I recently found the Daring Baker's group. I haven't joined yet, but think it's something I'd be interested in. I enjoy cooking much more than baking, but this sure was fun. Danish braids were the June challenge. I decided to give it a whirl. I made things easier and threw all the dough ingredients in the bread machine and set it to dough cycle. I took it out after it was done kneading. Saved myself some muscle work! The cream cheese with apricots was fantastic. The chocolate pastry cream with fresh raspberries was very, very rich. I'm anxious to try it with vanilla pastry cream instead. I topped each braid with almonds and a sprinkle of sugar. I did have to cover the braids with foil after the first 10 minutes of baking...they were already golden brown. I think they would have been burned if left uncovered for the remaining 15-20 minutes.
This is the prepared dough before it was all rolled out. Look at those beautiful layers! Worth all the work!!
All filled and ready to braid.
Fresh out of the oven. You can see a glimmer of a juicy raspberry!
(Makes enough for two braids)
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
Toss all the ingredients into the bread machine on the dough cycle. Remove after it's been kneaded. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Without a bread machine: 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.
Combine butter and flour in a bowl and mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
After the dough 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 dough 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. Keep track of your turns on a post-it.
Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
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.
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.
CREAM CHEESE AND APRICOT FILLING
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 oz mascarpone cheese (or use more cream cheese)
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup apricot preserves, reserved for filling the braid
Combine cream cheese, mascarpone and sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.
Add egg yolks, vanilla and lemon zest and continue to beat until incorporated.
Chill until ready to use.
Chocolate Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
200 g bittersweet chocolate, melted
2 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature
Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes. Set aside a smaller bowl that will fit inside the ice bath and hold the pastry cream. Also set aside a fine meshed strainer.
In a small saucepan bring the milk to the boil. In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in another medium sized saucepan.
Once the milk is hot you will need to temper the egg mixture by adding tablespoonfuls of the milk to the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Still whisking, once the egg mixture starts to warm up, slowly pour in the rest of the milk.
Strain the mixture into the saucepan and heat over a medium heat. Whisking vigorously, without stopping, bring the mixture to a boil. Keep the mixture at a boil - whisking with all your might - for 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened.
Still over the heat, whisk in the melted chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and scrape the pastry cream into the small bowl.
The pastry cream should be thick, smooth and without any lumps.
Set the bowl holding the pastry cream in the ice bath, stirring frequently to keep the mixture smooth. Cool the pastry cream.
Storing: Covered tightly with plastic wrap and pressing the plastic against the cream's surface to create and airtight seal, the pastry cream will remain fresh in the refrigerator for 2 days.
Preparing the Braids
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. 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. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. If using the chocolate pastry cream scatter the raspberries over the pastry cream. If using the cream cheese spread the apricot preserves over the top.
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
Spray cooking oil onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
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, 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.
Storing: The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.
**The cream cheese and apricot recipe came from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy. The chocolate pastry cream from What's For Lunch Honey.