Almond Cardamom Rolls

In a hidden gem of a bakery in the vibrant city of Montreal, I sat down to my first almond croissant. The tiny bakery, Kouign-Amann, held only 3 tables, but the atmosphere felt so cozy and inviting it made me feel as if I belonged. The bakery was open to the kitchen where the bakers rolled out beautiful sheets of homemade puff pastry. The pastries were classically French, but the bakery had a vibe that could only come from the soul of Montreal. Despite its small size, I had never encountered a more active bakery in my life (and I doubt I will again) as the door swung open so often I rarely saw it close for more than a moment.

On this particular day, I was lucky enough to find myself a seat at a table. The almond croissant was larger than my two fists put together, standing tall from the flaky layers. Covered with powdered sugar and sliced almonds, I found it a mess to eat as the tender crumbs scattered over the table and onto my lap as the croissant gradually disappeared. Somehow, though, it was perfect.

Perfect for the moment, perfect for the city, perfect for the place I was at in my life.

My roommate introduced me to the bakery a few days earlier. I had just moved into an apartment a few blocks down and to break up the rush of a trip to buy furniture, she pulled me into the small bakery on our walk to the metro, ordered me a plain croissant, and warned me that it would be the best I would ever eat. She was right.

From then on, I walked past the bakery regularly as I made my way around the city. The bakery, to its credit, kept the ovens on throughout the day so it was possible to get warm pastries any time of day. The temptation to resist, I found, was often too much. Every time I made my way through the bakery door, I fell a little more in love with pastries, more smitten with baking.

It was a cold fall afternoon when I stepped in the bakery after a rush of holiday shopping. The bakery was humid, as the hot air from the ovens mixed with the frigid air from outdoors. I ordered an almond croissant and managed to snag one of the coveted seats in the busy room, dropping my packages by my feet. French language bounced off the walls as the windows fogged over with steam, condensation running down the panes to reveal the bustling street outside. An old man sat across from me, a newspaper spread across the table, a coffee in hand. The moment itself made me feel so rich, so alive. Emboldened by the atmosphere and a mouthful of croissant, I made up my mind about a decision that had been haunting me for quite some time.

It was the moment I made the decision to pursue pastries.

Almond Cardamom Rolls are inspired from the pastries I fell in love with in Montreal. The dough is no-knead, which makes it much less work than its traditional counterpart. A touch of sour cream brings a tenderness to the rolls and the addition of cardamom adds the right amount of spice. The rolls are filled with a mixture of almond paste and brown sugar, which is rich and deeply flavorful. A simple vanilla glaze and a sprinkle of sliced almonds finishes off the light rolls. The rolls can also be made the night before and baked the next morning to serve warm for family and friends.

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Almond Cardamom Rolls

Yields 24 rolls

Cardamom Rolls
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
1/4 cup (60 ml) barely warm water
1/4 cup (60 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter, melted
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (115 grams) sour cream
2 3/4 (350 grams) bread flour (all purpose will work)

Almond Filling
8 ounces (227 grams) almond paste
3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons (40 grams) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Egg Wash + Vanilla Glaze
1 large egg
3 tablespoons milk, divided
1 cup (125 grams) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sliced almonds, for garnish

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the barely warm water and allow to sit about 5 minutes until activated (looks frothy). Stir in sugar, cardamom, salt, melted butter, eggs, and sour cream. Gradually add the flour, mixing until it has been incorporated. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours. Punch down dough and allow to rise a second time until doubled, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, to create the almond filling, crumble the almond paste into a small bowl. Add in the brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla, and salt, mixing until it forms a thick dough. Set aside.

Divide dough in half and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out each half into a 12-inch circle. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 12 equal slices (like a pizza). Divide almond filling into 1/2 tablespoon-sized pieces. Form each piece into a small log and place 1-inch from the wide end of each roll. Starting on the wide end, roll up each dough slice like a croissant. Set the rolls pointed end down on a baking sheet. Cover and allow to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

(Alternatively, to make them for the next morning, cover with foil before rising and place in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, remove from the refrigerator and allow the rolls to warm to room temperature and rise until doubled.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon milk to make the egg wash. Brush each roll generously and bake rolls for 15-20 minutes, or until golden.

In another small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons milk. Drizzle over rolls and sprinkle with almonds.