If there’s a time to go all out on a baking project, it’s the holidays. Case in point: Pastry chef Erin McDowell’s spiced palmiers are a little extra work, but the payoff? Just look at those cuties.
“I’m challenging everyone a little bit to make their own puff pastry,” McDowell tells us, “but it’s a new method of mine called rough puff pastry and it’s basically like making pie dough, you just do a few folds at the end.” You’ve totally got this. (And we promise it’s worth it.)
“The reason I suggest making your own puff pastry from scratch is because then you can add spices to it and make this wintry take on a classic cookie,” she continues. “It has all those warm spice flavors of cinnamon, cardamom and clove, and then when you’re shaping them, they’re dipped in sugar so that in the oven, as they puff up and show all their layers, they also get deeply caramelized. It’s just the most amazing thing.”
Holiday cookie magic. Is there anything better?
2½ cups (302g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sticks (226g or 8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¾-inch cubes
⅓ cup (75g) ice water, plus more as needed
Granulated sugar, as needed
1. Make the Puff Pastry: In a medium bowl, stir the flour, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and salt together to combine. Add the cubed butter, tossing the cubes through the flour until each individual piece is well coated.
“Cut” the butter into the flour by pressing the pieces between your fingers, flattening the cubes into big shards. As you work, continue to toss the butter through the flour, recoating the shingled pieces. The goal here is to only flatten each piece of butter once, leaving the pieces very large (remember, they will get smaller and more dispersed through the process of folding).
2. Make a well in the center of the bowl and add the water. Mix until the dough just barely comes together, adding more water 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, if needed. The dough should hold together without feeling sticky or wet. Form the dough into an even disk about an inch thick and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about ½ inch thick. (The exact size and shape of the dough doesn’t matter here—just the thickness.) Dust away any excess flour with a dry pastry brush, then fold the dough in half. Fold the halved dough in half again (the dough will now be folded in quarters and sort of a square shape). Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill for 15 to 30 minutes, until firm.
4. Repeat step 3 a total of three more times, rolling out the dough, folding it and chilling it before continuing with the next round. If you work quickly, you can sometimes perform two rounds of folds back to back, but if the dough is soft or sticky, don’t try to rush it; chill the dough after each set of folds.
5. Once the final fold is complete, tuck the edges of the dough under to help form it into a rounded shape before wrapping it again and chilling at least 30 minutes (and preferably overnight) before using.
6. When you’re ready to shape and bake the palmiers, position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven and preheat it to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
7. Shape the Palmiers: Working with one half of your puff pastry dough, roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle that’s a little smaller than 9 inches by 13 inches and about ¼ inch thick. (Keep the remaining dough chilled until ready to use.)
8. Sprinkle your work surface with about 3 tablespoons (37g) granulated sugar and place the dough on top. Sprinkle the surface of the dough evenly with another 3 tablespoons (37g) granulated sugar. Continue to roll out the dough into a rectangle a little larger than 9 inches by 13 inches. Trim the edges with a bench knife or pastry wheel to make them straight and even.
9. Fold the two long sides of the rectangle over to meet exactly in the center of the dough. Then fold the dough in half along the center seam, forming a log. Use a sharp knife to slice the log of dough into ½-inch-thick pieces.
10. Dip both sides of each palmier in sugar to coat, then transfer to your parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about ½ inch of space between each palmier.
11. Transfer the palmiers to the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the trays from the oven, flip each palmier over and then bake for 12 to 15 minutes more, until both sides are deeply caramelized and crisp.