A Sweet Easter Treat
Here’s how I know I’m not in France anymore: it’s Easter morning and I’m baking. In France, where practically no sensible person bakes at home except for the simplest of treats, Shel would be strolling to one of the 15 bakeries in town to pick out something special for Easter brunch. Here, even though I won’t be eating it, I’m up early baking something that I hope will be delicious enough to put on the table.
Actually, I started out the morning with my nose buried in the King Arthur Baking book, trying to find a recipe for which I had all of the ingredients in the house. Being totally unaccustomed to baking these days, my cupboard is a bit light on sweet ingredients. Finally, I settled on the recipe for Almond Puff Loaf. It’s a very unusual recipe, consisting of a sort of pie crust, topped with a sort of unsweetened pâte à choux dough, topped with jam and icing.
It bakes up to be not the world’s loveliest pastry to look at, but it has, according to Shel, a deliciously crispy bottom layer, topped with a tender dough that is neither cakey nor bready. The unsweetened dough, combined with the sweetness of the jam and icing, make it not too plain, not too sweet, but just right. The recipe calls for apricot or raspberry jam, but since what we had was strawberry jam and orange marmalade, I combined those, to evidently very good effect. Shel’s an almond lover, so I’ve adjusted the recipe at his request to get more almond flavor in there. Happy Spring Holidays to you, wherever you are, whatever you eat, but don’t hesitate to make this anytime you want something special to serve with coffee or tea.
Almond Puff Loaf
adapted from the King Arthur Baking Cookbook
For the Pastry
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), divided use
2 cups flour, divided use
1 1/4 cups water, divided use
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
For the Topping
10 ounces jam, half strawberry, half orange marmalade, or use your favorite
1/2 cup sliced almonds
For the Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 Tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Cut one stick of the butter into 1 cup of the flour with a pastry blender until coarse crumbs form. With a fork, blend in 1/4 cup cold water and work the dough lightly until it forms a ball. Divide the ball in half. Place a Silpat on a baking sheet and pat each half of the dough out into a long strip about 3″ by 11″. I used a very small rolling pin dipped in cold water to smooth the dough out.
Bring the remaining cup of water and the remaining stick of butter to a boil in a small saucepan. When the butter is entirely melted, pour the contents of the pan into the bowl of your mixer. (In theory you can also do this by hand, but I really recommend using the mixer to get a smooth dough) Add the remaining cup of flour all at once to the mixer and beat thoroughly at medium speed until the flour is blended in. Beat in the almond extract, then add the eggs one at a time, beating very well after each addition. Continue beating until the mixture loses its curdled appearance and you have a bowl of smooth, creamy dough.
Spread half of this dough on each of the two dough strips, smoothing the dough lightly down over the sides of the strips so that they are entirely covered. Bake until they are puffed and golden brown. In my oven this took 45 minutes, although the original recipe calls for a full hour of baking. Keep your eye on the oven to be sure you don’t over-bake the pastry.
Remove the pastries from the oven and immediately frost them with the jam. Let them cool completely. Stir together the icing ingredients and drizzle the icing over the pastry. Sprinkle with the nuts. Eat with pleasure.