Almond Bear Claws

Starting a couple of years ago, my mom, my sister and I began a wonderful weekend tradition. Almost every Saturday morning without fail, we have been leaving our house bright and early and driving into Grand Rapids to eat pastries and drink hot coffee at our favorite bakery. It is the highlight of my week, giving me something to look forward to at the end of some long, tiring weeks. This is our time to chat, talk about our week, what's been going on, and to just unwind and enjoy some of my favorite things. 

While I love all pastries and other baked goods, and could order anything at the bakery and be happy with my choice, I have gotten stuck ordering the same thing week after week because it is just so good. Almost every single Saturday I order myself a nice big vanilla almond bear claw. I've had bear claws at other bakeries, but these are the absolute best I've ever had. They are big, buttery and generously packed full of a wonderful almond filling. Over the past year, I've been trying to figure out just what exactly this filling is made of. I even contacted someone at the bakery to see if they could help me at all, and while they of course wouldn't tell me what the filling is made of, they gave me a few hints that helped guide me in my search. 

Then just a few weeks ago I found it. A recipe popped up online that sounded like what I was looking for so I dove in and gave it a shot. The verdict? It was exactly what I was hoping for. To me it tastes almost exactly like the filling from the bakery. My bear claws turned out beautifully and absolutely delicious. It is so satisfying to have solved the puzzle. Even if the recipe is not exactly the same as the bakery's, it tastes right to me and that's all that matters. 

This is definitely not a quick recipe, and I won't be making these bear claws every week, but it is always nice to know that I can if I want to. You need to make a laminated dough to start, the recipe I was using called for danish dough, but I had some croissant dough in the freezer that I used instead and it worked out just fine. Then there is the filling which mainly involves a lot of cake scraps. Since I don't make cakes constantly and have cake scraps just lying around, this meant I just baked up a plain butter cake and then crumbled it up to use in the filling. It worked out great, but does involve another step. 

Once you have all of this set it is really not too difficult to assemble. Roll your dough out, fill it, and cut it how you would like. I ended up making smaller bear claws (cub claws I guess we could say) because I don't need a ginormous pastry every morning, but you can really do whatever you want. However you go about doing it I can guarantee it will be delicious! 

Almond Bear Claws
Adapted from The Village Baker's Wife by Gayle C. Ortiz, Joe Ortiz, and Louisa Beers
Ingredients

  • 1/2 recipe Danish dough (or croissant dough, that's what I had, so that's what I used!)
  • Bear claw filling, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
  • Powdered sugar or simple glaze for drizzling, if desired

Directions
Lightly flour your work surface. Roll your dough into a long rectangle that is 5 1/2 -6 inches wide and however long it needs to be so that the dough is about 1/4 inch thick. Form the filling into a long log about 1 inch in diameter and place it along the top third of the rectangle of dough making a continuous strip of filling that runs the length of the dough. 

Fold the top third of the dough over the filling, then fold the filled section over the last third so that the seam is in the center underneath the folded dough. 

With the heal of your hand, flatten one long side of the folded up piece of dough. Cut each log into pieces, mine were each about 2 1/2 inches long, the original recipe suggested 5 1/4 inch pieces, so really however big you want them to be. 

Make cuts along each flattened side of dough about 3/4 inch into the dough and about 1/2 inch apart. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk to make an egg glaze. With a pastry brush, coat each pastry with the egg glaze and sprinkle with the almonds, pressing down slightly to make them stick. Transfer the pastries to a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving enough room between them so that they can rise. Taking each end of the pastry in your hands, bend into a horseshoe shape by bringing the ends toward one other. 

Let the pastries rest at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hours until double in size and feel like a marshmallow when pressed gently with a finger. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 30 minutes prior to baking. 

Bake the pasties for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown on the top and the bottom. When pastries are completely cool drizzle with a simple powdered sugar and water glaze if desired, or dust generously with powdered sugar.

Bear Claw Filling
From The Village Baker's Wife by Gayle C. Ortiz, Joe Ortiz, and Louisa Beers
Ingredients

  • 8 cups (1 1/2 pounds) lightly packed cake scraps (see note)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1/4 - 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz) butter, melted and cooled

Directions
Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low until smooth and combined. The filling should be soft, but firm enough to hold its shape. 

Note: If you, like me, don't have 8 cups of cake scraps lying around, a quick yellow cake is easy enough to whip together. I made this Plain and Simple Golden Cake from King Arthur Flour and it gave me almost the 1 1/2 pounds of cake crumbs needed. I supplemented the rest with a few leftover sugar cookies and mini cupcakes from Christmas that were in my freezer, but you could probably get by with just using this cake. 

Almond Paste Cake

I've said it many times, but I'll say it again, I love cake. There is a cake for any and every occasion. It amazes me how many people tell me that they don't really like cake. I think they just haven't been eating the right ones. There are so many different options: a towering triple layered birthday cake, a simple French yogurt cakesbundt cakes, breakfast cakespeach cakessour cherry coffee cakes and  cupcakes, just to name a few! How can you say you don't like cake when there are so many different options to choose from? 

Well, if you're still unconvinced, here is another cake to try and change your mind. This is one of my favorite cakes. Not only is it super rich and buttery, but it is full of delicious almond flavor. Half a pound of almond paste goes directly into this cake, and if that's not enough for you, don't forget to add the almond extract too. I love anything almond flavored and this cake delivers. Sprinkle with powdered sugar for a simple finish, or add a dollop of whipped cream and some berries for a something special. However you eat it you won't be disappointed. 

I think of this cake as an almond pound cake. It has a fine, dense crumb, and is buttery and rich with two sticks of butter and 6 eggs to go along with the half a pound of almond paste. The instructions call for it to be made in a food processor which is always how I've done it. They do say you can use a stand mixer if you don't have a food processor, but I've never tried that. I'm sure it would work just fine though. If anyone tries it, let me know how it goes!

Almond Paste Cake

From 

David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups (265g) sugar
  • 8 ounces (225g) almond paste
  • 3/4, plus 1/4 cup (140g total) flour
  • 1 cup (8 ounces, 225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC). Grease a 9x2-inch cake or spring form pan with butter (the cake rises quite a bit, so make sure your pan is tall enough), dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup (35g) of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup (105g) of flour, baking powder, and salt.

Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts, then process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition. (You may wish to open the machine and scrape the sides down to make sure the eggs are getting fully incorporated.)

After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled. Don’t worry; it’ll come back together after the next step.

Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix. (You can also transfer the batter to a bowl and mix the dry ingredients in, which ensures the dry ingredients get incorporated evenly and you don’t overbeat it.)

Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 45-60 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center.

Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.

Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on a cake plate until ready to serve.

Note

: This cake is best made in the food processor, but if using a stand mixture, use the paddle attachment and let the mixer run until the almond paste is finely broken up. 

Banket: A New Favorite

Growing up in West Michigan in a family that is very proud of their Dutch heritage means that I grew up eating my fair share of Dutch goodies; boterkoek, Jan Hagels, oliebollen and windmill cookies to name a few. They're all delicious, but in my opinion there is nothing better than a stick of homemade banket, especially during the holidays. I've shared a banket recipe on the site before which was very good, but I was never completely satisfied with it, especially with the filling. I don't like my banket filling to be too dry, and while the previous recipe was delicious, the filling was just too dry for my taste, I wanted something else. 

This Christmas I decided to go on a search to see if I could find the banket recipe I've been hoping for. There are not the many banket recipes out there, so it took a bit of searching, but I finally came up with a recipe from The Lilypad Cottage that looked like it could be the one. It came together pretty easily so I was very hopeful when I put the first batch into the oven. I have to say, they turned out just about perfectly. Exactly what I was hoping for. A light, and flaky buttery crust wrapped around the perfect almond paste filling. I think I found it!

This recipe is a two day affair, or a long one day affair. The dough and filling need to chill up pretty firm before you use them. Another thing I love about banket is that it is so easy to freeze. I just shape it up and pop the unbaked rolls into the freezer for a few hours. Then I wrap them in plastic and keep in a bag in the freezer until I need them. You don't even have to thaw before baking. Just unwrap, place on a cookie sheet and bake from frozen. They might take a few extra minutes from frozen but other than that you can't even tell. Super easy!

Banket
Adapted from The Lily Pad Cottage
Ingredients
Dough

  • 4 cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pound cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • scant 1 cup cold water

Filling

  • 1 pound of almond paste
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

To Finish

  • 1-2 Egg yolks

Directions
For the dough, mix together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the pieces of cold butter and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (you can also use two forks or even your fingers, but work fast, you don't want the butter to get too warm) until the butter is about pea sized. Make a well in the middle and add cold water, mix until a shaggy dough is formed, don’t over mix. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

For the filling, break up almond paste in a bowl. Add eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Mix well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day cut divide both the dough and the filling into 8 equal portions, use a scale if you have it.

Take one piece of dough and roll out into a long, thin rectangle, approximately 13x4 inches. Place one piece of filling on the rolled out dough, spreading it along the length of dough, a little closer to one side, forming an even line. Roll up the long way, folding the ends under. Pinch together slightly so the filling doesn’t ooze out.

Dock the rolls with a fork, brush with egg yolks.

At this point you can stick the pans in your freezer until the Banket is frozen hard. Then you can wrap them up and bake off as needed.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes (I do about 30 minutes when baking from frozen) until golden brown. Let cool before slicing into 1-2 inch pieces, enjoy!

Banket

My family and I are Dutch through and through, and proud of it. Growing up in West Michigan I didn't think anything of it, most of my classmates and friends growing up were Dutch, that's just how things are here. However, since moving to Detroit for school I realized that there really aren't that many Dutch people around. There are a few cities spread throughout the country with a substantial Dutch population, but other than that, there really aren't that many of us around.

I love having this background, learning about my heritage, playing Dutch bingo whenever you hear a Dutch name. There is one thing about being Dutch that I don't love though; I'm not a big fan of the cuisine. Now there may be some fabulous Dutch recipes out there, maybe I just haven't been exposed to the delicacies of the Netherlands, but as far as I know, Dutch food isn't all that exciting. There are a couple of dishes however that I absolutely love. Since it's Christmas I had to share this one. Banket is the quintessential Dutch Christmas treat (at least in West Michigan, I have absolutely no idea how much of it they actually eat in the Netherlands).

Banket is basically a flaky, buttery pastry wrapped around a filling of almond paste, eggs and sugar. I love the crackly, golden brown crust, the way the pastry almost shatters when you cut it, spreading pieces of crust everywhere. The almond paste filling is sweet and delicious. Almond at Christmas is the best. 

This is actually the third year I've made banket. The past two years I tried using my Grandma's recipe, but the instructions were so vague I didn't really know what I was doing and the proportions of ingredients seemed just a little off. It still turned out quite tasty, it just never really looked like banket. This year it turned out beautifully, I was pleased, but it wasn't quite how I like it. The crust was perfect, but I like the filling to be a little looser. I may try adding more egg and cutting back on the cornstarch, I don't think my grandma had that in her recipe. My dad also told me that the crust needs to be darker (that's how his mom did it). I may use a whole egg or just an egg yolk for the egg wash and try baking it a little longer. 

In my opinion, it isn't Christmas without banket. Now that I have a success under my belt I will have to attempt to perfect the recipe for the coming years. Even though this recipe isn't perfect in my option, it makes a wonderful pastry that I would be pleased to serve at my table, and I will this weekend!

The dough, ready to go

Split it in half and roll each half out between

two sheets of plastic wrap

Cut each half in half lengthwise

Look at the chunks of butter!

Chunks of cold butter = flaky dough

Put a quarter of the filling on each piece of dough

The best part!

Roll each piece up, sealing the edges tightly

All filled and rolled, excited to eat!

Take each stick...

...and polk some holes down the top

Then brush with the egg wash

And bake!

Golden brown and delicious

The inside, I like the dough and filling to be more distinct

Cut it up into little bites

Enjoy!

Check out another great banket recipe  HERE!!

Banket
From Eet Smakelijk
Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond paste (NOT almond pie filling and NOT marzipan) 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 egg, separated 
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch 
  • 2 cups flour 
  • 1 cup butter 
  • 1/4 cup water 

Directions
Let paste, sugar, egg, egg yolk and cornstarch stand in bowl for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Blend flour, butter and water in bowl like a pie crust. Add more water if necessary. Dough may be refrigerated overnight if desired.

When ready to prepare, divide dough into 2 equal parts. Roll each part of floured board to 8x13-inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise into 2 equal strips (4 strips, each 4x13-inches in all).

Prepare the filling by mixing the almond paste, sugar, eggs and cornstarch. Divide the filling into four equal portions and place one portion along the length of each piece of dough. Fold over the ends and then the long sides, moistening one side with water to seal before pressing together.

Place with seam side down on cookie sheet. Prick holes on top for air. Beat egg white and brush the top of the rolls. Bake for 14 minutes. Reduce head to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until light brown.