The thing I love most about cooking is that there’s always something new to learn. It keeps things interesting, but can also be one of the biggest challenges.
In culinary school, one chef would teach us how to break down a chicken and the next chef would tell us that method was completely wrong. This happened constantly. We would learn a technique from one chef, and another instructor would completely disagree with what we had learned and teach us something different.
This was difficult for me. I had come from business school where questions had one correct answer. I was used to memorizing vocabulary, learning theories, and understanding concepts. I was not comfortable with questions that had multiple correct answers and had a hard time figuring out what information to believe.
To be successful in the culinary world, you have to do things exactly the way your chef (and your chef is whoever is in charge at that moment) wants them done. It doesn’t matter what your last chef taught you or what method you think is correct. You ask your chef how he/she wants something done and you follow his/her instructions.
I learned to ask questions. Instead of just following blindly, I asked my chefs why they did things the way they did them. I did what they wanted but I always asked, “Chef, why do you do it like this?” This gave me the opportunity to consider their reasoning and decide what techniques I liked best. I often learned tips and tricks but sometimes the answer was just, “That’s how my chef wanted it done so that’s how I do it too.”
Beyond teaching me the fundamentals of cooking, culinary school taught me a new way of learning and questioning.
What I learned in culinary school has continued to help me as I pursue blogging and food writing. The hardest part of blogging, for me, is photography. Similar to what I experienced in culinary school, every photographer has his/her own ‘right’ way of doing things. The more I read about food photography, the more confused I get. But culinary school taught me how to be comfortable with multiple right answers and I’ve learned to consider multiple sources and figure out the methods that work best for me. It’s been a process of trial, error, and lots of practice.
The photos in today’s post were taken as an assignment for an online food photography course I took late last year. The course was about using your photos to tell a story, rather than just posting beauty shots of the food. The story I am telling is about how to make palmiers, or French elephant ear cookies, that are crispy, buttery, flaky and look way more complicated than they are.
My goal with the photos was to illustrate how to roll, shape and bake the cookies. Ideally you could figure out how to make them just by looking at the photos, but I’ve still included instructions and a recipe.
Thank you to my wonderful, patient friend Annie for devoting an afternoon to being my hand model for these shots.
How to Make French Palmiers
Palmiers can be made with granulated white sugar or a crunchy, coarse sugar like demerara, as shown in the photos. I like to whisk some sea salt into the sugar to balance the sweetness.
Start by sprinkling some sugar on your work surface and on top of the puff pastry.
Use a rolling pin to lightly roll the dough into a 13-inch square and press the sugar into the pastry.
Fold the edges of the dough until they meet in the center, add more sugar, and fold the edges in again. Add more sugar and lightly roll with the rolling pin to adhere.
For the final fold, bring the two edges together like you’re closing a book.
After chilling the dough for 30 minutes, use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 1/2-inch slices and place them cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake the palmiers until they are a deep golden brown color.
As soon as the palmiers come out of the oven, sprinkle each cookie with a generous pinch of flaky sea salt.
The cookies are best when warm and fresh out of the oven. Palmiers pair perfectly with a hot cup of coffee or tea.
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