Traditional bear claws are a bakery treat, made from a sweet yeasted Danish dough that is as delicious and delicate as it is time-consuming. Filled with chocolate and cut into an almost paw shape, bear claws can be made the easy way, with commercial, store-bought puff pastry.
No, it's not exactly the same, but boy oh boy, puff pastry bear claws are incredible in their own right. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, which is seemingly made up of a miraculous number of intricate tiny layers, this version takes only about an hour to make, including time to defrost the dough. I strongly prefer puff pastry made with butter for this recipe; it can be found at many large grocery stores and health food-style stores.
For you Francophile pastry fans, take note that this recipe at first blush seems to be just a kiss away from classic pain au chocolat, which is puff pastry wrapped around a small chocolate bar. I've filled mine with a luxurious chocolate filling to bump up the creamy, oozing, warm chocolate factor. Want to make the real-deal bear claw? Try my mini Nutella-filled bear claws, but set aside about six hours or so.
Traditional bear claw, pain au chocolat, or puff pastry bear claw with a to-die-for filling? Count me in every time.
Mini Puff Pastry Bear Claws with Chocolate Filling
1 pound frozen puff pastry, butter-based strongly preferred
1/2 cup dark or semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (4 ounces, between 46% and 70% cacao)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch ground cardamom (optional)
Pinch ground ancho chili powder (optional)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, for dusting
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Meanwhile, make the filling: Place the chocolate chips or chunks in a medium heatproof bowl; set aside.
Combine the cream, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and cardamom and/or chili powder if using in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, until well-combined and hot, about 3 minutes. Watch carefully to ensure that the cream doesn't scald or boil over (if it gets too hot, remove the pan from the heat for a bit).
Carefully pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and let sit 3 to 4 minutes without stirring so the chocolate will melt. Stir until fully combined and smooth. With a handheld electric mixer or a wire whisk and some arm power, whisk until the mixture is fluffy and lightened in color, 1 or 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, about 10 minutes.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat and set aside. Make an egg wash by beating the egg and water together in a small bowl; set aside.
Dust a work surface very lightly with flour. Gently unfold the puff pastry sheet onto it. (If the brand you are using has a second sheet, cover it well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for another use; see Recipe Notes). With a rolling pin, gently roll out the pastry sheet to make an 8x12-inch rectangle with a long end facing you. Cut the dough in half horizontally, then in thirds vertically, resulting in 6 (4-inch) squares.
Remove the filling from the refrigerator. Spread about 2 teaspoons of the filling into the center of each piece (you may have some filling leftover). Brush the edges of each square with some of the egg wash, then fold each one in half to form a rectangle. Press all the edges to seal.
Using a small paring knife, make 5 small (1/4- to 1/2-inch long) parallel cuts from the center of each pastry to where the seam is, creating "fingers" or "claws." Transfer the bear claws to the prepared baking sheet, curving each one into an arch so that the "fingers" or "claws" separate a bit and the pastry (sort of) has the shape of an actual paw.
Brush the claws lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.
Bake until the bear claws are golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Serve hot, or cool the bear claws on a wire cooling rack and serve the same day they are made.
- Spices: If you like a touch of rich, warm spice in your filling, add the cardamom. If you like more of a punch, add the chili powder. And if you like a complex mix that has a bit of both, like I do, use both the cardamom and the chili powder.
- Puff pastry: No two brands of puff pastry have sheets that are the same size or weight. Some like Pepperidge Farms are 17.5 ounces, some are 16 ounces, and some are 14 ounces — and some brands even have two sheets. This recipe is calculated using 16 ounces of dough (a pound), which was one sheet. If the brand of puff pastry you are using comes in two sheets, like Pepperidge Farms, don't take both out of the freezer — or if the two sheets come in one pouch, wrap one well in parchment paper and then plastic, and refreeze quickly. If you like, you can double the filling recipe and make two batches of bear claws right away. They will get scarfed right up.
- Working with puff pastry: Cold dough is critical to puff pastry puffing. Keep the dough chilled and if it feels anything but cold, cover well with plastic wrap and chill until firm.