I started cooking when I was very young. By the time I was 12, I had pretty much read all of the Joy of Cooking – not all the recipes, but all the other stuff: the mother sauces, stocks, meats to braise or roast, how to make a ballontine or gallontine – have I lost you yet? It taught me just about everything I needed to know. But, it was the actual cooking and baking itself that fascinated me, especially the baking. The fact that you could take the same 5 ingredients: flour, eggs, butter or oil, a liquid of some sort, and a type of sugar and leavener (okay, that’s 6), and come up with all the different types of sweets, rolls, cakes, pastries based on the quantities, preparation method and cooking method was fascinating.
The first recipe that brought this to light was cream puffs/eclairs when I was 10 or 11. Eclairs and cream puffs are made with a dough called Pate a Choux, which is actually prepared on the stove top and then baked in the oven. Almond Puff is Pate Choux spread out and baked on what is essentially a big butter cookie (Pate Sucree). A few years later, I made this from one of my mom’s cookbooks (don’t know which one), but it is so simple, so delicious, and so darn addictive. People will think you are a master baker when you turn this out from your kitchen.
I personally think that this is one of the most unknown, uncelebrated pastries. There is also a lot of room for customization. For all you Mardi Gras people in the South, this makes a very fine King Cake indeed, just tint the icing in Gold, Purple & Green, add a baby (or not), and call it a King Cake. I have taken it to the office during Mardi Gras season, and it didn’t last very long at all.
Although there are three components to the recipe, don’t let that be a deterrent. It is a simple recipe that requires only a little elbow grease, two bowls, and a saucepan and a wooden spoon; a baking sheet and an oven.
This recipe can be found in old cookbooks and online.
1/2 cup butter, cold
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold water
In a medium bowl, cut butter into flour with a pastry blender, two knives, or in a food processor till crumbly. Sprinke with water and stir with fork, or run food processor, till a ball forms.
Divide dough in thirds.
On a parchment lined baking sheet, press each half into strips 12×3 inches, about three inches apart.
I usually divide mine into three, so that there is one for right now, one for my neighbors, and one to take to work the next day.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
In a medium saucepan, bring water and butter to a rapid boil.
Remove from heat and quickly stir in extract and flour.
Return to low heat and stir vigorously until a ball forms, about one minute.
Remove from heat and beat in eggs, one at a time, until mixture is smooth and glossy between each addition.
It may seem a little slimey and gloppy, but with a few more turns of the spoon, the dough comes together.
Divide mixture in half (or thirds) and spread each half over the pastry strips. It will be about 1/2 inch thick.
Bake at 350 degree oven for 60 minutes. Cool for 10 to 20 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack or serving platter.
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Combine powdered sugar, milk and extract and mix well till sugar is dissolved.
Drizzle or spread over loaves and sprinkle with almonds.
Cut each loaf into 8 to 12 pieces.