The end of June really crept up on me. I was casually reading over this month's Daring Bakers challenge a mere two days ago, only to find out that (gasp!) the posting date for the challenge is today. Suddenly, I was taken back to that high school nightmare, realizing on Sunday night that a report for a book that I haven't read yet is due in first period Monday morning English class. Don't get me wrong--I've been looking forward to this task, hand selected by the daring duo Kelly of Sass and Veracity and Ben of What's Cooking?, since it was announced at the beginning of the month. June 29th seemed so far away on June 1st, and I think that I just felt like I had all the time in the world. So, not wanting my grade to go down due to tardy work (no, we're not actually graded on this....are we?), I rolled up my sleeves and got started, pronto!
I have attempted homemade croissants before, but never Danish pastry, and I found the latter to be more forgiving and much easier to prepare. This Danish Braid challenge hails from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard, the former pastry chef at the original Spago in Beverly Hills, and you can find the recipe in its entirety on one of the aforementioned web sites. In a nutshell, Danish pastry consists of laminated dough, or many layers of dough that have been created by sandwiching butter between them. This sandwiching process involves "turning" the dough, or folding it like a business letter (see picture to the right) to create 3 layers. Throughout the recipe, the dough is turned several times, chilling between each turn, thus creating the many flaky layers that Danish pastries are known for.
One of my favorite things about being a member of the Daring Bakers is that the challenges are usually ones that I have always wanted to attempt, but they have somehow been forgotten under my constantly growing queue of "to-do" recipes. This particular challenge allowed our creative juices to flow because the only strict rule was to make at least one braid (the recipe makes enough dough for two.) The filling, topping, size, and style of the braiding was up to us. Because large displays of ripe, large strawberries are still positioned front and center at our grocery stores, I decided on a summery strawberry filling topped with some slivered almonds. In hindsight, I probably should have mixed the strawberries with a dusting of cornstarch, in addition to the few tablespoons of sugar that I added, because these berries were JUICY! As you can tell from the picture below, a good deal of the filling oozed out during the baking process, which could have been prevented if I had added a thickener.
- It was mentioned by Kelly and Ben that cardamom can either be expensive or hard to find, and they gave a couple of good suggestions for resources, including ethnic grocers. If you live in the U.S., another fantastic resource that I have found for inexpensive spices is World Market, a chain with dozens of stores in many states. They offer a diverse spice section with small bags of expensive spices, such as cardamom and saffron, at a discounted price. This way, you don't need to make a large investment if you only require a small quantity for your recipe.
- Instead of using a pricey vanilla bean for the dough, I used vanilla bean paste, a thick syrup comprised of thousands of vanilla beans. I used to be able to buy this by the inexpensive jar at Trader Joe's, but I think they realized that they were giving away the farm, so they discontinued the product (curses!) Another option for buying the paste is the King Arthur Catalogue.
- During the initial mixing process, for which I used a standing electric mixer, I found that I needed to add about 1/3 cup more flour than indicated in the recipe, because my dough was quite sticky. If you live in a humid climate (I don't,) you may need to add even more.
- When I rolled the pastry out in preparation for filling, I could only stretch it out to about 16X10 inches, as opposed to the indicated 15X20. The braid was still plenty large after proofing.
- I cut 10 diagonal strips on each side of the pastry for braiding. The braid was proofed in a warm oven, which had been turned on for 1 minute and then turned off, for about 2 hours.
- During the baking process, the braid browned VERY quickly. After the initial 10 minutes, I covered it with foil for the remainder of the time, so be sure to keep an eye on your braid while it bakes.
Great choice for a challenge, Kelly and Ben. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the other creations and our challenge for July. I promise not to procrastinate on that one!