Daring Bakers Challenge for June: Danish Braids
June 29, 2008
My second Daring Bakers Challenge is another first for me – Danish braids. Made from a yeasted butter-laminated dough, Danish braids can be filled with sweet or savory fillings, and I opted to make one of each. (Actually, I ended up making three kinds of braids since I like to make more work for myself). The actual dough-making process was not terribly difficult, although it did require several hours for rolling and allowing the dough to rise. What made this into an all-day affair was my savory braid, which had about 100 ingredients, but was well worth the time and effort.
Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough
For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour.
Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough.
Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter.
Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Makes enough for 2 large braids
For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick . (Now I rolled this out to about 30 X 40 and cut it into 3 rectangular pieces, 2 equal sizes and one larger than the others). If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2. Along one long sideof the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.
Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.
And now for the fun part: the fillings. My first choice was fairly simple – a strawberry cream cheese filling with sliced almonds on top. The recipe below is more than double what I needed for my small braid but would be perfect amount if I had simply halved the dough recipe.
Sweet Cream Cheese for Danish Filling
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 egg yolk
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Beat all ingredients until fluffy.
The strawberries were picked earlier this month by my children and a friend at a local farm. I made a basic jam out of them and used that on top of the sweetened cream cheese.
I topped the braid with an egg wash and sprinkled with sliced almonds.
I filled my second braid with a sour cherry filling with cherries picked from my kind and generous neighbors’ backyard. Sour cherries are mouth-puckeringly sour but when sweetened with just the right amount of sugar, they bake into the most deliciously tart filling. The struesel masked my oddly anatomical braid while simultaneously adding sweetness. This recipe uses a large amount of corn starch in order to make the filling as thick as possible to discourage a runny or exploding braid.
Sour Cherry Danish Filling
2 C. sour cherries, rinsed and pitted
1/4 C. sugar
2-3 Tbs. corn starch
Bring all three ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan while whisking frequently. Simmer at medium high for 2 minutes then let cool completely.
1/2 C. all purpose flour
3 Tbs. (packed) golden brown sugar
2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/4 C. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix first 5 ingredients in bowl. Add melted butter and vanilla; rub in with fingertips until small clumps form.
I tried to get fancy with my sour cherry braid, but it ended up looking like a grotesque vertebrae lying on my counter. That was quickly remedied by struesel topping.
Homemade danishes and coffee – does it get any better than this?
And for my pièce de résistance – a unique combination of sweet and savory in one dish, b’stilla. B’stilla (also called pastilla or bsteeya) is a traditional Moroccon pie made with pigeon, although more commonly with chicken, almond sugar and phyllo, topped with powdered sugar. I modified this recipe to fill a single braid, although this could be doubled to fill two braids or a phyllo pie (the traditional way to serve it).
The ras el hanout (translation: “top of the shop”) has the potential to be a bank-breaking proposal. If you have the great luck to live near an Indian grocery store like me, however, 90% of the spices listed below are incredibly inexpensive (like $1.99 for 8 oz. of coriander seeds). The aroma of the chicken cooking in that amazing blend of spices will make you finally truly comprehend your lessons back in the fifth grade about the spice trade and how it become the driving force among European nations, inciting wars and building empires. One bite of this B’stilla and you’ll nod in understanding.
B’Stilla Filling (adapted from Gourmet)
For the almond sugar:
1/4 C. blanched whole almonds, toasted and cooled
1½ Tbs. sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
For the filling:
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
2 tablespoons hot water
1 small onion, chopped (about 3/4 cups)
2 garlic cloves, cut into thin strips
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. chicken leg quarters ( about 2)
3/4 C chicken broth
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/4 C. chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
powdered sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling
2 teaspoons ground ras el hanout
For the ras el hanout: (Moroccan spice blend)
1/4 tsp. aniseed
1 tsp. fennel seeds
4 whole allspice berries
seeds from 4 cardamom pods (or 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom)
4 whole cloves
8 whole black peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
1/2 Tbs. sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. cumin
a pinch dried red pepper flakes
a pinch ground mace
1/2 Tbs. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
To make the ras el hanout:
In a cleaned coffee grinder grind fine aniseed, fennel seeds, allspice berries, cardamom seeds, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, sesame seeds, coriander seeds, and red pepper flakes, In a small bowl stir together ground spice mixture, cumin, mace, ginger, and nutmeg until combine well. Ras el hanout may be stored in a tightly closed jar in a cool dark place up to 6 months. Makes about 2 tablespoons.
No need to say “Open Sesame.” This braid will disappear in seconds.