One year ago almost to the day my daughter and I were in Provence on vacation. It seems like a dream now as I look back on it and if I didn’t have hundreds of pictures to remind me where we were I could easily think I dreamed a good part of the experience. One of our favorite stops on our river cruise was the beautiful city of Lyon, considered to be the gastronomic capital of France and the cuisine capital of the world. The city has over 2,000 restaurants of which 13 have been awarded Michelin Stars. Almost every street has patisseries and boulangeries that display the most wonderful and appetizing creations you could imagine. We giddily ran from one to the next with our noses pasted to the display windows and we wanted to try everything we saw.
One of the first windows that caught our eye had displays of various pastries made with something that gave everything a bright red-rose color. We were told that “Les Pralines Rouge” was an area specialty…almonds covered in a red vanilla flavored caramelized coating…and many local pastries and chocolates were made with them. They were used in everything. There wasn’t a display window in any shop that didn’t have a variety of bright red baked goods. The pictures aren’t the best because I took them through glass, but at least you can get the idea of the displays.
When I travel I like to buy local specialty ingredients so I can attempt to duplicate recipes when I get back to my own kitchen. No luck with Les Pralines Rouge in Lyon, but when we got to Paris and went to G. DETOU I found them there. If you are looking for any specialty food items in Paris G. Detou is a place you must visit. I read about the little shop on David Lebovitz’s blog and it is a great find, a place I probably never would have found on my own. In his words. “If G. Detou didn’t exist, I couldn’t live in Paris.”
We bought several almond items at patisseries to take back to the ship to try to analyze what they were made of. We loved the above pastry that was half way between biscotti and a chewy cake. It wasn’t until I recently looked back in my photo album at pictures of the store window that I had the name for this creation…croquant… so I could try to find a recipe on the internet.
Above is my first version of croquant…it turned out pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself. Not as cakey as the purchased one, but the flavor is great and I’m off to a good start. This is similar to biscotti and I like the recipe much better than biscotti recipes I’ve used in the past…better texture and more flavor. I’m almost out of the beautiful red-rose almonds but plain would work just fine, as would cinnamon glazed gebrannte mandeln…sugared almonds…that I make at holiday time.
The dough is very soft so flour hands well before trying to shape it. Form dough into two logs and brush the tops with a lightly whisked egg white. Allow lots of room on the baking sheet because the dough spreads a little bit and rises. Bake the first time at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees F. Carefully move the partially baked logs of dough to a cutting board and slice into 1-inch slices. Reassemble on the baking sheet, leaving a good inch to inch and a half between slices. Bake the dough a second time at the reduced temperature for 30 minutes.
Sugar coated almonds are impossible to chop with a knife or cut up in a blender or food processor. There is a good chance the appliance will break before the nuts are even roughly chopped. The best way to do it is to put the nuts in a sturdy zip-lock bag and whack them with a rolling pin or a cast iron skillet. It will smash them into good sized pieces for baking.
Do you see the stacks of sandwiches on the top shelf? What I wouldn’t give for one at this moment. The baguettes the sandwiches are made with are light as a feather. And there are nine different pizzas to choose from, all freshly baked…sigh.
As if the patisseries aren’t enough, this shop is devoted exclusively to NOUGAT!
Adapted from a recipe found at DU MIEL ET DU SEL
- 200 g flour
- 50 g ground almonds or almond flour
- 5 g baking powder
- 1 pinch of salt
- 50 g soft butter
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 drop of essential bitter almond oil, optional
- 250 g sugar
- 2 eggs
- 75 g whole almonds with skins, crushed in a plastic bag
- 75 g hazelnuts, very lightly chopped
- 1 egg white, lightly whisked, to brush on the unbaked dough
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Combine flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt. Mix with a fork and set aside.
- Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until light. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add flour mixture and combine well.
- Mix the almonds and hazelnuts into the dough by hand.
- Divide the dough into two pieces and form into two log shapes on a baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper. The dough is very sticky so flour your hands well.
- Bake at 400 degrees F. for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lower oven temperature to 250 degrees F.
- Very carefully move the partially baked pastry logs to a cutting surface and slice into 1 to 1-1/2-inch slices. Reassemble on the baking sheet, leaving about a 1-1/2-inch space between slices.
- Return to oven and bake another 30 minutes at 250 degrees F.
- Cool and store in an airtight container. They keep well.