Palmiers

If you know me, you know that I adore elephants.  Elephants are my most favorite animal (which we can discuss another time), and for some reason my “cannot resist dessert” is Elephant Ears. Is there a connection?  I don’t know.  Elephant Ears, or Pig’s Ears, or Palm Leaves are names for what the French call “Palmiers“.  Palmiers are an elegant confection or cookie made using Puff Pastry.  Puff pastry (flour, butter and water) is known and used by many cultures from Europe to South America to the Middle East for everything from sweet to savory.

French painter Claude Gelee, circa 1630. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Because I couldn’t authenticate the origin, “legend” suggests that Puff Pastry was invented in France in 1645 by an apprentice pastry cook, Claudius Gelée. As the story goes, Mr. Gelée wanted to bake a butter cake for his father, who was on a special diet. With a recipe of just flour, water and butter, Claudius mixed the flour and water together, but realized he completely forgot to incorporate the butter into the flour.  Thinking quickly he ‘lay some Butter in litle Pecies’ onto the already rolled dough.  He then folded the dough over and rolled it out … and then he did it again and again and again. After folding and rolling the dough several times, he formed it and baked it.  When Claudius removed the cake from the oven, surprisingly, not only had it risen significantly, it was light and “puffy”.  The story continues with Mr. Gelée being hired by the famous Rosabau Patisserie in Paris, where he perfected his  ‘puff paist’, became quite successful, moved on to Florence only to have his secret recipe stolen from him by the Brothers Mosca Pastry Shop.  Fact or fiction?  Who really knows.

What we do know is that Puff Pastry is a near relative to Phyllo (Filo) Dough.  Phyllo Dough is used throughout the Middle East much like European Puff Pastry and seems to have existed long before Puff Pastry was invented.  Although the two can be used interchangeably, there are differences.  Puff Pastry has layers of butter incorporated within the pastry, which when baked, causes pockets of steam to form in the dough.  The dough then separates into flaky layers.  Phyllo needs oil or melted butter brushed onto each pastry layer before baking, usually requiring three or more layers, it then becomes tender and flaky.

Making Puff Pastry from scratch is doable, but it is so labor intensive.  If you’ve ever watched the Great British Bakeoff, you’ve seen the Puff Pastry challenge where the contestants are asked to make Puff Pastry from scratch in order to create their specialty desserts.  No thank you!  For me, it’s to the frozen food aisle in the grocery store.  Good quality puff pastry, using butter and not shortening, is available and it’s not overly expensive.  Because it’s handy for so many dishes from meat pies to desserts, I always keep a couple of boxes in my freezer.

This recipe is an easy, sure-to-impress cookie … perfect for tea time.  You can get as creative as you’d like by varying the fillings … a mixture of brown sugar and pecans, or a cinnamon sugar blend, or how about bananas and peanut butter.  Get creative and have fun!

CHOCOLATE WALNUT PALMIERS
1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chocolate spread (Hershey’s, Nutella, Biscoff)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, or any chopped nuts

Preheated oven at 400° (but only after the pastry is rolled and in the refrigerator).  Makes about 2 dozen.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over the pastry board and then unfold the thawed puff pastry dough on top.  With a rolling pin, gently roll the dough out just to smooth it and incorporate the sugar onto the underside.  Turn the pastry sheet over and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on the board and roll it again.

Spread the chocolate (or Nutella or even peanut butter, if you’d like) over the entire sheet of pastry.  Sprinkle evenly with chopped nuts.

Starting from one long end, begin to tightly roll the pastry into the center.  Stop halfway. Then from the other long end, tightly roll that side in to the center.  You should have an equal number of rolls on either side, meeting in the middle.  Squeeze the middle together, then turn the rolled pastry over and place it seam side down onto a parchment lined baking tray.  Place the tray into the refrigerator for at least half an hour (or 15 minutes in the freezer) to chill thoroughly.

Now its time to preheat the oven to 400°.   Take the rolled pastry out of the refrigerator and place it onto a cutting board. Cut into slices about 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick.  It’s entirely up to you.  The thicker the slices, the longer they will take to bake.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until they are golden and cooked through.  Cool on a wire rack.

You can make a quick glaze using confectioners sugar and milk to drizzle over the top (or not).

With a steaming cuppa tea, a fruity glass of wine, or an icy cold glass of milk, these crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside, sweet pastries are just delicious!  Enjoy.

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References:  The Foodie’s Companion, Fusion Chef, Great British Chefs

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Bara Brith

In Wales, as in so many countries, it was customary for the women of the household to designate one day as “baking day”.  The entire day would be spent making all the breads, rolls, cakes and biscuits that would be needed for the week.  Using any bread dough that was leftover from making the yeast breads would then become the base for this bread.  Adding leftover tea, spices, dried fruits, sugar would then become that family’s Bara Brith.

Bara Brith or in Welsh “Speckled Bread” is exactly what it is … a bread speckled with dried fruits. Traditionally this is a yeast bread, but it is quite often made as a quick bread.  As with any regional recipe, each family has their own version.  This one might be a bit different from some that you’ve had in the past, why? because it’s MY version …. and it is delicious!!

If you are a fan of “the Great British Bake Off“, as I am, you might remember that one of the contestants actually baked her version of a yeasted Bara Brith as her entry on Season 4.  Click on the link below and you’ll find her recipe.  My version is a quick bread … but keep in mind you do have to let the dried fruits soak in the hot tea for a couple of hours in advance.

BARA BRITH
Bake 350°F for approximately one hour.  Makes one large loaf.

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds (optional)
(if not using ground almonds, increase flour to 2 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot black tea
1/2 cup dried raisins (or any dried mixed fruits, diced)
1/2 cup dried dates, diced (or prunes, apricots, etc.)
1 apple, peeled and grated
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a bowl, mix together the dried dates and dried raisins (or any combination of diced, dried fruits).  Pour one cup of hot, strong black tea over the fruits.  Cover and then let them plump up for at least three to four hours (or overnight, if you’d like).

Grease a one pound loaf pan.  Sift together the dry ingredients.  I love the flavor of almonds, and the texture that it gives this bread.  Use ground almond meal if you have it, or omit it and increase the flour to 2 cups.  This is all up to YOU.

Peel and grate onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe cooking apple (not a Mac or Macoun – too juicy).

In a large mixing bowl add all the dry ingredients, the brown sugar, the egg, the melted butter, and the dried fruit/tea mixture (with all the tea liquid).

Beat together until well blended.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for one hour.  Test after about 50 minutes for doneness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen done, turn out onto a cooling rack and then put the kettle on.

This bread is so-o-o-o moist and delicious, you’ll have a hard time not eating the entire loaf yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have the opportunity to visit Wales, be sure to make time one afternoon to stop for a spot of tea and enjoy a slice of this moist, sweet bread with it.  Slather it with butter if you like, but it’s not really necessary.  It stands up very well on its own.  If you don’t have the opportunity to visit Wales, do yourself a favor and make this bread!!  (The photos don’t do it credit.)

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References:  Great British Bake Off, Paul Hollywood’s British Baking, Traditional Welsh Recipes
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