We were in the Big City (Eugene, OR) yesterday, and whenever we find ourselves there, we do some serious shopping. It’s not that our home area has no stores with good choice, but the prices are always about 10-20% higher than in the Big City – so a prudent person saves up their needs for just such a time. And as we were wandering the aisles of Costco (for you non-gringos, Costco is a big box membership store whose prices are only rarely met by competitors.), I came on a display of croissants, which immediately set my brain into high gear – many memories came flooding forth, almost all of which were highly favorable, involving all my pleasurable croissant experiences – and then I saw the price; $5.99 for 12 large ones!
The wonder of this is that Costco’s croissants are actually quite good – good enough that I’d be very surprised if there are any bakeries in Eugene that are doing anything to equal these – and in the unlikely event that there was such a bakery, I’d bet the ranch that they couldn’t sell them for 50 cents each! And these are quite large – Simply amazing.
The memories that came flooding back included that of our first ‘deep immersion’ into the croissant culture of France, when in 1973, San, I, and our then three year old daughter, Melissa, headed off for a month long trip to western Europe. The croissant indoctrination began the morning we arrived by train into Paris, from Calais and the night boat from Dover. This had not been an easy, nor a pleasurably journey, and our overwhelming desire was to simply find a place where we could sit down and have coffee.
As the crowds began to clear, we saw a large glass walled dining room off in the distance – and we headed in that direction. We would have accepted almost anything in the way of ambiance, but what we saw before us was actually quite charming, especially for a train station – small round tables, with bentwood chairs – just to look at it was uplifting for weary travelers – the French bistro look of a foreigner’s fantasy.
We sat, and almost immediately, a perky waitress arrived carrying a basket of croissants, which she placed on our table. I was filled with conflicting emotions; those were some of the most beautiful croissants I had ever seen and I certainly wanted them, but I thought she had confused our table with one that had perhaps ordered the basket. Fortunately for us, our waitress knew enough English to understand our concern, and then to let us know that all morning guests are greeted with a basket of croissants. What a wonderful tradition.
“Did you wish also coffee?”
“Oh, yes … please! Yes, please.”
This was our first pleasant memory of our time in France, due in large measure to the croissants – we had many more croissants during our stay -many! But I’m not sure we had any that were better than those which greeted us at the Paris train station that morning. Could have been our emotional state at the time, but why weaken such a wonderful memory with such thought – it is what it is.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the croissant in its many forms, but the one which I always seek out for a special treat is the almond croissant. For me, there is just a great affinity for the tastes which are enjoined together in the almond croissant. And as I looked at the Costco display of all those croissants yesterday, the thought that rose to the top of the flood was how great it would be to take those croissants, and turn them into almond croissants. Yup, that’s what I would do.
I’m not sure where this idea came from. Could’ve been something I came across in a food blog somewhere – or in a magazine along the way – but there’s a good chance the idea came from my own imagination. Hey, it’s possible! The idea is as simple as this- you split a fully baked croissant, spread some almond paste on the bottom and put the top back on, then you paint the top with some thick simple syrup and sprinkle some sliced almonds over the top, slip into a low oven, and reheat until the almonds on the top begin to take on a little color – Done!
The biggest negative about this idea, for me, has always been the fact that almond paste is outrageously expensive (at least I think it is) – it’s about $9 a lb on Amazon, and about $7 for a 6 oz can at my neighborhood grocery. But you can make this stuff at home! It’s like a lot of other ‘convenience’ foods – but I’ve got the time, and the interest, so, why not?
I read somewhere that the homemade almond paste is not as good as that in the cans because the commercial stuff goes through steel rollers that give it a special texture that can’t be matched in the home kitchen. Really! Sounds like an irresistible challenge to me – Yes?
OK, there’s nothing objective about my process of comparing each – I’ve used the canned stuff in the past, and there’s nothing wrong with it – nice taste, nice texture, everything’s nice, except the price. And I’ve also made the stuff in my kitchen – and for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you which was which in a blind test – texture, taste, whatever! To me, that’s a no-brainer.
I can understand those who would choose to do these from scratch, and perhaps use a homemade almond paste to fill the croissants prior to baking – I applaud the concept, and I’d do it myself -if I made a world class croissant- which I don’t, so I won’t. To me, and maybe to others as well, it makes a lot more sense to utilize a process such as I share with you today, and make something scrumptious at a quarter of it’s bakery price – and maybe even better tasting too!
As is my practice, I share with you the original recipe (for the almond paste – the rest is mine) – I’ve had this almond paste recipe for some time, and I don’t know where it came from – but for objectivity, I give you the recipe just as I found it (the notes inside the recipe itself are those of the original author) – but check ‘My Notes’, following The Process for my adaptions and opinion – it may be helpful to you.
Almond Croissants, The Easy Way
- 1 1/2 cups (8 oz.) whole blanched almonds*
- 1 1/2 cups (5oz.) sifted powdered sugar
- 1 egg white
- 1 tsp. almond extract
- 1/8 tsp. salt
Grind whole blanched almonds in a food processor. Add powdered sugar, egg white, almond extract and salt; work to a stiff paste. Store in refrigerator or freezer tightly wrapped in saran or disposable plastic bag.
Makes 1 1/3 cups (13 oz.) almond paste. Enough for 12-15 almond croissants.
* Note on blanched almonds: it’s very important that the almonds you use in this recipe are blanched. You don’t want the brown skins in the almond paste. Unfortunately, the cheapest way to buy almonds is at Sam’s Club or Costco and those bags are unblanched. To blanch almonds yourself is easy. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put the almonds into the boiling water and let them boil for 2 or 3 minutes. Then strain the boiling water off the almond and dump them into a bowl of cold water. In a couple of minutes, you’ll be able to slide the skins right off the almonds. Let the blanched almonds dry a little before you make almond paste with them. (Putting them, a quarter cup at a time, into a towel and vigorously rubbing them around will make this a little easier – but it’s still a bitch!)
Find some baked croissants, maybe even at a day-old bakery – be assured that this process will make something regal out of an otherwise mediocre croissant. If there’s a Costco or Sam’s near you, that’s a good source for inexpensive, quality croissants. If you’d like to make your own croissants and fill them with this paste, you are to be congratulated.
- Slice each croissant in half, from the fat side to the points – I ‘hinged’ mine at the points, but you may cut all the way through if you wish – just don’t cut your palm!
- I found that this paste recipe makes a very stiff paste – I added a few teaspoons of milk to thin it a bit – you may also heat it for about 30-40 seconds in the microwave, if you wish – either will help to make the paste more spreadable.
- Spread about a generous Tbs of almond paste on each croissant bottom and fold the top back over the bottom. Place the filled croissants into a parchment covered sheet pan.
- Make a thick simple syrup (half cup of sugar +2-3 Tbs water) and bring to a boil for a minute or two.
- Brush the hot simple syrup over the tops of the filled croissants and turn each one upside down into a pie pan filled with a cup of sliced almonds – if not well covered yet, sprinkle a few pieces of sliced almond over the top, and return the croissant to the parchment covered sheet pan.
- Slip the sheet pan of croissants into a 250 degree preheated oven for 15-20 minutes – pull them out and take a good look at them – you want the sliced almonds to begin to brown up, and the crust of the croissant to become a darker brown – watch them careful lest they get over-browned. But if they look similar to when you first put them in, give them another 5 minutes and check again.
- When they darken some, they’re done – pull them and let them cool on a rack for about 15-30 minutes. If you wish, you may reheat your leftover simple syrup and drizzle it over the cooled croissants – that gives them a nice, moist sparkle.
I have an aversion to blanched almonds! I’m convinced the only reason for their existence is aesthetics – in fact, I think when you take the skins off the almonds, they lose flavor (and probably nutrition as well). And I object to someone telling us it’s easy to remove the skins of almonds, ’cause it ain’t! It’s a pain in the ass, plain and simple. Additionally, why in hell would anyone need to blanch almonds that were going into a paste that no one would be seeing? So, if I can possibly remember this experience -which I probably won’t- I won’t be blanching my almonds when I make this next time.
When these come out of the oven, you will not be able to tell that they had ever been split – they meld together so well, what with the paste on the inside and the syrup on the outside, that it’s impossible to tell how it’s been put together. And if I do ten, as I did here, I’ll just slip the extras, right on the tray into the freezer, and later transfer them into freezer bags for longer storage – they’re good for several months like that, but you’ll have to forget they’re in there for them to last that long!
The almond croissant is the butterfly of the bakery world – it starts out as bread, and transforms into a pastry. And in the world of pastry, this is one of my absolute favorites – but as I have said, I find most pastries more challenging than I can deal with at home – and so it brings me no end of pleasure to know that even with my meager pastry skills, I can -at little cost- create my own magnificent almond croissant in my own home – and I swear to you that these are as good as the best I’ve ever had in my mouth.
Am I blowing smoke? Well, you just won’t know unless you make them yourself.