On Saturday mornings, my father would take my sister and me to his favorite store for comic books and graphic novels in the Latin Quarter. The three of us would spend what felt like hours in that small shop, browsing through the new bandes dessinées releases, digging for undiscovered gems in the wooden boxes, and reading cross-legged in a corner.
After stepping out of the store with our purchases, we would walk to a nearby bakery-cum-café, where we would sit at the counter and start reading through the week’s harvest, after a bit of negotiation as to who would read what first. My father would order an espresso, we girls a diabolo menthe (lemonade with mint syrup), and all three of us would indulge in a croissant aux amandes, a flaky croissant filled with almond cream and topped with sliced almonds and a snow fall of confectioners’ sugar. This was pure buttery bliss, the elbows of the croissant having crisped up and caramelized in the oven while its heart remained tender and chewy.
The croissant aux amandes, which also exists in a pain au chocolat version, is yet further proof that necessity is the mother of brilliant invention: originally devised as a way to recycle day-old croissants, the resulting pastry is just as good as what it’s meant to do away with, if not better. The following recipe applies the same idea to day-old slices of brioche. I will, however, admit that I sometimes buy a loaf and let it go stale on purpose to make these puffy golden treats, topped with almond cream, slices of pears, and a sprinkle of chocolate chips. Serve for dessert, as an afternoon snack, or for brunch.—Clotilde Dusoulier
For the poached pears
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light rum (optional)
2 ripe pears, about 1 pound (choose a variety that will retain its shape when poached, such as Bosc, Winter Nellis, or Anjou), quartered, cored, and peeled
For the almond cream
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole blanched almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
Eight 3/4-inch-thick slices day-old brioche or challah, about 7 ounces total
1/4 cup good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips (substitute 1 1/2 ounces chocolate, chopped or chilled and cut in shavings with a vegetable peeler)
Make the poached pears
1. Combine 1 cup water, the sugar, and rum, if using, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the pears to the saucepan. Once the mixture starts to simmer again, cook for 4 minutes, until cooked through and slightly translucent. Remove from heat and let cool.
Make the almond cream
1. Combine the sugar, almonds, and salt in a food processor and mix until finely ground. Add the butter and mix again until blended. Add the eggs one by one and process until creamy. (You can prepare the pears and almond cream up to a day in advance. Transfer to separate airtight containers, leaving the pears in the syrup, and refrigerate.)
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the pear pieces from the syrup with a slotted spoon and slice them thinly and horizontally, making sure they retain their shape.
Assemble and bake the brioche
1. Dip each side of the brioche slices lightly in the syrup. If the slices seem too fragile to be dipped without falling apart, use a pastry brush to coat. Arrange on the baking sheet. Spread 2 tablespoons almond cream on each slice, working carefully to avoid tearing. Use the blade of a knife to lift each pear quarter, press gently on the slices of pear to fan them out, and transfer onto each piece of brioche.
2. Bake for 15 minutes, until the almond cream is set and golden. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. (In the unlikely event that you have leftovers, they will keep for up to a day, wrapped in foil and refrigerated. Reheat for 5 minutes in a 350°F (175°C) oven.)
Variations: Instead of poached pears, top the brioche with raspberries, sliced strawberries, or quartered figs — no need to cook any of these fruits first.
Wine: Bonny Doon 2004 Muscat Vin de Glacière (USA, California, ice-style white) Sweet, but with a nice, balancing acidity, this dessert wine offers aromas of roasted pears, peaches, and honey. The palate is similarly fruity, accented by butterscotch and caramel flavors, and a distinctive honey-nut character.
Recipe © 2007 by Cotilde Dusolier. All rights reserved.