Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mom's Almond Puff Danish #CooktheBooksClub

I am participating in the Cook the Books Club, where bloggers collectively read a book that is food based in some manner, and then prepare a dish inspired by the book.

The April/May book selection was Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness, by Sasha Martin.  The invitation for this round's challenge,hosted by Eliot's Eats is here.

Sasha Martin is also the blogger behind the extensive blog Global Table Adventure, a truly fascinating collection of essays and recipes from around the world.  Sasha, her husband and her young daughter took on a project to eat a meal from every country, and learning not only about food and other places (and in the case of her husband, working to overcome a lot of food pickiness), but about themselves as well.

The result was Life from Scratch - initially intended to tell the story of the project, it instead lead Sasha to turn toward her own childhood and past, as she realized that for her, cooking had always been a connection to otherwise very difficult relationships, as well as a solace through periods of life that were painful and often harsh.

Through it all is her uneasy connection with her mother, who seems to be a free spirited artistic woman who, due to both circumstance and temperament, was not well suited to be a mother.

At times, this memoir was very painful to read, but I appreciated  the ambivalence that didn't attempt to make her mother's choices sound better than they were, or to write her off as merely the villain of the story. Others in her life are also depicted fairly - the pain they caused is described, but through her words, those that might be offered compassion are granted it.

Primarily, it is a story set in the real world of very flawed human beings often making very poor and selfish choices - and this makes it both an uncomfortable read as well as a compelling one.

Through it all are a few recipes, but I'd recommend visiting the website if your main interest is food (and do visit - it is sure to cost a few hours of riveting browsing) and read the book if you like memoir.

One of the more evocative passages had to do with her mother's specialty dessert, German Tree Cake (Baumtorten).  This led me to think about my own mother's culinary signature recipes for my own inspiration.

My mother was a woman I admire greatly as a person, but our relationship as mother and daughter was complex and difficult, and ultimately unresolved as she passed away last year after a long decline due to Alzheimers.  For this reason one of the things that spoke to me about Life From Scratch is the relationship that developed between mother and daughter later in the mother's life.

By the standards of her era (and I sometimes think we children soaked up our ideas of 'right' parenting mainly from idealized fiction), she was not very domestic at all all, and that was regarded as a failing regardless of whatever else she did.

My mother's way of navigating expectations was to perfect a few signature recipes for necessary occasions - a couple terrific entrees for dinner guests, as well as a side or two for holiday feasts we shared with other families.  She even learned to make bread and butter pickles and happily passed out jars to others as needed.

But her main signature recipe was this Almond Puff Danish - this went to potlucks, office gatherings, tea parties and bake sales.  If she'd even wanted to try something new (and she rarely did), people asked for this - it was her recipe, her thing.

I suspect it was also half the country's thing, because the recipe itself came from a set of Better Homes & Gardens subscription cards.  Anyone remember those? Each month, you'd get a packet of about 24 cards on a given theme, to be collected in a special, deep recipe box big enough for the whole set.  I think mom only ever used 3-4 of those recipes, but this one she made her own.

Mom's Almond Puff Danish

makes approx 16 slices
Preheat oven to 350F.

Bottom Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
2 Tblsp. water

Top Layer:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup flour
1 tsp. almond extract
3 eggs

1 cup powered sugar
2 Tblsp. butter, softened
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 Tblsp. milk
sliced almonds

Prepare bottom layer:
Combine flour and butter in a large bowl, and cut together with a pair of table knives or a pastry cutter, until it is grainy and well combined.

Sprinkle with water, and work with hands to form a dough (don't overwork).

Divide dough in half and shape into to rectangles on an ungreased cookie sheet. Pat down so that each rectangle is about 1/5" thick.  These needn't be shaped perfectly, but should be about the same thickness for even baking.   Set pan aside.

Prepare Top Layer:
In a medium saucepan, combine water and butter and bring to a boil, stirring to melt the butter.  Remove from heat, add extract, and then add flour all at once.  Stir vigorously until dough leaves the pot's sides, forming a ball (should take about a minute).  Add eggs all at once, and continue beating until eggs are incorporated and dough is smooth.

Pile topping on each triangle, spreading to cover.  It will be thick and high, and if you leave soft peaks in, the texture will be more interesting once baked.

Bake for one hour at 350F.  Cool completely on a wire rack on pan.

Cream softened butter, powdered sugar and almond extract thoroughly. Add water a bit at a time until desired thinness is achieved.  I prefer mine on the thinner side, but this can be made thicker if you like.

Remove pastries from pan and set directly on wire rack (they should be firm enough to move as long as you're careful).

Place rack on top of the pan.

Spoon glaze over the top - excess will drizzle through the rack to the pan.

Sprinkle with almonds, and pat down lightly.  Let sit about a half hour, until all glaze is set.

Slice into long bars and enjoy!


Head over to Eliot's Eats to see the entire round up and see how other bloggers were inspired by Life from Scratch here!


  1. Ooo, these look so delicious! I can already smell the almond wafting from my oven, yum!

  2. Looks amazing. Almond paste is my weird little vice. I could hide in the pantry and eat it all day long!

  3. Just pour me a cup of tea and I'm ready to start the day with one of these! #ProductReviewParty

  4. I learned to make these in Home Ec in 1967!

  5. Life from Scratch sounds like a lovely read Lynda, thanks for the mini review. I'll definitely see if I can get a copy. Your Mom's puff Danish looks amazing too. I can almost smell them baking from here

  6. So glad you joined up. I love your perspective on the book and that you delved into your own relationship with your mother for your CTB inspired dish. Will be reaching out when the round up is posted after the holiday.

    Have a great weekend!

  7. The almond puff danish looks amazing. I have never tried to cook Danish Pastry but I do like to eat it.
    Blogger's Pit Stop

  8. Moms’ recipes and cooking are always a blessing. And life from scratch must surely be one of the assets in cooking world. Thanks for sharing the yummy recipe.

  9. These look absolutely gorgeous and I love that they are all natural from scratch. Pinning to make this weekend. Love it.

  10. Oh man those look good - a cup of coffee and one of those and it's breakfast on the deck in summer!! Yum - Thanks for sharing on the What's for Dinner link up!

  11. Replies
    1. Re-pinned; thanks for sharing at the Welcome Spring linky!

  12. Your Danish looks delicious! Thanks so much for sharing your awesome post with us at Full Plate Thursday! Hope you are having a great week and come back to see us real soon.
    Miz Helen

  13. Oh my, this looks absolutely delicious! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

  14. These almond pastries look amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your post on the simple Homestead Blog Hop! As one of the co-hosts I will be featuring your post tomorrow!
    - Nancy (Nancy On The Home Front)

  15. The dish looks amazing. I know those recipe cards you are talking about. We lost Grandma to Alzheimers about 10 years ago, it just took her body about 5 years after that to catch up, if you know what I mean. Each year she seemed to forget a generation until she didn't even know she had children, let alone great grandchildren. But keeping her alive through food is a bit of a family tradition. I think of her when I make her recipes.

    Thanks for sharing on #TastyTuesdays

  16. I think all mother/daughter relationships are complex. I know mine was with my mother and while I and my daughter are very close it is still complex. I love that you shared one of your mom's recipes with us and I think you are right about the generation. I was born at a time when my Mom was happy to be liberated from the kitchen and served lots of frozen entrees.

  17. Yum! I would love to have these danishes with my tea in the mornings.


  18. I adore Danishes and really have to give this recipe a go Lynda.
    Thank you for sharing it at Create, Bake, Grow & Gather this week. I'm delighted to be featuring it at tonight's party and pinning too!.

  19. Good review, and totally excellent recipe, which I have copied to try. SOON, I hope.

  20. Just wanted to let you know that you were selceted to be a feature this week at My Busy Beehives Bee Party! These look delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  21. I love almonds -- what a great recipe

  22. Yum, Linda! I remember when my Mom used to make this and I loved it! Thank you for sharing, I've pinned.

  23. This looks amazing - I love that you used your mom's recipe!

  24. Welcome to Cook the Books! I hope you join in again with us. I loved your review--thank you for sharing about your own relationship with your mom and this wonderful recipe--which looks amazing and has me craving pastry right now. ;-)

  25. Welcome to Cook the Books, Lynda! I had not seen this recipe before: the top layer is basically choux pastry. Very interesting. Your description of your mother and your relationship with her resonated with me.

  26. My version of this recipe did not use almond extract which I prefer. My boyfriend's sister uses honey insted of icing which is good, too. This recipe disappears whenever I take it anywehre!

  27.  The Sims 4 Crackto the current mood, too, the behavior open to Sims can change