[Croissants aux Amandes]
A couple of weeks ago, as I was writing about brunches and the possibility of leftover croissants, I gave a passing mention to croissants aux amandes. Such a teaser could not go unnoticed: I received a few requests for instructions, and promised I'd share them as soon as I had a picture to illustrate the recipe.
You will find croissants aux amandes in most traditional French bakeries. Originally devised as a way to sell not-so-fresh croissants from the day before, they are simply croissants filled with almond cream, sprinkled with sliced almonds and baked again, until the cream has set and the elbows of the croissant have crisped up.
They also exist in a pain au chocolat version (simply called pain au chocolat aux amandes, see how easy French is?), but surprisingly I could never warm up to pains au chocolat -- I dislike the type of chocolate that they use in them, and have a problem with the fact that you don't get an equitable share of chocolate in every bite -- so I just stick to croissants.
Croissants aux amandes have long been a favorite of mine. My father would buy us one from a now defunct bakery-cum-cafe in the Latin Quarter, when my sister and I went comic-book shopping with him on Saturday mornings, and this was as much a treat as the weekly harvest of bande dessinées. But store-bought almond croissants are often too sweet for me, or too heavy on the almond extract (giving them a fake, perfumey taste), so I was very pleased when I discovered how easy and gratifying it is to make your own.
You simply dip day-old croissants in a light syrup, fill and top them with crème d'amandes (a mix of butter, sugar, almonds and eggs), add a sprinkle of sliced almonds for garnish, and slip into the oven. As the croissants bake, the syrup you've soaked them in prevents the shell from burning, while the almond cream slowly sets, creating a slight crust on top, and a moist, buttery filling inside. Said filling may ooze out a bit if you've been generous with it, forming delightful crispy fins on the sides.
Croissants aux amandes are a perfect make-ahead item for brunch: you can buy the croissants, prepare the syrup and the almond filling the day before, and simply assemble and bake them in the morning. They are delicious fresh out of the oven, but they can be served at room temperature too. And since they tend to get better as they sit, you can even bake them the night before.
Two caveats. First, you should start with good-quality croissants, or at least the best you can find and afford where you live (and if I try to Master the Art of French Croissants one day, you'll be the first to know). And second, croissants aux amandes are, obviously, very rich. Very delicious, but very rich. They're a good breakfast option if you're a coal miner, for example. But if your job is to sit at a computer and read food blogs, or if you are having them as part of a larger brunch spread, you might consider splitting one, or perhaps using mini-croissants.
Although the simple and traditional version (as outlined in the recipe below) is just fine as it is, I have been toying with variation ideas, which I may put in practice next time: I might flavor the dipping syrup with rose or red poppy, or I might try an orange version, using Grand Marnier (or orange blossom water) in the syrup, and adding orange zest to the almond filling. And perhaps I will even make chocolate croissants aux amandes, adding a bit of melted chocolate to the filling, and dusting the croissants with cocoa powder instead of confectioner's sugar. Indulgence, I call thy name.
Croissants aux Amandes
- 6 to 8 day-old croissants, about 80g each (2.8 oz)
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
- Confectioner's sugar
For the syrup:
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
For the crème d'amandes:
- 100g (1/2 C) sugar
- 100g (2/3 C) whole blanched almonds, or 100g (1 C) almond powder
- a pinch of salt
- 100g (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
- 2 eggs
- The recipe can be halved if you have fewer croissants to fill.
- You can make the syrup and the crème d'amandes up to a day in advance: transfer into (separate) airtight containers, and refrigerate.
Prepare the syrup: combine 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons sugar and the rum (if using) in a saucepan. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat, and simmer for a minute, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, transfer into a shallow soup plate, and let cool completely.
Prepare the almond filling: combine 1/2 cup sugar, the almonds and the salt in the bowl of a food processor, and mix until finely ground. Add the butter, and mix again until well blended. Add in the eggs one by one, and process until creamy.
Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Work with each croissant one by one: dip it into the syrup, coating both sides and the ends well -- the croissant should be quite moist. Slice horizontally like you would for a sandwich, and place on the cookie sheet. Spread the inside with about two tablespoons almond filling, and place the top back on. Spread the top with another tablespoon almond filling, and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Repeat with the remaining croissants and filling.
Put into the oven to bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the almond cream is set and golden. Transfer onto a cooling rack, dust with confectioner's sugar, and serve, slightly warm or at room temperature. They will keep for a day.
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