Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bear Claws

Finding a good flaky pastry can be difficult, sort of like the fable of Goldilocks and the three bears when she went to try the bears' porridge. Some you bite into and they shatter into a million pieces because each layer is crispy and brittle. Others just do not seem to have any layers at all, the pastry is just bread. Yet, once in a while, you find one that is just right.

The secret to landing on the thin line of perfection is butter. Toss in some cold chunks of butter and roll out, fold, turn one quarter turn and repeat the process. It may be a little time consuming, but the end result is well worth the time. The dough in this recipe has a minimal chill time of 4 hours and rising time of 1 hour.

This particular recipe is the traditional bear claw. If you have never tried one of these delicious pastries, it is time to taste one and add it to your recipe box. Each flaky claw is filled with a confection of almond paste and cinnamon. The distinct flavor of almond can also be found in the dough. If that has not hooked you, then the buttery layers will. This recipe makes 18 bear claws.

Bear Claws
adapted from Panera bread at home website 

5 cups flour (plus additional for rolling/forming dough)
1 pkg yeast
1 1/2 cups cold butter (cubed)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt

Ingredients/Filling and Topping
1/2 cup almond paste
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 egg white
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
sliced almonds for sprinkling

For the dough, start by filling a bowl with 2 cups of flour. Then sprinkle the yeast on top and stir, so the yeast is evenly distributed. Set aside. Fill another bowl with 3 cups of flour and add the butter cubes and toss until evenly coated. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Fill a saucepan with the sugar, covering the bottom of the pot evenly. Then add the half and half, salt and vanilla and almond extracts. Place over medium heat and let cook to a temperature of 120F to 130F degrees. As it cooks, stir with a whisk or spatula.

Add the egg to the bowl with the flour/yeast mixture and stir. Then, using a spatula, empty the cream/sugar blend into the same bowl. Mix together until fully combined. Lastly, remove the cubed butter and flour mix from the refrigerator and fold into the batter. Stir just until no dry streaks remain.

Prepare a flat surface by dusting with flour. Then line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough on the floured surface and roll out into a rectangle, measuring 21 inches by 12 inches. As you roll, you will run into sticky chunks of butter. Use more flour to patch over the butter. Lift the 12 inch side and overlap 7 inches of the dough, making a fold at the 7 inch mark. Lift again and overlap, ending with a 12 x 7 inch rectangle. Make a quarter turn of the dough and roll into a 21 x 12 inch rectangle. Fold dough into thirds (like the previous folding) and make a quarter turn and roll out again into a 21x12 inch rectangle. Lastly, fold into thirds again. Cover with plastic wrap and place on baking sheet. Put in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 4 and maximum of 24 hours. The dough must be very firm to work with.

To make the filling, start by slicing slivers of the almond paste into a small bowl. Using another bowl, whisk the egg white until foamy. Sift in the powdered sugar and add the slivers of almond paste. Beat the mixture for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl after 1 minute. The mixture should be fairly smooth in consistency.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Place one half in the refrigerator and the other half on a flour dusted surface. Roll the dough out, forming a 12 inch square. Measure out 3 strips, 4 inches by 12 inches and cut the dough accordingly. Divide out 2 tablespoons of filling and spread down the center length of 1 strip. Then sprinkle with about 1 1/2 tsp of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Fold long edges together. Crimp ends and edges together forming a seal. Cut into 3 equal pieces and place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process with the other two strips.

Each claw will have a folded edge and a crimped edge. Using scissors or a knife, cut the crimped edge into 4 strips, cutting towards the folded edge and leaving about 1/2 inch border with no cut. Curve the claw and spread the strips apart so there is about a 1/4 inch space in the middle of each strip. Remove the other half of the dough from the refrigerator and repeat the process, cutting and forming into claws.

Lightly cover the bear claws and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Once the rising time is complete, whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the top of each claw. Sprinkle a little of the cinnamon sugar on top and lightly press some slivered almonds on the surface. Place in oven to bake for about 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and place on rack to completely cool.

Tips and Notes:
1. This recipe makes 18 bear claws and may require 4 baking sheets. Due the the rising time, the best thing is to either split the measurements and only make 9 or bake the 9 and then start forming and baking the other half of the dough.

2. Since the sides of the bear claws are not sealed, some of the filling may seep out when baking.

3. Be prepared to use a lot of flour to patch the dough when rolling. There may be several areas of butter that comes to the surface of the dough during this process. 
                             **LAST YEAR:Inside Out German Chocolate Cake