An easy splurge for your choco-phobic Valentine
Decorate the top of the pastry by lightly scoring it with a knife before baking. (Fotolia.com / February 13, 2013)
But, as I write those words, I know that I shouldn't generalize and say that everyone loves or expects to get chocolate on February 14th. In fact, I'd even feel safe in saying that some people are facing the approach of Valentine's Day worrying about being inundated with chocolate. Even if they like the stuff, they simply may not want so much of it around the house to tempt them.
So, this year, I thought I would share with you a non-chocolate dessert that your loved one will find no less romantic. It's a classic French pastry called a Pithiviers, named for the town south of Paris where it was first created.
What makes a Pithiviers so special? First of all, it's based on puff pastry, with thin, flaky layers that taste seductively buttery and yet feel so delicate on the lips. And then there's the traditional filling: a seductively rich almond cream.
Better still, as out-of-the-ordinary as the Pithiviers may sound, you'll find it surprisingly easy to prepare. There's no need for you to make the puff pastry from scratch, because excellent, ready-to-bake puff pastry awaits you right now in the frozen foods section of just about any supermarket. And the almond cream filling? Well, all you have to do is put six widely available ingredients in a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade, pulse them together, and chill the mixture in the refrigerator for an hour before assembling the pastry.
Not bad for a dessert likely to make your Valentine swoon! And there'll be enough left over for you both to enjoy with your breakfast coffee the next day.
If you want your Pithiviers to make an even more passionate impression, that's surprisingly easy to achieve, too. Buy some ripe, jumbo strawberries or plump, juicy raspberries to garnish each serving. Prepare some whipped cream and add a dollop to each serving. In place of the almond extract in the filling, use a splash of orange flower water or rosewater to give it a more exotic aroma.
Or, here's another thought, if your Valentine just happens to be an irrepressible chocoholic: Before you chill the almond cream filling, fold into it about 1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips, or 4 ounces of coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Makes 8 servings
ALMOND CREAM FILLING:
4 ounces blanched almonds
4 ounces sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
2 large cage-free eggs
1 tablespoon almond extract
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 pound store-bought frozen puff pastry, thawed following package instructions
1 large cage-free egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
First, make the Almond Cream Filling: In a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade, combine the almonds, sugar, and flour. Pulse the machine on and off repeatedly until the mixture reaches a mealy consistency. Then, a piece at a time, pulse in the butter. One at a time, pulse in the eggs. Add the almond extract. Continue to process until a smooth, thick cream forms. With a rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before use.
To assemble the Pithiviers, on a work surface lightly dusted with flour, use a rolling pin to roll out the puff pastry to a uniform thickness of about 1/8 inch. Using serving plates or pie plates as a guide, cut out one 10-inch and one 11-inch pastry circle. Place the smaller circle on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the edge of the smaller circle with some of the egg wash. Spread the chilled almond cream in the center, leaving a 2-inch outer band uncovered. Cover the filling with the larger circle and lightly press down all along the edges to seal the circles of pastry loosely together. Brush the top pastry circle with egg wash. Loosely cover with waxed paper or parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Using the dull edge of a paring knife, seal together the pastry circles by pressing down on the perimeter of the Pithiviers in a repeating pattern perpendicular to the pastry circles' overlapping edges. Decorate the top pastry by lightly scoring it with the knife tip from the center towards the edge in half-circles spaced about 1/2 inch apart, taking care not to cut all the way through the pastry. Then, cut a few 1-inch vents in the top, too.
Transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven and bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the Pithiviers rest for 15 to 30 minutes before serving it warm, cut into wedges. The baked pastry can also be covered and refrigerated, to be served cold or at room temperature.