3 ½cupsall-purpose flour, unbleached plus extra for kneading
¼cupalmonds, finely chopped
1cupsemisweet chocolate chips, divided
Stir the yeast into the warmed half & half and allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to get activated and foamy.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together ⅓ cup of the granulated sugar and 4 tablespoons of the softened butter. Add in the yeast mixture and mix it on low to combine it with the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl in the process. Mix in the eggs one at a time.
In a separate bowl, stir together the 3 ½ cups of flour, the cocoa powder, and the salt. Add this to the mixer bowl in 2 or 3 additions, mixing on low after each addition to just combine the wet and dry ingredients, The resulting dough will be shaggy and sticky.
Grease a large bowl (that will hold the rising dough) with butter and set aside. Generously flour the work surface where you will be kneading the dough, then turn out the dough onto this surface, Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and knead the dough for about 10 minutes: because the dough is very sticky flour the work surface and the top of the dough frequently as you knead. A bench scraper is also very helpful to make getting the dough off the work surface a quicker process.
When the dough is ready it will be smooth, and still very soft. Place the dough in the greased bowl, cover the top with clean dish towel or plastic wrap, and place the bowl in a room-temperature location away from drafts. Allow the dough to rise for 1 hour to 1 ½ hours until it is doubled in size.
While the dough is rising prepare the filling:
Grate the almond paste into a small bowl. Add in the remaining 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar, the finely chopped almonds, and ½ cup of the chocolate chips. Stir these ingredients together and hold them aside.
Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and have this ready with a pastry brush. Turn the risen dough out onto a floured surface and press the air out of the dough. Divide the dough into two portions. Roll each portion out into 7-inch by 16-inch rectangles. Brush each rectangle with the melted butter, leaving a 1 inch gap at the long sides. Divide the almond-chocolate chip filling between the two rectangles: spread the filling out to the short sides but on the long side leave a 1-inch gap. Roll up the rectangles from the long sides pinch the seams closed. Slice each roll into 6 portions: I find that a sharp serrated knife drawn gently back and forth through this soft dough makes neat cuts without compressing the dough.
Line 1 large or 2 smaller baking sheets with parchment paper (whichever will hold the 12 rolls and fit in your oven on the same rack.) Place the rolls on the baking sheet(s), seam-sides down and spaced apart from each other. Loosely cover the rolls with plastic wrap and leave them in a room temperature spot to rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350⁰ F. Cut a piece of parchment paper into small pieces, about 2-inches by 2-inches each.
Carefully remove the plastic wrap from the rolls. Use a sharp paring knife or kitchen shears to make 3 slits on the side of each roll (see the photo.) These will produce the 4 claws on each roll. Once you have made all the cuts, place a small piece of parchment paper into each slit to keep the claws separate as the rolls bake.
Place the rolls in the oven and bake them for about 22 minutes. Once baked, remove the rolls to a cooling rack to cool completely.
When the rolls are cool, put the remaining ½ cup of chocolate chips and the vegetable shortening in a microwave-proof dish or in the top of a double boiler. Melt the ingredients together, stirring the ingredients together to make a smooth chocolate sauce.
Use a pastry brush to spread this melted chocolate over the top of each roll including the claws on each roll. Stick a sliced almond onto each claw with the pointier end facing down: this will make them really look like panther claws! Allow the chocolate to set and then the panther claws are ready to be served.
To store the panther claws, place them in a storage container deep enough so that the container can be covered without the tops of the claws being disturbed. They will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.
This bread dough is rather sticky, so for kneading a bench scraper is very helpful to make getting the dough off the work surface a quicker process.
When it is time to slice the rolled dough I find that a sharp, serrated knife drawn gently back and forth through the dough makes neat cuts without compressing it.