Almond Honey Squares
When I take visitors through those big glass doors of the La Grande Épicerie in Paris, the first stop may very well be the spectacular pastry section, where fanciful cakes wrapped with ribbons of chocolate, or covered with a spun-sugar lattice topping, are proudly displayed in glass showcases like jewels.
In the corner, less obvious, are the sweets for le grignotages, or snacking. (Which they also call le snacking, in French.) Among the sugar-topped chouquettes and scalloped madeleines, are squares of candied almond-covered shortbread, called miella. Although they don’t grab your eye with the same intensity as the surrounding pastries, they are my favorite thing in the showcase and I am borderline addicted to them. When I point them out to people, they rarely show the same enthusiasm as I do, being more transfixed by the rows and rows of colorful macarons and glossy éclairs. “Tant pis” (tough sh*t, or more politely “too bad”) as they say – more for me!
Fortunately, I am able to limit my consumption to the occasional trips across Paris, when I feel the need to do some damage at the grandest culinary supermarket in town. Not that I need an excuse to go there, but it’s probably best I don’t have easy access to those caramelized almond-honey squares. (And the three aisles of chocolate bars.) Well, until now.
I was combing through The French Kitchen Cookbook by Patricia Wells, and landed on a similar-looking recipe, though hers contains bits of candied orange. Since I stockpile honey, I am always looking for ways to use it, especially some of the rarer varieties that I’ve collected, now packed in my “honey” cabinet. (Which, for some reason, is also used for storing coffee.) I pulled out the buckwheat honey, which I knew would be the perfect choice for making these squares, where the flavor of a good honey would shine. (You’ll notice mine have a bit of a matt finish because my buckwheat honey is unfiltered. If you use a smooth honey, you’ll get a glossier topping.)
Patricia recently updated her Food Lover’s Guide to Paris – a book I faithfully toted along with me on my first – and every other – trip to Paris – which is full of her favorite places, sweet and savory. I’ve been thumbing through that as well, admiring the ever-changing face of the culinary scene in Paris, bookmarking places to visit. Of course, La Grande Épicerie is in there, along with pastry and chocolate shops, boulangeries, bistros, and cafés.
But for now, I’m staying put, right at home, since I’ve been making these little crispy-buttery treats, a cross between a cookie and a candy, great with strong coffee. At some point, I’ll need to restock my coffee, and if I keep making these, my honey as well. And I’ve got the guide to get me to the right places. That is, if I can drag myself away from these almond-honey squares.
Toscakaka (caramel almond cake) (Poires au Chocolat)