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Are you the Baker Friend? Do you find yourself being forever called upon for your cakes, cookies, or trashed-up brownies? Do you sometimes wonder if you are being asked to functions solely for your edible contributions?
I get you. Believe me. The expectations only increase when you add "food blogger" to your title.
If you are the Baker Friend you have probably been asked, "so, like, what's your favorite thing to bake?" at least 634 times.
Regardless of how many dozens of times this question has been posed, I have never known quite how to answer it. However, last week, as I pulled these croissants from the oven and the fragrance of toasty butter poured out its open door, I knew the answer. My favorite thing to bake? Puff pastry.
The accomplishment of making something so delicate, something that nearly every famed chef and baker will refuse to attempt, is overwhelmingly gratifying. Not to mention the joy that comes with seeing all of those beautiful layers of buttery pastry puff up and knowing that you made every one of them yourself through patience, care, and more than a little butter.
I have talked about homemade puff pastry here before. I have ranted and raved to any friends who would listen. I have tried my darnedest to convince a world under the influence of the frozen food aisle that puff pastry is not a monster. In fact, it is just a couple of hours away from pie crust.
Will you brave it with me? Let’s do this together. Spring makes conquerors of us all.
I have made the classic chocolate croissants many a time, and of course there are my favorite raspberry cream cheese croissants, but up until last week I had never attempted almond croissants.
I had recently gotten into the habit of buying packages of Trader Joe’s almond croissants each week and saving them for Saturday and Sunday breakfasts as a treat for Mr. Pedantic and myself. I should mention now that I have been overwhelming impressed by their frozen croissants and I will never turn my nose up to them. None of us have time for making fresh croissants every week, but that is not to say that we are to give up upon making them ourselves entirely.
Of course almond croissants require an almond filling. We could go to the store and buy almond paste. After all, we are making the pastry ourselves so we can take a little help from the super market, right?
Well, if you really want to, but as long as we are doing things properly, we might as well go all the way, don’t you agree?
Our almond filling begins with blanched almonds, so we are going to do that ourselves too. I know I am asking a lot, but you are just piling up those bragging rights.
Blanching almonds is actually really simple, and if you have a five or six year old hanging around you can totally put them on almond-skinning duty. Just prepare yourself for a lot of flying almond skins. I have warned you.
Our blanched almonds are blended up with a hot syrup of honey and water, as well as almond extract, butter, and confectioner’s sugar.
Do you suppose wearing almond extract as perfume is socially acceptable? I’m asking for a friend…
After our almond filling has cooled, and our puff pastry has been layered and rested, and layered and rested, the time comes to cut, fill, and roll.
I like to think that this is like watching your child walk down the stage for their diploma. The moment where all your hard work is finally realized and tears of pride stream down your face. I take puff pastry rather seriously.
Would you just look at those layers? You have just conquered something that even Ina Garten refuses to attempt, just let that sink in.
I’m so proud of you. Pass the coffee please.
Classic Almond Croissants
makes 8 croissants
Cook’s Note: I widely prefer measuring by weight when it comes to baking, but I believe it is essential when making something as exacting as puff pastry. If you do not already have a kitchen scale, it is absolutely a worthwhile investment. Once you have added it to your kitchen toolbox you will be turning to it more than you would expect.
- 12 ounces all-purpose flour
- 2 ounces cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
- 1 cup ice water
- almond filling (recipe below)
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup coarse raw or turbinado sugar
Cook’s Note: The biggest challenge when it comes to puff pastry is the same challenge we face whenever we make biscuits or pie crust - temperature. We cannot allow the butter to melt even a tiny bit, otherwise we will lose those coveted layers. So, turn up the A.C. and if you find that your pastry is getting even a little tacky, return it to the fridge to chill for a bit before continuing. Also similar to pie crust and biscuits, we are not looking to create a huge amount of gluten here so please avoid over working the dough. Less is more here.
Sift to combine all-purpose flour, cake flour and salt. Cut 6 tablespoons of the cold butter into cubes and place the cubes in the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender or the tips of your fingers to blend until the texture of rough cornmeal, similar to pie crust.
Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the cold water. Use a spatula to gently mix into a rough dough. Do not over mix, the dough should still be very rough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
While the dough is chilling, place the remaining chilled butter on a sheet of plastic wrap and cover with a second sheet. Use a rolling pin to smash the butter, forming a 5-inch square of butter. Chill until ready to use.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough out into a 12-inch circle and place the chilled square of butter in the center. Wrap the sides of the dough up around the butter and pinch the ends to seal. You should now have a square of butter enclosed in dough.
Roll the dough out into a 16x8-inch rectangle. You may need to use the rolling pin to pound out the dough a bit and make it more pliable. Please be careful not to tear the dough or to make it too thin in one area. Fold the rectangle 3 times like a business letter. Place the rectangle in front of you lengthwise and roll again into a 16x8-inch rectangle. Fold again 3 times like a business letter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
When the dough has rested return to a floured surface and repeat the process of rolling the dough into a rectangle and making a business-letter fold. Do this twice as before and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Remove the rested dough from the refrigerator and return to the floured surface. Repeat rolling and folding process twice, just as before, and refrigerate for 2 hours. Now the puff pastry is ready to use.
Cook’s Note: At this point, you can walk away and save the baking for another day. Because Mr. Pedantic and I cannot eat eight croissants in one day, I actually divided my pastry into two equal pieces and baked half of them one day and the other half the following evening. The rolling and baking is a breeze so it was great to be able to pop them in the oven and take them to a friend. I would not recommend keeping this dough past two days because it is very heavily fattened and butter likes to soak up refrigerator flavors. But do feel free to make it a day or two in advance!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl whisk the egg thoroughly; set aside.
Roll the dough out into a 24x8-inch rectangle and cut the dough into 8x3 inch strips. Pipe about 1 1/2 tablespoons of almond filling about 1/2-inch from one end of the dough. Roll the dough over on itself three times to form the croissant. Tap the open sides of the croissant lightly to prevent the almond filling from leaking. Brush the top and sides of the croissant with egg and sprinkle liberally with coarse sugar.
Place the croissants on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry has puffed and is deep golden.
Allow to cool for at least twenty minutes before serving. Enjoy!
Cook’s Note: Sadly, as soon as the croissants cool, the freshness clock begins ticking. By the following day, they will barely resemble the crispy, flakey pastries that you pulled from your oven. However, do not despair. As I said, this dough can be baked up in batches so you can enjoy your croissants fresh from the oven over the course of several days. In my mind, they are best when they are just warm, after about half an hour. The almond filling has a melted butter-like effect and the layers are still crispy and oh-so-flakey.
- 2 1/2 cups raw, unsalted almonds
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon filtered water
- 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
Place almonds in a medium mixing bowl and bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Pour the boiling water over the almonds and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Drain the almonds and allow to cool slightly.
Using the tips of your fingers, gently pinch each almond out of its skin. This will be easier than it sounds as the skins will have loosened after the boiling water bath.
After all the almonds have been skinned, transfer them to your blender. Combine honey and 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of water in a small saucepan and place over medium heat; bring to a boil. Pour the boiling honey mixture over the balanced almonds and blend until it forms a very smooth, thick paste. Blend in butter and almond extract and pulse until smooth.
Transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to slowly incorporate the confectioner’s sugar.
Turn the paste out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and wrap tightly. Refrigerate until cool and stiff. Transfer about one cup of the filling to a piping bag to make the croissants.
This recipe will make far more than you will need for the croissants, but will last several weeks in the refrigerator and can be used in cookies, cakes, and just about any place you would use almond paste!
Cook’s Note: This almond filling will be significantly softer than the almond paste you can buy at super markets so please do keep that in mind when baking.