Our food reference books state palmiers (also known as palm leaves) were invented around the turn of the 20th century. The name suggests they were first made in France, but we find no evidence confirming this. In fact, we find a recipe for palm leaves (Palmenblatter) in Viennese Cooking, O. And A. Hess [Crown:New York] 1960 (p. 213), which suggests this pastry might have commanded a broader swath of geography. We also find no attribute to the first person/restaurant credited for cooking/serving this cookie. In the world of food history, this is not uncommon.
"Palmier. A small pastry made of a sugared and double-rolled sheet of puff pastry cut into slices, the distinctive shape of which resembles the foliage of a palm tree. First made at the beginning of the 20th century, palmiers are served with tea or as an accompaniment to ices and desserts."
---Larousse Gastronomique, Completely revised and updated [Clarkson Potter] 2001 p. 832)
"Palmiers are small sweet biscuits made from puff pastry and shaped somewhat like butterflies. To their anonymous early twentieth-century inventor their shape evidently suggested more the topknot of leaves on a palm, for French palmier means literally 'palm tree'."
---An A-Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 237)
"Palmier. Also called palm leaves, palmiers are small pastries made from sugar-encrusted puff pastry. The sides of a rectangle of puff pastry are folded into the center, then folded over to make four layers, and cut across the width into thin strips. These are laid on their sides on a baking sheet and they fan out as they bake to resemble the leaves of palm trees. Palmiers are baked until they are crisp and the sugar caramelizes to a rich golden brown. They are served with tea or coffee or as an accompaniment to ice cream and other desserts. France."
---The International Dictionary of Desserts, Pastries and Confections, Carole Bloom [Hearst Books:New York ] 1995 (p. 210)
"Sometimes, you just have to hand it to French culinary genius. Take the palmier (palm-YAY). It's a cookie, nothing more than flour, water, salt, a light sprinkling of sugar and immoderate amounts of butter. Yet as the palmiers bake, the moisture in the butter-riddled layers evaporates, causing the dough to puff into hundreds of paper-thin flakes. Meanwhile, the sugar caramelizes ever so slightly, casting a glassy sheen. The result? A pastry whose crisp, caramelized exterior gives way at the slightest pressure to countless crisp layers. Ironically, such a delicacy originated as a means for resourceful pastry chefs to salvage leftover puff pastry dough. (When you consider the labor-intensive nature of puff pastry, you understand why one would want to use every last piece.) Though simple, the technique used to make palmiers can be fraught with peril. When rolled too tightly, sliced a smidgen too thick or underbaked by even a minute, the interior remains soggy and leaden. When rolled too loosely or baked at excessive temperatures, the pastry becomes brittle and shatters upon touch. And when caked with sugar, the delicate balance is lost and the pastry becomes one-dimensional. Athough ubiquitous throughout France, the proper palmier is hard to find here. At some American bakeries the Frisbee-size confection is as sweet as saccharin and dubbed the "Elephant Ear." At Latin American markets, they may be labeled orejas ("ears" in Spanish) though the only ones I have come across are packaged in plastic, which suffocates the crisp pastry. And at a German bakery, I once requested a palmier and received nothing more than a polite, though perplexed, stare. It seems I should have requested the rather inelegantly named "Pig's Ear." Some franchise French bakeries, such as La Madeleine, have "palmiers" that are far inferior to the "elephant ears" offered by Fresh Fields/Whole Foods Market. Though mass production is no friend to the palmier because the slicing and sprinkling go largely unpoliced, a notable exception is the downtown Washington location of Fresh Fields/Whole Foods Market, whose elephant ears put most palmiers to shame. (Though all of the stores use the same frozen puff pastry dough shipped from a French bakery in Manhattan, the P Street store's bakery consistently turns out a crisp, buttery, flaky palmier, albeit the size of a dinner plate.) Buonaparte Breads at Historic Savage Mill in Savage and in Baltimore produces a fine palmier, but they no longer ship them to their retail customers in the District since they are too fragile. Whether sent out with after-dinner espresso at Michel Richard's Citronelle in Georgetown or nibbled as an elegant something to satisfy a sweet tooth on a leisurely afternoon, the palmier can be an amazing thing. When you can find them. They are usually priced by the pound and vary greatly in size. SEN5ES For the palmier lover, the pastry case at Georgetown's sedate Sen5es Bakery and Restaurant is a sight to behold. Row