At the end of every month, after I publish my Daring Bakers post, I anxiously await the first of the next month when the new challenge is announced. As I read through the new recipe, I vow to myself that this time, I will plan ahead and complete the challenge well in advance of the deadline. Yes, I do this every time, and every time one thing or another prevents me from doing
it. Life always seems to to get in the way and I usually find myself scrambling at the last minute to get it all done. Life has a hell of a nerve if you ask me!
Alas, this month was no different. I was very excited when I learned that this month’s DB challenge was to make a Danish Braid. I adore danish, as does Mr. SGCC, and I was really looking forward to learning how to make my own. I knew exactly what kinds of danish I wanted to create – CHEESE DANISH AND PAIN AU CHOCOLAT! I carefully thought out how I would achieve this and gathered all my ingredients into a corner of my kitchen counter. They waited patiently, day after day, to be transformed into crisp, buttery and flaky cream-filled pastry. And day after day, I looked longingly at them on my way out the door to fulfill one obligation and responsibility after another. I’d sigh and tell them to be patient, that I still loved them and that soon – very soon- we would be able to play together.
June has been a very busy month for us here in SGCC-Land. There is a lot going on lately, both personally and professionally. During the week, we have been working like mad dogs on some pressing cases, while at the same time training new staff. Mini-SGCC is earning some extra credits in summer school, which mean more chauffeuring around than usual. And, on top of that,
for the past three weekends, we have had to be out of town. Since I usually do these DB challenges on the weekends, this seriously cramped my style! Before I knew it, the deadline loomed and I had three days to prep, bake, photograph, Photoshop and post!
Last Thursday was to be my designated DB day. I planned ahead for it. I told my husband, daughter, mother and office staff that I would be unavailable all day – no ifs, ands or buts! I went to sleep Wednesday night with visions of beautiful danish dancing in my head. At four in the morning I woke up with a start and an uncontrollable urge to be sick that lasted for the next twenty four hours! Yes, you guessed it. I had contracted the dreaded stomach bug that had been making the rounds. And what’s worse, is that during one of my mad dashes to visit the porcelain goddess, I crashed into the very hard, solid wood door frame in my bedroom and decimated my elbow. I kid you not. This really happened! It was my left elbow and guess what? I’m left-handed. I was totally f*cked!
After drinking a whole bottle of the pink stuff, I grabbed a bucket and hauled my sick, pathetic self over to my brother, the chiropractor’s, office for an x-ray. The good news was that the arm didn’t appear to be broken. The bad news was that it did appear to be some kind of dislocated. The really bad news was that it hurt like shit!
My bucket and I drove home in the company of a big bottle of Advil and an ice wrap. We were a sad and sorry lot. It was about noon on Saturday before I was able to handle even the smell of food, much less cooking or eating it. My elbow was still excruciatingly painful. I fleetingly thought about throwing in the towel and not making the danish, but then my eye caught sight of those lonely and dejected ingredients in the corner of my kitchen, still waiting for their day in the sun. I just couldn’t let them down! So, I popped a few more Advil, made myself a good, stiff Bloody Mary and got to work. I AM a Daring Baker, after all!
It was a lengthy process with many steps, but the this danish was not difficult to make. My dough came together perfectly and oh, was it a beautiful dough to behold! It was smooth and elastic, but not sticky, with lovely flecks of brown and orange from the vanilla bean, cardamom and orange zest mixed in it. I loved the silky way it felt between my fingers! It was misery doing
all of that rolling and pressing with my bum arm, but it was worth it.
As I mentioned earlier, I chose to make my danish braid with a cream cheese, mascarpone and apricot filling. Cheese danish is my favorite kind and I thought that the apricot would go well with it. Instead of making a second braid, I decided to make some pain au chocolat, or chocolate bread. They are like wonderful little croissants filled with gooey, rich chocolate. I felt that the chocolate together with the orange in the dough would be a terrific combination.
The danish braid and the pain were finally ready to bake this morning. I cannot describe the heavenly aroma that filled my house as they baked. It was magical! The only thing better than smelling them was eating them. They were both To. Die. For! I had a little filling seepage, but it only added to the rustic charm of this lovely pastry.
Even though I barely made the deadline for this challenge, I felt great satisfaction as I gazed at those burnished bundles of delicious pastry. I had completed the challenge in the face of adversity. I had really earned my Daring Baker stripes on this one. Plus, it was such a treat to present my family with fresh, hot, homemade danish on a lazy Sunday morning!
Many thanks to Kelly and Ben for choosing such a great recipe for us this month. I know that I will make this one again.
If you’d like to see lots of other fabulous variations on Danish Braids, take some time to visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll 
. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!
(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.
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 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.
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
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 in the bowl of an electric mixer. With the paddle attachment, blend on low speed until smooth and creamy.
Add egg yolks, vanilla and lemon zest and continue to blend on low until incorporated.
Chill until ready to use.
(Makes enough for 1 large braid )
1/2 recipe Danish Dough (see above)
Cream Cheese and Apricot Filling (see above)
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (optional)
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 cream cheese filling down the center of the rectangle. Then spoon the apricot preserves over it.
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.
Make an egg wash by whisking together the whole egg and egg yolk in a bowl. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid with the wash. Sprinkle some turbinado sugar and sliced almonds on top for crunch.
Proofing and Baking:
Spray cooking oil or nonstick cooking spray 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.
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 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.
PAIN AU CHOCOLAT
1/2 batch Danish Dough (see above)
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small chunks.
Cut the remaining dough into 3 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch rectangles. Lay each rectangle on a lightly floured work surface, with a long side facing you, and place about 1/2 tablespoon of the chopped chocolate in the upper third of each one. Fold that third of the dough over the chocolate. Place about another 1/2 tablespoon of the chocolate along one seam of the folded dough. Fold the bottom third of the dough over the chocolate. Turn over the pain au chocolat so the seams face down. This will keep them from opening as they bake.
Place them on a parchment covered baking sheet, spaced about 2 inches apart. Brush with egg wash and loosely cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap. Proof at room temperature for 2 hours. They should double in size.
Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Makes 8 Pain au Chocolat.