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This month’s Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Kelly of Sass and Veracity and Ben from What’s Cooking. This is one of the first challenges where I really know each of these bloggers and so I couldn’t wait to see what they would come up with to challenge us this time. I should have guessed from this pairing that we would end of with a pastry! Ben is a master at making Puff Pastry and Kelly is always coming up with great ideas of how to make the DB challenges reflect her culinary style. Therefore, it just made sense when I saw the challenge would be a Danish. On the outset, I must admit that I wasn’t too excited about the challenge, as I generally don’t like Danish. It is always so sweet and the dough is generally plasticy, wet and gummy from the filling sinking into it. But as I have come to learn with these challenges, the things we sometimes buy, often do not reflect what the original homemade variety would taste like.

Once I saw that cardamom was involved in the dough recipe they had picked out for us, I began to feel slightly more relieved, as I have a huge love for this spice. Then when I read further that we could experiment with the filling I felt even better! I do not like pie filling-like danish or pastries and when I skimmed the recipe and saw apple filling, my heart sank. I really dislike apples, especially apples in baked goods. But as I read more thoroughly, I was thrilled to see I didn’t have to go that route. So I thought about what flavors of Danish I do like, and I came to a conclusion, it had to involve cheese. In the Italian kitchen, ricotta cheese is often used as a filling for sweet confections and is often seen in baking, especially the more South you go. So I decided to go with the ricotta, but I needed some way to sweeten it. I didn’t want to use sugar, I wanted to make this pastry kind of classy and fit in with summer. As I mentioned in the last FFF post, I have always been intrigued with cooking with lavender, and I really wanted to try that out in this pastry. So I settled on honey. Honey is so luxurious and really has a warmth to it. Plus honey and lavender sounded like a match made in heaven. So I placed about 3 TBS of local honey in a bowl and mixed a heaping teaspoon of lavender in with it. The lavender hat we consume is the flower, and I know, from working with saffron (the stamen) that a little goes a long way because it is so perfumy. I then mixed this in with about 5 oz. of ricotta cheese and used this simple filling for this beautiful and delicate danish.

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Then at the end, I drizzled leftover buttercream icing from the Opera Cakes we did last month! It was heaven!

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I am a danish convert now. The dough was so beautiful and I loved all the layers we made within it. It created such a light but crunchy texture after it was baked. Oh and the baking was such a joy, as the smell was absolutely intoxicating! The cardamom in the dough was perfect. In my opinion it really made the whole thing. I didn’t have any oranges, so I left the zest out. But I don’t think it mattered much.

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If you love a good Danish, you must try this recipe. Even if you don’t love it, I suggest trying it out. I made one gigantic braid (didn’t read the directions thoroughly enough to realize the recipe makes TWO braids…, even though it is mentioned several times…), and I put about 2/3 of it in the fridge. We are having guests next weekend to celebrate Independence Day, and I think it will make a wonderful breakfast! Not just that, but we will get to enjoy it again.

Recipe to follow:

Guidelines for this Challenge:
Use the recipe as written to make Danish dough and create at least one Danish Braid.  The recipe will allow you to make two full braids unless you choose to make only half the dough.
Fill the Danish Braid with the apple filling provided and/or any other filling as long as it is something you make yourself from scratch.

Choices
Dough ingredients include ground cardamom and orange zest.  Cardamom is traditional in Scandinavian breads, but if it is cost prohibitive, or if you have dietary restrictions, by all means, leave it out or replace it with something else.  You are welcome to omit the orange zest or choose another type of citrus to flavor your dough.
The method or style of your braid is your choice.You may vary the width of the dough strips, type of edging, or angle of cuts.
Often, a glaze, nuts, or sugar are used as toppings.  You may choose to use any or all of these, or others you may find interesting.
Use one or more fillings such as fresh berries, pastry cream, preserves or jams, curds – there are lots of possibilities.
Once you’ve made a Danish Braid, experiment with Danish pastries with the extra dough.
If there’s a way to try something savory with the extra dough, then why not?

Terminology:
Laminated dough is layered dough created by sandwiching butter between layers of dough
Detrempe  is a ball of dough
Beurrage  is a butter block
Turn each fold & roll of the dough produces a single turn in a 3-step process where the dough is folded exactly like a business letter in 3 columns.Each single turn creates 3 layers with this method.

For Your Consideration:
This recipe calls for a standing mixer with fitted attachments, but it can easily be made without one.  Ben says, “Do not fear if you don’t own a standing mixer. I have been making puff pastry by hand for many years and the technique for Danish pastry is very similar and not too difficult.” Look for the alternate directions in the recipe as appropriate.
Yard recommends the following:
Use well-chilled ingredients. This includes flour if your kitchen temperature is above 70 degrees F (~ 21 degrees C).
It is recommended that long, continuous strokes be used to roll the dough rather than short, jerky strokes to make sure the butter block is evenly distributed.
The 30-minute rest/cooling period for the dough between turns is crucial to re-chill the butter and allow the gluten in the dough to relax.
Excess flour accumulated on the surface of the dough after turns should be brushed off as pockets of flour can interfere with the rise.
Yard calls for a controlled 90 degree F environment for proofing the constructed braid.

When making cuts in the dough for the braid, make sure they are not too long and provide a solid base for the filling.

Ben on Cardamom: “It can be very expensive as some stores, but if you have an Indian store nearby, it can be considerably less expensive than at your local grocery store. If you can’t find it or it is still cost prohibitive, then you can use a substitute.  Many people would say that there is no substitute for the unique flavor of cardamom and it is better to leave it out. But I’ve found out that combining cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in equal portions words pretty well.  Of course, it doesn’t come close to the cardamom taste, but it worked just fine for one of my test batches.”

Kelly’s Two Cents: I had some green cardamom pods on hand and used 16, cracking and emptying the contents into a grinder to get the quantity called for in the recipe for the dough. The quantity barely put a dent in my 1 oz. bottle. If you don’t have an Indian store near by, you may consider on-line spice retailers like http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/car … -and-black or http://spicebarn.com/cardamom_seed.
Yes, there’s postage involved, but you’ll have cardamom for many other
recipes for a fraction of the cost, even with postage.
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DANISH DOUGH

Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

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

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 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.

BUTTER BLOCK

1. 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.

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2.    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.
3.    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.
4.    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.

APPLE FILLING (optional)
Makes enough for two braids

Ingredients
4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
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

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl.  Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 – 8 minutes.  Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes.  If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid.  (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet.  After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

DANISH BRAID
Makes enough for 2 large braids

Ingredients 

1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash:  1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1.    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.

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2.    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.

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3.    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.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

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Proofing and Baking
1.    Spray cooking oil  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.
2.    Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3.    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.

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