Rich, buttery puff pastry has almost as many uses as it does crispy, paper-thin layers. Although deliciously fragile to bite into, it is surprisingly sturdy to work with and very versatile, whether rolled and sliced, separated into layers and filled, or shaped into a tartlike shell.
Palmiers and napoleons are two puff pastry classics. Palmiers are melt-in-the-mouth cookies named after the palm leaves they are thought to resemble. They are formed out of a rectangle of dough that has been sprinkled with sugar or a cinnamon-sugar blend, then rolled tightly into pinwheels. Sliced and baked for cookies, they’re superb with after-dinner coffee or tea. Or sandwich them with a rich filling and offer as a show-stopping dessert. Multilayered napoleons are filled with luscious pastry cream and fruit or sweet preserves. The smooth glaze on the topmost layer can be accented with a simple, easily accomplished pattern of chocolate chevrons.
A final tip: Always cut puff pastry straight down and with a very sharp knife. This keeps the layers separate so the dough will rise uniformly to its maximum height.
Roll the puff pastry into a 14x10-inch rectangle. Sprinkle evenly with the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Lightly press into the dough with your fingertips. Roll up one short side like a jelly roll to the center of the rectangle. Roll the other short side the same way.
Turn the pastry over so that the rolled sides touch the cutting board. With a sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut the roll crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Don’t press down as you cut, or the pieces will lose their shape and unroll.
Cut squares from rolled-out dough and bake until puffed and golden. Set on a rack to cool. With a fork, gently pry apart the baked pastry into 3 layers. Set aside for filling.
Spreading the Glaze
Fill napoleons as directed in recipe. Spread the glaze over the top layer of pastry with a small frosting spatula, leaving a little of the pastry uncovered.