Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers June Challenge: Danish Braid!

Last month I proudly joined the ranks of the Daring Bakers by conquering the Opera Cake. Joconde, glaze, buttercream, mousse--yes, mousse, and more glaze. It might not have been the loveliest Opera Cake in the history of Opera Cakes, but it was lovely to me. To be honest after making the Opera Cake I was feeling pretty darn good about my baking skills. Then I saw the recipe for June...

A Danish Braid. A laminated dough. Yeast! So much butter. So much rolling! Eeeeek! Could I do it? Yes! A few missteps aside, Blondie and I put together a tasty Strawberry Rhubarb braid for my day for Father's Day.

With the recipe alone this is going to be a long post, so I'm going to try to keep my commentary to the highlights...

Like many of the Daring Baker recipes, this one is a bit terrifying on first read, but after going through it like twenty times, it doesn't seem quite so bad. Just be sure you have all of your ingredients prepared and have allocated enough time for this project. I made the dough at night and prepared the braid the next day. You could do it in one day, but if you want it for breakfast you'd have to get up pretty darn early in the morning to prepare the dough, turn it several times over the course of 2 hours, let is chill for at least 5 hours, let it rise for 2 hours, then bake it. Pretty darn early in the morning indeed.

The hosts of the challenge suggested using seasonal fruit which was perfect because on our CT sojourn, Blondie and I did some strawberry picking at Lyman Orchards. After we filled quart after quart with strawberries we picked up some rhubarb in the farmers market and headed home to make jam and danish filling.

Alas, the jam was not to be. The strawberries though they looked red and rip and delicious pretty much had no flavor whatsoever. I don't know if it was a function of the amount of rain or the variety of strawberries--they usually have signs posted with the variety, but they didn't when we went, but these strawberries didn't have the wonderful fresh taste that I was looking for. Sigh. They weren't even any better than "meh" industrially grown California strawberries trucked to the East Coast in February. So disappointing.

It was slim pickins--Even the deep red berries tasted blah

Well, if there wasn't any jam we figured that the rhubarb might give the strawberries some oomph, so we added a couple cups of chopped rhubarb to a quart of strawberries and tossed in a bit of vanilla, some orange juice and sugar to taste and cooked ourselves up a strawberry filling that was pretty darn good.

Making the filling

Now it was time to make the dough and here's the recipe:


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.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

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.

Suggested Filling:
Makes enough for two braids

4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

Makes enough for 2 large braids

1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

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. 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 side of 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.

Egg Wash
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 15-20 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.

Everything went well with preparing the dough. Adding the butter block and rolling the dough out was actually fun. When it came time for the braid that was another story. I saw that the recipe makes 2 braids so I halved the dough, but I must have been slightly off because I couldn't quite get the dough to roll out to the right proportions. I adjusted the size of the slits accordingly and carried on, but as I was getting to the filling part, my time was running short and I had to run to Church with my mom. Uh oh. Blondie took the reins and when I returned home, I saw a beautiful braid waiting for me on the counter. Apparently I missed the part where the braid stuck to the counter because I forgot to flour my work surface and the filling oozed out everywhere and my dad came in to try to help but made it worst and told Blondie, it was my mess anyway so she should leave it for me to clean up. Fortunately Blondie's not that kind of girl and had she and my dad not each told me their side of the story I honestly wouldn't have known that the braid was really twice braided.

I never would have known...

From there out everything was a snap. We had a very, very late brunch (even with making the dough the night before, you still have to get up pretty early in the morning to serve this for breakfast), but the danish was a hit and my dad was impressed.

Baking the braid

Fresh out of the oven!

Closeup of Blondie's braiding action

Inside the braid

Tastes great with ice cream!

This was a great challenge that stretched my skills as a baker. I still have half my dough in the freezer, I brought it home from CT on blue ice. I'm thinking of making some danish pastries with it. Special thanks to this month's hosts, Kelly at Sass and Veracity and Ben at What's Cooking? for all of their support!

For more gorgeous and amazing Danish Braids be sure to check out the Daring Baking Blogroll.


Clumbsy Cookie said...

Well done! Great filling!

Dolores said...

Pretty early in the morning indeed... you'd be better off pulling an all-nighter. :) Rhubarb sounds like a sensational solution to your bland berry dilemma. Great job!

Anonymous said...

Your filling sounds delicious - great job on your second DB challenge...this was my second challenge too :)

Celeste said...

Great job! Your braid looks scrumptious!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

The braid does look beautiful and I know it smelled wonderful.
I did enjoy this one: looked harder than it was but you did have to get up really early . . . or just not go to bed.

talida said...

Awesome braid, and I like your choice of filling :) I spread my time over two days as well, but it still took longer than expected!

Laura said...

Your braid looks yummy!

Anonymous said...

your braid is beautiful! nice job!

Anonymous said...

Well done and with nice CT fruit too!

Vera said...

Strawberries and rhubarb is a wonderful combination!

Ruth said...

The braid looks great. I loved the smell when I was baking mine like a french bakery!

Anonymous said...

Strawberry and rhubarb! Yum.

Unknown said...

Oooo....with ice cream! I bet that was great.

Ben said...

Great job! I know it looked scary at first, but it didn't turn out to be too difficult (only time consuming) Thank you for baking with us :)

Jen Yu said...

Good job on getting the challenge done and looking so great! I too was initially put off with all of the time involved, but once I got into it - it went pretty smoothly (sort of - ha!). Congrats!

CookiePie said...

Oooooh - a braid with ice cream... delicious! I love your strawberry filling too. Looks so luscious!

Lunch Buckets said...

It turned out great! Wish I had a little blondie to finish up all my starts :)

Anonymous said...

Looks delicious! Great job on this challenge!