I was so excited to see this challenge when it was posted earlier this month because we love bread in any shape or form. Ask my boys what they want for a snack, and they’ll say anything in the bread category even before cake, cookies, ice cream, popsicles, and lollipops. It’s almost as if this month’s Daring Baker hosts KellyPea and Ben could read my mind! The recipe comes from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking, but it’s no big secret that this is a delicious pastry! The dough is fragrant and easy to work with. We could choose our filling and substitute flavors in the dough if we wanted, and of course we had to make at least one braid, then we could do whatever we wanted with the remaining dough. I stuck with the dough recipe as is and made a cherry filling. So far I’ve only made the braid, but I envision some nice little pastries for our 4th of July breakfast, maybe with some of the apple butter I made last fall.
I knew if I could pull it off my family would love it, but I was worried, too. My health has been an issue for a while now and I’ve been struggling in the last couple months. I won’t go into all the details here, but you can read my coming out story over at DC Metro Moms Blog. Oh, and I decided it was time to go back to work part-time after a two-year hiatus. Could I possibly squeeze anything else into this month? The answer is obviously “no” because I am late with my challenge!
My plan was to make the braid for Father’s Day weekend, but I wasn’t well. I had to work the following weekend, and last weekend we were supposed to leave for vacation, so I wrote a pitiful email to Lis and Ivonne bowing out for June. (It really was pathetic, I’m embarrassed to say.) Then on Wednesday I got a call from my doctor saying we needed to schedule a biopsy ASAP, so I’m going in tomorrow. (Not really looking forward to it, but at least we’ll have some answers.) We postponed vacation and I vowed I would start the challenge last Friday evening. Friday evening came and I couldn’t do it because my brain was in a fog and I couldn’t focus, and Saturday was more of the same. It all came down to Sunday, posting day.
I started in the afternoon, and I managed to make the filling and get the dough all prepped, but the kitchen was so hot and humid I couldn’t work with the laminated dough. Of course I was trying to cheat and use it with only an hour of refrigeration time instead of the 5 to 12 recommended, so that’s what I get for cheating! This afternoon I brought the dough out and started working it, and it was so much easier to work with. That final chilling step is critical, especially during the heat of summer.
I worked slowly making the cuts in the dough using my pastry wheel that had come in my Christmas stocking and a ruler as a guide, and I thought I was doing well. The braid looked pretty as I criss-crossed the dough and I was ready to cover it for rising when I realized with horror that I had prepared it on the cutting board. It was not on the baking sheet! It was one of those moments when I would have kicked myself in the behind if I were a contortionist. I just stood there looking at my printed directions which were laying on the baking sheet, right where the braid was supposed to be. I was too upset to even curse. Moving this would not be easy. I had one flat cookie sheet that I could possibly wiggle under it, so I tried that. Let’s just say that the braid did not look as pretty as when I started and some of the cherry filling was seeping out the sides. Note to self:
The dough still rose nicely, even with some drops of cherry juice spilling out the sides. I just wiped those up and hope the trickle would not become a flood in the oven.
Thankfully the bread gods granted my wish and the cherry filling stayed put in the braid! (I was ready to thank anyone at that point!) Something finally went right! I was very pleased with the flaky crust. It had a nice delicate crunch, and buttery flavor throughout. This one is a winner, even if it didn’t look so great, but I’m pleased with my first attempt.
As I predicted early in the month, we really enjoyed this bread, so much so I haven’t shared it around the neighborhood yet. It didn’t last long enough! I definitely have to make this again soon so our friends can have a sample The braid smells fantastic while baking. If you like cardamom, this is a recipe you will probably enjoy.
I always learn something new doing these challenges, and for this one my big lesson is to stick to my plan, especially since I’ve gone back to work. I need to spread things out. For future attempts, I will split it up over three days.
Day 1: Make the filling and refrigerate. (It will keep for a few days.)
Day 2: Make the dough and refrigerate.
Day 3: Assemble and bake.
To see all of the beautiful Danish Braids, you can visit The Daring Bakers Blogroll. There’s like a million of us now, but who’s counting?
Previous Daring Bakers Challenges
stand mixer with paddle and dough hook attachments
silicone baking mat or parchment paper
rolling pastry wheel or sharp knife
ruler or straight edge (helpful)
medium sauce pan
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast (I used instant yeast.)
1/2 cup (250 mil) whole milk
1/3 cup (58 grams) sugar
zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (I used a dozen green cardamom pods and ground the seeds with a mortar and pestle.)
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup (125 mil) fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups (390 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
BUTTER BLOCK (beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks, 220 grams) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
2 cups pitted cherries or 2 cups frozen cherries, thawed & drained
1/2 cup (88 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup (125 mil) fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter
4 ounces (113 grams) cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon milk
1 large egg, whisked
orange sugar (from stored candied orange peel)
1. FILLING: Toss the cherries, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla seeds, and fresh lemon juice in the bowl. Melt the butter in the medium sauce pan, cooking it slowly until it starts to brown. Add the cherry mixture and cook until the juices start to render. If it’s too runny, you can add a little bit of cornstarch to thicken, or just strain off the juices before adding to the bread. Set aside and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator if not using right away.
2. DOUGH: In the bowl of the stand mixer, stir together the milk and yeast with the paddle attachment. Slowly add the 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.
3. BEURRAGE: In the bowl of the stand mixer, mix the butter and flour using the paddle attachment. Beat at medium speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat for another minute, until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Set aside at room temperature.
4. BUTTER BLOCK: After the dough has chilled for 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. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5. 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, 1/4-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.
6. Repeat folding two more times, refrigerating for 30 minutes in between. Here is a handy chart for keeping track of the turns and refrigeration.
7. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used.
Assemble and Bake
1. Remove the cherry mixture from the refrigerator and warm slightly, just to room temperature.
2. In the bowl of the stand mixer, beat the softened cream cheese and milk together. Set aside at room temperature.
3. 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, 1/4-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. (Don’t forget to move the rolled dough to the baking sheet!)
4. 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.
5. Spoon the filling 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.
6. Brush the egg wash over the braid.
7. Spray some cooking spray on a piece of plastic wrap, and cover the dough with the sprayed side down. Proof at room temperature for about 2 hours, until the dough has doubled and is light to the touch.
8. Position oven rack in the center and preheat to 400º F/204º C.
9. Remove the plastic and sprinkle on the orange sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and reduce heat to 350º F/177º C. Continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the bread is a deep, golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
10. Wrap well in plastic and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.
Freeze the dough if you do not plan to use it within 24 hours. Roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, divide into two pieces, wrap them 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.
Source: adapted from The Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard