Wednesday, December 19, 2007
A Christmas Baking Miracle
Well folks, it was inevitable. The time has finally come for me to tackle one of my big culinary fears: baking. Why now? Because this week I took part in a Christmas cookie exchange at work, and obviously I had to conform to the rules and bake (not that I didn't secretly try and get away with making a quiche or something). I don't actually have much of a sweet tooth, so coming up with an idea of what exactly to make was tough. I didn't want to start out with something too difficult, but I also didn't want to totally cop out. After all, these were serious baking enthusiasts I'd be feeding.
So, to narrow down the options of what I should make, I stopped to think about the cookie-like sweets that I do enjoy eating, and was instantly transported to Paris. I have fond memories of standing outside a patisserie years ago in the wee hours of a cold and rainy Monday morning, broken umbrella in one hand, overstuffed suitcase in the other. The smell of caramelized sugar and freshly puffed pastry drew me in like an aromatic undercurrent, and soon I was considering postponing my early morning flight back home just to have a few more hours with each glistening, glass encased confection. I bought one large palmier after another with abandon, like a force stronger than myself was at work. Before I knew it, I'd torn through every palmier in the case, and was covered head to toe in soft, flaky crumbs, like Parisian culinary shrapnel.
My friends and travel companions eventually dusted me off and got me to the airport just in time to catch my flight back home. Obviously, if I was meant to bake something I was passionate about, palmiers were it. They're known to many as elephant ears or angel wings, and these light little treats are surprisingly easy to make. I'm too much of a baking novice to make puff pastry from scratch, so I took my wimpy behind to the freezer section of the grocery store and purchased a few boxes of frozen puff pastry. This may seem easy enough, but out of my baking fear and clumsiness I managed to knock over several packages of frozen tartlets and trip over the wheel of some lady's stroller. She seemed okay with it, but the baby inside didn't appreciate taking a frozen tart box to the head.
After apologizing to the angry, screaming toddler in the freezer section, I returned home to embark on my baking adventure. It wasn't as sublime an experience as the one in Paris, but it was successful--overall. There was a minor burning-of-an-entire-tray incident, but after some cursing and stomping I thanked myself for buying an extra package of pastry and moved on to making perfectly browned (and not burned) palmiers. They're actually super easy to make--too easy--which is why I got carried away and wound up with a burnt set when I tried to get creative. Here's how to make them for yourself (without burning them):
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 cups sugar (there will be a lot left over)
1. Preheat your over to 450 F degrees.
2. Evenly spread sugar on a large cutting board or smooth countertop. Place sheet of puff pastry over the sugar, and top with more sugar, evenly distributed over the sheet of pastry.
3. Using a rolling pin (or a wine bottle, like I did), roll pastry so it is a 1/2 inch larger on each side, and the sugar is pressed into the pastry.
4. Fold one end over about a quarter of the way in and do the same with the end opposite it.
5. Fold each end over once more so they meet in the middle.
6. then fold over once more as if closing a book, forming a log.
7. Slice the log into 1/2 inch pieces and lay them cut side down on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet (for easy clean-up). Bake for six minutes at 450 F degrees until bottom is golden brown, then flip over and bake for another 2-4 minutes until second side is golden brown. Keep an eye out after you flip them, they will be done before you know it. Allow a few minutes to cool before eating. Enjoy!