David Lebovitz’s Croissants aux Amandes start with store-bought plain pastries; get the recipe, below. (Photos by Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post; food styling by Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

Somehow, I got it in my head that almond croissants were for kids; that grown-up connoisseurs would stick to the plain buttery crescents. And so I put away those sweeter childish things.

But we all have moments of weakness. Pilates strengthens my core, but it does little for my willpower. A while back, on my way home from class, I stopped at a bakery and found myself ogling a croissant generously topped with a golden patch of baked almond cream and some slivered nuts. I bought it, and I liked it.

I would have returned to my purist pastry protocol but for the fact that I spied almond croissants at every new, upscale local bakery I walked into — and I walk into a lot of them. It seems my minimalist preference was not a sign of sophistication; it was merely the affectation of an ignorant American.

“In France, people don’t idolize croissants here the way they do in America,” says cookbook author David Lebovitz , who worked in the pastry department at Chez Panisse before moving to Paris in 2004. “People don’t rhapsodize about them. . . . They’re just a part of life. It’s an everyday food.” The same is true of almond croissants, although he does admit that, “because they’re sort of leftovers, they don’t necessarily have the same esteem.” But they are no less loved.

French patisseries were able to economically transform their scraps into what became an icon in its own right by soaking the unsold day-old pastry in a sweet syrup, filling — and topping — it with frangipane, a paste made of almond meal, sugar, butter and eggs, then baking it.

Just as today, according to Lebovitz, there are “really good bakeries in America” and “you don’t need to come to France to get a good croissant,” the same holds true for the almond variety. You will find a model almond croissant at Manresa Bread in Los Gatos, Calif., the three-year-old bakery spinoff of David Kinch’s acclaimed destination restaurant where Avery Ruzicka mastered loaves and pastries.


These sesame croissants are filled with a halva paste instead of the frangipane typically found in almond croissants. Get the recipe, below.

Two years ago, when Matt Tinder left his post heading the dessert program at Michelin-starred Coi in San Francisco to open Saboteur Bakery in Bremerton, Wash., his decision to put almond croissants on the menu “came from a need to reduce waste from the production of classic croissants,” he says. They remain his most popular item.

Tinder’s favorite almond croissants are those at Neighbor Bakehouse in San Francisco. They are almondesque in conceit, built from the same blueprint, but filled with pistachio paste and blackberry, or with a raspberry violet cream. Whenever I’m in that city, I make it a point to visit B. Patisserie for whatever elaboration on the sweet stuffed, croissant Belinda Leong has come up with for the season.

“I knew everyone loved almond croissants,” she says. “But I didn’t want ours to be like everyone else’s. So instead, I made two different kinds, a fruit-almond croissant — with confiture or fresh fruit — and a chocolate-almond-banana croissant, because I didn’t want to have the simple chocolate croissant, either.” (I’m here to tell you the pumpkin-almond special is a real winner.)

At the District’s Seylou Bakery, where the emphasis is on local whole grains and other unrefined ingredients, head pastry chef Charbel Abrache’s croissants are whole-wheat. The day-olds get a luxurious dose of his version of a traditional filling. Instead of the usual combination of “a buttercream and pastry cream,” he replaces the latter with raw flour milled from einkorn (the “great grandfather of modern wheat”) and a blend of milk and cream. He also uses less sugar and a less-sweet variant: Sucanat (dehydrated cane juice).

The result is “almost similar to a cake batter in terms of lightness,” he says, and has a more pronounced almond flavor. Oh, he puts some Valrhona chocolate in with it. And because these pastries are baked on the premises throughout the day, that chocolate always shows up melty.

Becky Quan, pastry chef at the soon-to-open NoMad restaurant in Las Vegas, does a proper almond croissant that’s made according to French protocol. But she likes having the freedom to play around, to change the fillings and introduce glazes and garnishes. She builds on base recipes for pastry cream, glaze and crumb topping that can be altered to introduce a new creation each week. For example, there’s a croissant that’s “just hazelnut on hazelnut,” Quan says. “It has hazelnut pastry cream with Nutella glaze and a hazelnut crumble.”


Becky Quan’s coffee croissants are made with a Coffee Pastry Cream filling, a glaze, a Coffee Crumble and crushed coffee beans on top. Get the recipes, below.

What makes these different from other constructions is that they start with a freshly baked croissant. But you can skip the part where you make croissants from scratch and still impress loved ones, and yourself, by doctoring a store-bought entity.

But don’t settle for someone else’s crummy crescents. As in all endeavors, starting with the best ingredients yields the best results. Per Leong: “Avoid using an underbaked croissant; when you eat it, it will be gummy.” Your almond croissant “should be moist inside and well covered on top.” But you don’t want too much almond cream up there, or you’re left with a soggy, flattened pancake of a thing. “You want just enough almond cream so when you bite it, it’s a little soft and a little crunchy.”

Lebovitz says “soaking it in enough syrup is important for the almond croissant.” So is baking it enough, and using enough filling, he says. “When the filling runs out and kind of burns, like grilled cheese; those are the good parts.”

They are my favorite parts. Some pastry chefs disagree, preferring neater, prettier products without any oozy over-spill.

Decide for yourself when you try Lebovitz’s recipe for Croissants aux Amandes the old-fashioned way. Or you can try my even lower-maintenance sesame variation. For a taste of Quan’s elaborate creations, make her Coffee Pastry Cream and/or her Coffee Crumble. There’s nothing wrong with a little maximalism, no matter how old you are.

Druckman is a New York food writer and cookbook author.

Recipes:

David Lebovitz’s Croissants aux Amandes

4 to 6 servings (depending on their size)

MAKE AHEAD: The almond-filled croissants are best served the same day they are made, either warm or at room temperature, but they can be kept in an airtight container overnight. Leftover frangipane can be used to line fruit tarts, and you can make it with hazelnuts (skip the almond extract, and try Frangelico in the syrup) or pistachios. The frangipane can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 2 weeks.

From cookbook author David Lebovitz.

Ingredients

For the frangipane

½ cup almond meal (also called almond flour)

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

3¼ tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

A few drops pure almond extract

Pinch kosher salt

For the croissants

½ cup water

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons dark rum, amaretto or kirsch (optional)

4 croissants, preferably day-old (see headnote)

4 to 6 tablespoons sliced almonds

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Steps

For the frangipane: Combine the almond meal, granulated sugar, egg, butter, almond extract and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on low speed until incorporated, then increase the speed to high and beat for 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

For the croissants: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Bring the water and granulated sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring just until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, then stir the liquor, if using.

Starting at one side, use a serrated knife to cut each croissant in half hori­zontally, stopping just before you reach the other side, leaving that part uncut (as a hinge). Brush the inside of each croissant liberally with the syrup on both sides, mak­ing sure each side is completely saturated; use more syrup than you think is necessary. It might seem like a lot, but the finished croissants benefit from the moisture.

Smear the inside of each croissant with 2 tablespoons of the frangipane, arranging the croissants on the baking sheet as you work. Press each one down firmly. Divide the remaining fran­gipane over the top of each croissant and smear it over the top. Sprinkle each croissant with 1 tablespoon of the sliced almonds, then bake (middle rack) for about 15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Let cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle each filled almond croissant with confectioners’ sugar.

Sesame Croissants

4 servings

From food writer and cookbook author Charlotte Druckman.

Ingredients

For the filling

1 large egg

⅛ teaspoon salt

8 ounces best-quality halvah, crumbled

½ cup water

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons dark rum, amaretto or kirsch (optional)

4 croissants, preferably day-old (on the large side)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Steps

For the filling (sesapane): Use a whisk to lightly beat the egg and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the halvah, bit by bit, whisking, until a thick pastelike spread forms.

For the croissants: Bring the water and granulated sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring just until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, then stir the liquor, if using.

Starting at one side, use a serrated knife to cut each croissant in half hori­zontally, stopping just before you reach the other side, leaving that part uncut (as a hinge). Brush the inside of each croissant liberally with the syrup on both sides, mak­ing sure each side is completely saturated; use more syrup than you think is necessary. It might seem like a lot, but the finished croissants benefit from the moisture.

Smear the inside of each croissant with 2 tablespoons of the filling, arranging the croissants on the baking sheet as you work. Press each one down firmly. Divide the remaining sesapane over the top of each croissant and smear it over the top. Sprinkle some of the sesame seeds over each croissant, then bake (middle rack) for about 15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Let cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle each filled sesame croissant with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.


Coffee Pastry Cream

8 servings (makes a generous 3 cups)

This is the filling for the coffee croissants that pastry chef Becky Quan makes for NoMad — just one of several components (including her Coffee Crumble; see related recipe) that include a syrup, glaze and crushed coffee beans.

MAKE AHEAD: You will have about a cup of pastry cream left over, which can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Adapted from pastry chef Becky Quan of NoMad in Las Vegas.

Ingredients

2 cups whole milk

Scrapings from 1 vanilla bean, plus the pod

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

6 large egg yolks

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coffee extract (may substitute strongly brewed/cooled espresso coffee)

Steps

Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the vanilla bean scrapings and the pod. Remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and let the mixture cool and infuse for 20 minutes. Discard the pod and stir the milk to distribute the vanilla evenly.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.

Place the egg yolks in a separate, larger bowl. Whisk in the sugar-cornstarch mixture until smooth and thoroughly incorporated. The mixture should be fluffy and pale.

Whisk a small amount of the still-warm, vanilla-infused milk into the egg yolk mixture; this is called tempering. Then, whisk that mixture into the saucepan of vanilla-infused milk. Place over medium heat; cook, whisking constantly, to form a thickened custard. A trail left by the whisk should hold.

Transfer to a large bowl; gradually add the cubes of cold butter to the custard, whisking constantly, until they are completely emulsified and the custard is glossy. This is your pastry cream.

Whisk in the coffee extract until well incorporated. Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream. Refrigerate until well chilled before using.

Coffee Crumble

8 servings (makes enough for 8 croissants)

Quan created this topping to adorn her filled croissants, but we have found it has multiple applications, including the tops of banana bread and other quick breads, and on ice cream, yogurt and parfaits.

MAKE AHEAD: The crumble can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Adapted from Quan.

Ingredients

½ packed cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 cup flour

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

Steps

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the brown sugar, flour and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on low speed until blended, then add the salt and espresso powder. Increase the speed to medium, beating to form a coarse, crumbly mixture.

Spread the mixture out on the prepared baking sheet, using your hands to break up any remaining larger bits. Bake (middle rack) for 20 to 30 minutes total, rotating the pan and stirring the crumbs halfway through. Cool on the baking sheet.

Once the mixture is cool enough to handle, use your hands or a fork to break it up into crumbly chunks.

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