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When it comes to baking my philosophy (for now) is the easier the better. What could be easier than a plate of palmiers, the butterfly shaped French cookies sometimes also known as “elephant ears” or “palm leaves”? Now, I’m not talking about standing in the kitchen all afternoon buttering and folding laminate pastry dough–I’m not brave enough for that yet. I’m talking about puff pastry bought at the market, sprinkled with sugar and popped into the oven for minutes. The result is a light, buttery cookie with a caramel crunch that is hard to resist. And sure to impress.
Granted, I make sure I get the best puff pastry money can buy, usually the all-butter puff pastry at my local Gourmet Warehouse. This recipe is for a classic palmier–puff pastry layered with sugar–but palmiers can also be made savory, using pesto, thin layers of ham and mustard, or other condiments.
It’s best to allow the pastry to defrost overnight in the refrigerator so the dough is very pliable but still cold when you pop the cookies in the oven. In fact, you should put the dough in the fridge for about fifteen minutes or so after you have sprinkled it with sugar; the combination of the chilled dough and the heat of your oven is what makes the puff pastry rise.
To make palmiers, you will need a sheet of puff pastry and a half cup of sugar. Sprinkle your work surface with a generous dusting of sugar. This will prevent the dough from sticking and will press the sugar into the dough when you roll it out.
With a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle. Because you will be rolling up the dough, make sure your rectangle is symmetrical; you can use a pastry scraper or another sharp edge to keep the edges even. Sprinkle the dough with the sugar, pressing it gently into the dough. Gently lift the bottom half of the rectangle to the center so that it halfway up the middle. Press down. Fold the other side down to meet the other half and press that down as well. Now fold the two sides together.
Cover the roll with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for fifteen minutes. Cut the roll into 1/2-inch slices. Brush each piece with a pastry brush dipped in water and then press into some sugar. You can put an extra tablespoon or two on your work surface. Place palmiers cut side up on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Be sure to leave a lot of space between each palmier.
Bake the cookies at 400F for about 7-10 minutes, then turn with a spatula and cook for another 7-10 minutes, or until golden. This will give each side that crispy, caramel crunch.
Serve with coffee or alongside a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
What would we do without lemons? They provide an acidic component to almost anything that comes out of the kitchen. They balance the sweetness of pies, cakes, and cookies. Their tart flavor sharpens and adds complexity to seafood dishes, marinades, dressings and mayonnaise. It’s no secret; I adore lemons. I squeeze lemons into my water, sprinkle their zest into all manner of dessert, and even use them to brighten copper cookware. When life gives me lemons, I make lemonade.
Take the humble madeleine, made iconic by Marcel Proust in Rememberances of Things Past. As far as cookies go, this one is the last one I’d line up at the bakery for. Pretty scalloped shape aside, the madeleines I have encountered have been so-so. Moist and delicate, to be sure, but bland enough to have me reaching for a Toll House chocolate chunk macadamia nut cookie.
That was, until I discovered this recipe for Lemon Madeleines. The bright quality of citrus and the slightly bitter zing of the lemon zest play off the richness of the butter and egg yolk. Just the idea of them had me at my local cook shop, buying what I never thought I’d ever purchase–a couple of madeleine pans to add to my ever growing collection of bake ware.
I found this recipe in an old issue of Martha Stewart Living: April, 2003. Promising myself I wouldn’t buy any more cookbooks until I’d cooked my way through my old ones, I started looking through some of the magazines I’d been holding onto. I’m glad I did. Now I can have my own madeleine memories.
Martha Stewart’s Lemon Madeleines
Makes 2 dozen
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1) Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly butter two madeleine pans and set aside.
2) Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
3) In another bowl, beat the eggs, yolks, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted butter.
4) Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
5) Pour batter into the prepared pans, filling until three-quarters full. Bake until cookies are crisp and golden around the edges, about 7-8 minutes.
6) Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool before inverting cookies onto a serving platter. Dust with icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) if desired.
It’s important to let the batter rest; do not omit this step. This allows the flour to absorb the liquid and results in the moist crumb that is the hallmark of a madeleine. Also, be careful not to beat the batter. Gently fold, as beating the batter will develop the gluten and create a denser cookie.