What a Flake

I was excited when I found out that this month’s Daring Bakers challenge would be Danish braids, but the time commitment of making laminated dough must have been more intimidating than I was willing to admit, because I procrastinated until almost the last moment to make it. Finally, impending hot weather made me spring into action this past Thursday.

I took advantage of Nolan’s early afternoon nap to make the dough, or detrempe, using clementine zest and juice, vanilla paste, and ground cardamom from an elderly bottle that I know I should replace. The dough was not kind to my stand mixer, and kept trying to escape out the top of the bowl, so I had to babysit it. It came out rather firm and very slightly tacky, and went in the fridge while I made the butter block, or beurrage.

Then I remembered that my stand mixer bowl always screws itself up tight when I make dough, so much that I can’t actually unscrew it myself. Jeremy was still at work, so I ended up having to wash out the bowl while it was still attached to the mixer. Bah. I left everything for half an hour to go pump and feed the little guy (who, I have to brag, was having an incredibly cheerful day, probably to make up for the post-vaccination shriekfest of the evening before).

The actual lamination process took much less dedicated time than I had expected: four turns half an hour apart, each requiring no more than about 5 minutes at once. Piece of cake… or Danish, as the case may be!

The next day, around the same time of afternoon, I sauteed up some Fuji apples and pondered my other filling options while making the braid. This process was pretty straightforward, and I took other Daring Bakers’ advice to make sure that my cut slices were long enough to completely cover the filling and anchor with a little pressure on the opposite side.

Two hours and an egg wash later, my braid went in the oven, only slightly enlarged from its original state. I baked for 5 minutes at 400F as the recipe called for, then turned down the temp to 350F and left it in for just another 5 minutes, after which it was nicely browned. Once it had cooled a bit, we ate slices with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of the syrup from the sauteed apples.

The leftovers were polished off for breakfast yesterday morning, graced with a drizzle of simple powdered sugar icing. I was pleased to note that the bread softened up a bit to that ideal Danish texture after its overnight rest.

Fortified with apple Danish, I settled on using the remainder of the dough on smaller pastries with a variety of shapes and fillings. This was really fun to play with, and I didn’t even have the energy to get as creative as many of my fellow Daring Bakers did. I made 3 small Danishes with dollops of leftover grape pie filling I pulled out of the freezer, and a few mini chocolate croissants. I also made two types of bear claws. The first four had the traditional cinnamon-almond filling, made with homemade almond paste; for the rest, I added some golden raisins and my leftover sauteed apples, finely chopped, to the almond filling at Jeremy’s request. I got everything made up, egg washed and proofing in my 85F-degree house (it was 100F outside at this point), and we tried vainly to cool down with scoops of ice cream; I topped Jeremy’s scoop with the last few spoonfuls of apple-almond-raisin filling, and he was in heaven.

I couldn’t be happier with the way this dough turned out, especially after being so intimidated at the prospect. I envisioned butter squishing out the sides like toothpaste, but it was actually very easy to work with. It might have been a different story if I had attempted to laminate it in yesterday’s heat, though; as it was, I was very careful to roll out the portions for my small pastries in two batches to keep it from melting. The baked pastries were light and flaky with clearly discernible layers; the flavor was predominantly of orange, which I blame solely on my old bottle of cardamom (Penzeys, here I come!). The dough was so fun to shape, and made me feel almost like a professional baker. I definitely hope to make it again and play with flavors, shapes and fillings, now that I know it isn’t nearly as hard to make as it appears to be. Plus, those bear claws were awesome!

Thanks so much to Kelly of Sass & Veracity, and Ben of What’s Cookin’? for choosing this recipe, which came from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking Be sure to check out all of the gorgeous, creative Danishes at the Daring Bakers blogroll here.

Danish Dough

Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

For the dough (Detrempe)

1 oz fresh yeast or 1 T active dry yeast
1/2 C whole milk
1/3 C sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 C fresh orange juice
3 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp 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.

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.

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 1⁄4 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.

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.

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.

For rest of challenge recipe, click here.

Bearclaw Almond Filling

1/4 C butter
1/3 C firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 C almond paste (I used homemade; see below)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Melt and simmer for about 2 minutes the butter and brown sugar. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool slightly before using.

Almond Paste

8 oz whole blanched almonds
8 oz powdered sugar
1 egg white
1/8 tsp almond extract

Combine almonds and sugar in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add egg white and extract and continue to pulse until mixture comes together as a thick smooth dough. Unblanched almonds can be used, but will affect the color of the paste. Makes about 2 cups.

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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