3/4 cup milk 1/2 cup sugar 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F) 2 packages dry yeast 1 egg, beaten 4 cups flour 1 egg yolk, mixed with 2 tablespoons water chopped nuts, for garnish (optional) sugar, for garnish (optional) ***ALMOND PASTE FILLING*** 1/4 cup butter 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar 1/2 cup almond paste 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest ***CREAM CHEESE FILLING*** 1 package (8 ounce size) cream cheese, softened 1/4 cup sugar 3 tablespoons flour 1 egg yolk 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Scald milk. Stir in sugar, salt and butter. Cool to lukewarm.
Place the warm water in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir until yeast is dissolved. Stir in the milk mixture, egg and half of the flour; beat until smooth. Stir in remaining flour to form a stiff dough. Cover tightly with wax paper or foil. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Divide dough in half. Roll out one half on a floured board into a 9-by-18-inch rectangle. Sprinkle half of the almond filling OR half of the cream cheese filling over the dough. Fold outside third of dough toward center. Fold dough once more to make three layers. Pinch ends of dough to seal. Cut into nine 2-inch sections. Make four 1/4-inch cuts through the open side of each section.
Place on greased baking sheets and shape into bear claw by separating the four cut sections. Repeat procedure with remaining dough and filling.
Combine egg yolk with water and brush the tops of bear claws. If desired, sprinkle with some chopped nuts and additional sugar.
Let rise, uncovered, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.
A couple of tips: Making the dough the night before was a time saver. The directions say to bake the claws for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden. Ours were done after 8 minutes.
For Almond Paste Filling: Melt and simmer for about 2 minutes the butter and brown sugar. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool slightly before using.
For Cream Cheese Filling: Beat cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Stir in flour, egg yolk, lemon zest and juice.