Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Almond Puff Loaf

At the request of my mother, I am posting this professional-looking, EASY pastry. It is a light, buttery, just sweet enough puff loaf, great for brunches, teas, desserts...and culinary experimentation. I've already got changes planned for the next time I make it, but here's the recipe from the last time I made it, which was a hit with the family. Since there are only a few ingredients, which you probably already have in your kitchen, I suggest you keep this recipe on reserve for unexpected guests!

Almond Puff Loaf (from the King Arthur Flour website):

First Layer:
1/2 C (1 stick) butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
if using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp. salt
1 C flour
1/4 C water

Second Layer:
1 C water
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
if using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp. salt
1 C flour
3 large eggs at room temperature (or warm in hot tap water for 10 minutes)
1 tsp. almond extract

2/3 C jam or preserves (try apricot or raspberry)
1/2-2/3 C slivered or sliced toasted almonds

1/2 C powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
~ 4 tsp. milk or water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

First layer: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the butter, flour, and salt, working the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or fork, your fingers, or a mixer. Mix until everything is crumbly, then stir in the water. The dough will become cohesive, though not smooth.

Divide the dough in half; if you're using a scale, each half will weigh about 4 5/8 ounces. Wet your hands, and shape each piece of this wet dough into a rough log. Grease a baking sheet or sheets that'll allow you to stretch and pat the logs into 11 x 3-inch rectangles on the sheet, leaving at least 4 inches between them, and 2 inches on each side. These will puff up in the oven.

Second layer: In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water and butter to a boil. Stir until the butter melts, then add the flour and salt all at once. Stir the mixture with a spoon until it thickens, begins to steam, and leaves the sides of the pan; this will happen very quickly. Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat it at medium speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just to cool it down a bit.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; beat until the dough loses its "slimy" look, and each egg is totally absorbed. This is very similar to pâte à choux (dough you would use for cream puffs and eclairs). Mix in the almond extract.

*see below for optional step to insert here.

Divide the batter in half. Spread half the batter over one of the dough strips on the pan, covering it completely. Repeat with the remaining batter and dough. With a spatula or your wet fingers, spread the batter until it completely covers the entire bottom layer of dough. Smooth it out as best you can.

Bake the pastry for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until it's a deep golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and transfer each pastry to a wire rack (a giant spatula works well here).

Topping: Spread each warm pastry with about 1/3 C of jam or preserves. Sprinkle the toasted almonds on top of the jam. By this time the puffed pastries will start to sink, as they are supposed to.

Icing: Stir together the sugar, vanilla, and enough milk or water to form a thick but "drizzlable" icing. Drizzle the icing atop the pastries. My icing was a bit too thin, so it formed pools on top of the pastry rather than nice neat lines. Cut into squares or strips to serve.

*Next time, I'm going to try adding a layer of almond paste, beaten with a bit of sugar to soften it up, between the layers of dough. I'm thinking it will make a fabulous almond pastry!

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