Monday, March 2, 2015

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 sprinke 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. 

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