I’ve always loved the idea of having a local baker — someone whose shop was within a short walk of my apartment, where I could drop by in the morning for a baguette or a scone, pick up a loaf or two of fresh bread, and pop in on a lazy Sunday afternoon for tea and cookies. Sadly, I don’t live in Paris. I do, however, read an excellent blog of someone who does — that’s David Lebovitz, my friends — and his many posts about local bakers regularly elicit pavlovian responses from my growling tummy. The one that most recently got my attention was about Flo Braker, one of his all-time favorite bakers. (Don’t you just love that she’s Flo Braker, the Baker? Hardy har.) Among the many recipes in her arsenal is one for thin,, crispy, buttery almond cookies called “pain d’amande” (almond bread). While I’d never heard of Braker before reading David’s post, after tasting these cookies, I can assure you that now she’s one of my favorite bakers, too.
These aren’t just any almond cookies; they benefit from having become an obsession of Braker’s — she’s literally made the recipe countless times, each time adjusting the proportions of raw sugar and flour by slight amounts until she achieved the perfect ratio of each. As I said, we benefit from her rigor and perfectionism: these cookies are absolutely flawless, and I wouldn’t change a darn thing.
As if the perfect flavor isn’t enough to get you running kitchenward, these cookies are among the most practical ones I’ve made. You form the dough into a loaf, chill it, and slice slivers off the loaf to bake. The loaf of dough keeps its shape wonderfully once formed and can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks, allowing you to slice and bake just a few of these whenever you get the craving. I err on the side of caution and bake up about 10 at a time — you know, just in case.
Flo Braker’s Pain D’amande
Adapted from Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker
David recommends to use parchment instead of silpat, because otherwise they won’t get as crispy. He also suggests that you not let the sugar melt all the way, because the raw crystals add serious crunch to the cookies. I dutifully obeyed his orders and can attest to this: love the raw sugar, it really adds.
8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, cubed
1 1/3 cups (300g) coarse crystal golden sugar (see Note)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (80ml) water
2 1/3 cups (325g) flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (85g) sliced almonds, blanched or unblanched
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat with the sugar, cinnamon, and water. Stir until the butter just melts but don’t allow to boil: most of the sugar should not be dissolved.
2. Remove from heat and stir in the flour, baking soda, and almonds until well mixed.
3. Line a 9-inch (23cm) loaf pan with plastic wrap and press the dough into the pan so the top is smooth. Chill until firm.
4. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325º (160ºC.)
5. Using a very sharp chef’s knife, slice the dough crosswise, as thin as possible, into rectangles. If you can get them as thin as a coin, all the better. The thinner they are, the more delicate and crisp they’ll be.
6. Space the cookies on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cookies feel slightly firm and the undersides are golden brown. Flip the cookies over and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, until the cookies are crisp and deep golden-brown on top. The baking times depend on how thin you cut the cookies.
Cool completely, then store in an airtight bin until ready to serve.
Storage: Once baked, the cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to three days. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days, or frozen for up to two months, if well-wrapped.
Note: Large-crystal golden sugar, as shown, is available in specialty food stores, natural food stores, or online.
Depending on where you live, Hawaiian Washed Sugar from C & H, is available in grocery stores.