a rectangle, but it went into the freezer for a few minutes before I started letter-folding. Above all, you do not want your butter to melt!
The letter-folding was surprisingly easy and straightforward. (Not quite sure why I thought it would be really complicated…) You’ll start with one of the short sides of the dough rectangle facing toward you. Fold the ⅓ closest to you over the middle ⅓, then fold the farthest ⅓ onto the middle, just like you would fold a letter. Rotate the dough so that the short side is facing you and repeat the folding process. Rotate it one more time and shape the dough back into a rectangle with your hands, then do one more letter-fold. As you can see, it’s very rough-looking, but it will smooth out by the time you’re ready to cut the dough. At this point, it will look something like a fat burrito! Chill the dough for about 30 minutes.
After you remove the dough from the fridge, repeat the whole rotating/folding process, but this time use a rolling pin to flatten it out instead of your hands– your rectangle will be much bigger and thinner, about 8″ x 15″. I found that I had to use more force than expected to roll it, but the dough was generally easy to work with. Chill again for another 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat an egg in a small bowl, and whisk together the raw (turbinado) sugar, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and salt. Spread about ⅓ of the sugar/spice mixture over a large piece of parchment paper. Place the cold dough on top of the sugar and sprinkle half of the remaining sugar over it. Roll the dough into a large rectangle about ¼-inch thick; this took a little muscle. (Also, my “rectangle” was very rough– rolling dough into neat shapes is not my forté… as you might have noticed.) You will roll the spiced sugar right into the dough, which will 1) make it wicked yummy, and 2) make it easier to work with because it won’t be sticky. Pop the dough in the fridge to firm up a bit.
You’re now done folding and flattening, and the final step in shaping the dough is rolling the *long* sides of the rectangle into the center like a scroll. (Incidentally, you could roll up the short sides and have more coils in your palmiers, but you’ll end up with fewer cookies.) Brush the middle with the beaten egg to help the dough stay “glued” together. Wrap the rolled up dough snugly in parchment paper and chill for 20 minutes.
After much rolling, folding, and chilling, at long last, it was time to cut the dough into palmiers. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough crosswise into ½-inch thick slices; cut gently to avoid squishing them! Place them on the baking sheets and sprinkle with more spiced sugar.
Bake the palmiers for about 5 minutes in a 425°F oven; they will start to puff up and caramelize. Flip them over carefully– they will still be soft. I had quite a bit of the spiced sugar mix left over, and the flipped bottoms looked kinda plain, so I sprinkled more of it onto the second side. Bake for another 5 minutes until they have spread and browned a little– you will see them bubbling away before your eyes!
The mini palmiers more than doubled in size as the butter and dough layers expanded in the oven; I was worried that I had overworked the dough at various points because the butter chunks that I’d had in the beginning got smoothed out, but when I cut the dough crosswise, I was delighted to see the distinct layers of butter and pastry! They were certainly evident in the baked palmiers.
So how did the little elephant ears taste? May I say that I was SO happy with these! Any lingering dough annoyance that I’d had early on quickly dissipated. They were pleasantly sweet from the caramelization of the raw sugar, but also had a spicy finish from the cinnamon-cayenne mixture– very unusual, and completely delicious! The texture was delicate and flaky, and slightly soft on the inside; I probably could have baked them another minute, but they were perfectly lovely as-is.
The palmiers are best eaten within a day, but don’t worry– the leftover few were quickly and gleefully devoured the next day. The only thing I might change next time is to dial down the cayenne pepper from 1 ½ teaspoons to 1. It’s actually listed as an optional ingredient, but I would highly recommend some amount of cayenne, as it makes them so interesting.
I didn’t make these for a proper election party, but they DID make the election results a little easier to swallow. If you too would like to try your hand at these homemade mini elephant ears (which would in fact be great for many an occasion), visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the Election Day Palmiers recipe. While you’re there, make sure to check out my fellow bakers’ palmiers too– we have some new bakers joining us to start off the new book! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.