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

  • 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

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

  • 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

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. 

Homemade Croissants

So, I finally made croissants! I think they turned out pretty well. Croissants have been on my baking bucket list for some time and spring break was the perfect time to try it out. I knew that croissants take time, with all the rolling and resting and chilling, but it's true that a lot of the time is just waiting. I had a lot of fun and would definitely make them again sometime!

The Finished Product!

I didn't get pictures of every step, but here are a few.

The butter block! (It's not as easy to make a 
perfect square as it looks)

After a couple of turns

Look at all of the layers!

Roll it out
 The whole gang

A cutie up close
A chocolate cutie up close

Prosciutto and provolone
Warm and flaky!
A couple of flavors
Oozing with cheese

All in all, it was a success. And I still have half the dough left, can't wait to see what it becomes!

From King Arthur Flour
  • 2 large eggs plus enough warm water to make 2 cups of liquid (16 ounces) 
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 5 1/2 to 6 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour 
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast 
  • 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk (optional) 
  • 1 scant tablespoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional; for sweet pastry) 
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted 
Butter Block
  • 1 7/8 cups unsalted butter, cool to the touch 
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter) 
  • 1/2 cup Flour 
For the dough: Make a sponge by cracking the eggs into a 2-cup liquid measure and adding enough warm water to equal 2 cups. Beat until blended, and pour into a large mixing bowl. You can also put the sponge into the bucket of your bread machine, set on the dough cycle. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 3 cups of the flour, and the yeast. Mix until well blended. Cover and set aside.

For the butter block: While the yeast begins its work, set up the butter inlay. Mix the butter and 1/2 cup flour just until the mixture is smooth and well blended (no hard lumps). You can do this with a mixer, a food processor, or with a spoon, by hand. Be careful not to beat the mixture at high speed; you don't want to incorporate any air. Lightly flour a piece of plastic wrap, place the butter mixture on it, and use a dough scraper to pat it into an 8-inch square. Wrap the butter and put it in the refrigerator on a flat surface for at least 30 minutes. 
Finish the dough: Stir the vanilla, if using, and the melted butter into the sponge. Whisk together the remaining 2 1/2 cups of the remaining flour, the rest of the sugar, the dry milk, and the salt. Add to the sponge and mix until you have a soft but kneadable dough, either by hand, in your mixer, or using the dough cycle of your bread machine. Check the dough after kneading for 4 to 5 minutes, adding more of the measured flour if the dough is still sticky. 

Once the dough is smooth and elastic, pat it into a square shape, wrap it loosely and refrigerate it for 30 minutes. 

Rolling in: Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and put it on a lightly floured surface. Gently roll it into a square about 12 inches across. Unwrap the butter slab and place it in the center of the dough at a 45° angle, so it looks like a diamond in the square.

Fold the flaps of the dough over the edges of the butter until they meet in the middle. Pinch and seal the edges of the dough together; moisten your fingers with a little water, if necessary.

Dust the top with flour, then turn the dough over and tap it gently with the rolling pin into a rectangular shape. Pick up the dough to make sure it isn't sticking underneath, dusting under with more flour if necessary, then roll from the center out until you have a rectangle 20 inches long by 10 inches wide. 

When you've reached the proper size, take a dry brush and lightly sweep off any excess flour, then fold the bottom third of the dough up to the center, and the top third over that (like a business letter). Line the edges up on top of each other, and even up the corners so they're directly on top of each other. Take a dab of water if you need to, to tack the corners together. You've now made your first "turn." 

Turn the dough package 90° to the right, so it looks like a book ready to be opened. If the dough is still cool to the touch and relaxed, do another rolling and turning the same way. Make a note of how many folds you've completed and the time, and wrap the dough. Return it to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Repeat the above folding and turning process one more time, for a total of four turns. Once completed, wrap the dough well and refrigerate it for at least an hour, and preferably overnight before using. 

Shaping the croissants: Using half the dough at a time, roll it to a 12" x 18" rectangle. Trim the edges of the dough on every edge using a ruler and pizza wheel. This cuts off the folded edges that would inhibit the "puff." Cut the dough in thirds lengthwise and in half through the middle. This will give you six 4" x 9" pieces. Cut each piece in half diagonally, and arrange them so the points of the triangles are facing away from you. It's okay to stretch them out gently to elongate them when you do this. Cut a 1/2" notch in the short edge of the triangle. 
If you want to, this is the time to place a teaspoon of filling at the base of the triangle. Roll up the dough, starting with the notched edge and working toward the point. Make sure the point is tucked under the bottom of the croissant. If you have to stretch the dough a little to make that happen, it's okay. You can also use a drop of water on the tip to help it stay in place. Form the crescent by bending the ends toward the center where the tip is tucked underneath. Place the croissants on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and chill for 30 minutes. You could also freeze the unbaked pastries at this point. 

To bake the croissants: Take the croissants out of the refrigerator, and preheat the oven to 425°F. While the oven is heating, brush the tops of the croissants with an egg well-beaten with 1 tablespoon of water. 
When the oven is hot, bake the croissants for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven's temperature to 350°F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. The croissants should be a deep golden brown, even where the dough overlaps; you don't want any raw dough in the center. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.