Recovering from a bad bout of viral gastro, I had to stay away from baking and blogging for a while. So I’m posting about the pretty braided bread I tried a week back: the Danish. Coming from the family of butter-laminated or layered doughs, Danish dough is less complex than puff pastry and a great starting place to begin to learn about laminated doughs in general. The June 2008 Daring Bakers Challenge was hosted by Kelly of Sass & Veracity, and Ben of What’s Cookin’? and their challenge was to get all Daring Bakers to make and work with yeasted laminated dough.

According to many sources, Danish dough was born when Danish bakers went on strike, and Viennese bakers were brought in to replace them, creating what is referred to as Vienna Bread. Conversely, it is also said that Danish bakers went to Vienna to learn the techniques Viennese bakers employed, and Danish dough was created there. In the early 1800’s, C.L. Olsen spent time in Germany, believing in the idea of gaining inspiration from bakers of other countries. He brought knowledge back to Denmark to introduce ‘foreign’ breads to his country, also hiring people of other nationalities to bake in his family bakery.

Luckily, I did not have to go that far to bring this deliciously flaky bread to my kitchen. The fact that the dough can be made well ahead and remain forgotten at the back of the freezer compartment until required makes it handy for a last-minute special breakfast. For the filling, I went along with the Daring Bakers challenge that ended in a glorious blend of Granny Smith apples, caramelised sugar, browned butter and cinnamon. You can, of course, switch to any fruit of your choice but it would be best not to mess with this detectable apple filling which was way above my expectations.

DANISH BRAID

Ingredients:

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

For the Apple Filling

4 Fuji or other apples, peeled and cored

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

Method:

  • For the dough, 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 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.
  • For the butter block, combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

  • Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more.
  • 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 approx. 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, keep dusting 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.

  • It should cover half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn is complete.
  • 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, 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 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 the filling, toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • It will turn slightly nutty in color, after about 6 to 8 minutes. Cut apples into ¼-inch pieces and add to the butter mixture.

  • Sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet.
  • Cool completely before forming the braid. The filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

  • To assemble the braid, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough.
  • It should be shaped into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

  • If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again.
  • Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife, 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.

  • 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. Lightly brush the braid with egg wash [1 whole egg + 1 yolk].

  • Spray cooking oil onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature for about 2 hours.
  • It will be doubled in volume and light to the touch. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan, lower temperature to 350 oF.
  • Bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve warm from the oven or at room temperature.

Happy Bread Baking