Occasionally I do a post here that falls under the category Tidbits & Noshy Things– because everyone knows you can’t drink on an empty stomach. This is one of those posts, and it starts with a question. Have you ever been to Paris?
One of my greatest associations with that great city is the great many boulangeries sprinkled throughout every neighborhood. What a joy it is to walk past these places, inhale deeply and take a quick peek in the window at the array of delicious baked goods. There is no experience quite like it in this country. Somehow we have grown into a carb-abhorrent, gluten-fearing mass of cowering humanity. We have come see food as the enemy.
But not the Parisians, they embrace life and all its flavors it seems to me. I am sure the reality is more complicated. But when I am in Paris I have very little interest in reality.
The first time I walked those streets it was the 1980s. I was quite (quite) young and a tad romantic; armed with just enough French to feel cocky I decided to conquer all the sights, sounds and yes, flavors I could in one brief two day visit. One of the first stops was indeed a boulangerie. Now, I was no patsy to the ways of French pastry. My mother had been making brioche at home since my childhood. But all the unusual bread shapes struck me: baton, bloomer, boule, epi, ficelle, fougasse, pistolets…the list seemed endless.
On that first trip the treat I settled upon the simplest and most iconic of yeasty prodigies– a baguette sliced lengthwise and stuffed with gooey Camembert cheese. Oh my! What a sensation that was. But that is another story for another day.
Because we are here to discuss another treat entirely. One with which I became acquainted on my second stop at an authentic Parisian boulangerie (which was about 20 minutes and a block and a half later than my first foray). Because one of the most visually stunning pastries to grace the windows of each and every boulangerie I passed was what I soon came to know as le palmier.
My first palmier was sweet. Sugar and cinnamon rolled between layers of the flakiest pastry you can imagine. I spied it through the glass of the shop. It was bigger than my hand and dotted with caramelized sugar that had been heated to a crackly candy like crunch! Of course there was the distinctive shape. Some say they resemble elephant ears. Some say the name comes from its resemblance to a palm frond. I say, who cares… may I have another please?
Because this simplest of French pastry is a marvel of taste and texture. It requires good puff pastry to be sublime, but in truth there is no such thing as a bad palmier. Because its leading component is that other great American nemesis– butter!
Something magical happens as the butter melts in well-prepared pastry dough. The water trapped within becomes steam as it heats. The steam rises, forcing each layer upward. This makes for a final product with a million flaky layers that you never would have guessed were there when you rolled that dough out. In a palmier these layers are rolled into even more layers– which are lined with just about any delicacy you can imagine.
As I mentioned my first palmier was monstrously huge and very sweet. Today I am presenting a petit, savory version with Dijon mustard, proscuitto and Parmesan cheese.
I used leftover homemade pastry dough. Hence the rather lopsided shape you see rolled out on my counter in the picture. My pastry rolling skills are in need of a refresher course! But you could easily make this with prepared store-bought dough. But I warn you… buy quality dough. There is a rather well-known brand out there that is very disappointing in my opinion! It is loaded with all sorts of mystery fat so read the label before you buy. Look for a brand that only uses pure butter. If you can find Dufour it is made with only quality French butter and it is frankly better than I can make at home. Not that I am an expert…
I envision this as a spectacular appetizer, perfect with a martini or perhaps a very dry aperitif. Serve them piping hot straight from the oven for the greatest effect. But room temperature or a day old is still delicious because as I said earlier there is no such thing as a bad palmier! GREG
- 8 oz puff pastry
- 3 T dijon mustard
- 8-10 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced
- 1⁄4 c Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface roll the puff pastry into approximately a 9 inch roughly shaped square. Brush the dough with the mustard leaving a 1/2-inch border all the way around the edges. Lay the prosciutto on top slightly overlapping and maintaining the border of dough all around. Sprinkle the surface with the Parmesan cheese. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the the pastry and roll slightly with a rolling pin to gently embed the ingredients. This will help the palmiers hold their shape and not separate as it bakes.
Roll the two sides of the pastry in towards the center as tightly as possible until they meet in the middle. Wrap the roll in plastic wrap and place it in the freezer to chill and get quite firm, but not fully frozen. About 30 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap the roll of chilled dough and slice it crosswise into 36, 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange them on the baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Serve warm.
Greg Henry writes the food blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food, and contributes the Friday column on entertaining for The Back Burner at Key Ingredient. He’s active in the food blogging community, and a popular speaker at IFBC, Food Buzz Festival and Camp Blogaway. He’s led cooking demonstrations in Panama & Costa Rica, and has traveled as far and wide as Norway to promote culinary travel. He’s been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Los Angeles Times, More Magazine, The Today Show Online and Saveur’s Best of the Web. Greg also co-hosts The Table Set podcast which can be downloaded on iTunes or at Homefries Podcast Network.
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