The recipe: Almond Palmiers

Why you should bake: Because puff pastry makes everything better, and because this cookie’s incredibly elegant and delicate appearance (and can't-eat-just-one flavor) gives the impression that you fussed, for hours. But you so didn’t.

Degree of difficulty: Basic. If you can thaw a box of frozen puff pastry, if you have rudimentary rolling pin skills and if you can slice dough using a sharp knife, you can prepare these cookies. Basically, if you’ve ever successfully encountered Pillsbury refrigerated dough, you can prepare these cookies.

What we didn’t tell you: We prefer using Dufour Pastry Kitchens puff pastry, an all-butter product. It produces a result that is vastly superior to shortening-based Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, and it’s worth the extra expenditure. It’s available at Whole Foods Market and some local natural foods co-ops. The 14-oz. packages are somewhat smaller than their Pepperidge Farm counterparts, so you won’t use quite as much almond paste filling. And, yes, it's granulated sugar, not flour, that's used when rolling out the puff pastry. "Not only does the sugar make the pastry not stick to the board and the rolling pin, but it will also caramelize the outside of the cookie while it bakes," said baker Kay Lieberherr.

Fun fact: This cookie started at the cheese shop inside Surdyk’s in Northeast Minneapolis. On the spur of the moment, Lieberherr picked up palmiers from the northeast Minneapolis destination -- they're one of the shop's signature sweets -- to fill out a holiday party cookie tray. "It turned out that everyone asked for the recipe for the palmiers, and not for the cookies that I had baked, dang it," she said with a laugh. That response sent her on a mission to develop her own palmier recipe. To our everlasting gratitude, she did just that.

Note: To coincide with our 13th-annual Taste Holiday Cookie Contest, we're revisiting some favorites from past competitions. Find our easy-to-navigate archive here.

ALMOND PALMIERS

Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies.

Note: This dough must be prepared in advance. Palmiers (pronounced pahlm-YAYs) go by many other names, including elephant ears, palm leaves and French hearts. From 2011 finalist Kay Lieberherr of St. Paul.

4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 c. powdered sugar, plus extra for garnish, optional
1 (7-ounce) tube almond paste, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 c. granulated sugar, divided
1 (17.3-ounce) package puff pastry sheets (containing 2 sheets), refrigerated

Directions
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and almond paste. Beat until creamy, about 1 minute. Add egg and almond extract, and beat until thoroughly combined.

Sprinkle work surface with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Carefully unfold 1 puff pastry sheet over sugar and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Using a rolling pin, roll puff pastry sheet into a 12-inch square. Divide almond paste mixture in half. Carefully spread half of almond paste mixture evenly over top of puff pastry sheet. Starting on both sides, roll opposite sides of puff pastry sheet, from the outer edge to the middle, with rolls meeting in the center. Firmly press together, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Repeat with second puff pastry sheet.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Unwrap puff pastry logs and, using a sharp knife, trim off uneven ends. Cut dough into 1/4-inch slices and place (flat side down) 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.
 

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