This morning, I made two Danish Braids, because we don’t have enough carbs in the house. What with the cake, the biscuits, the scones. If not for Simply Orange, we’d have scurvy.
There are three things you should know if you decide to make this Danish Braid:
1. The entire process takes at least eight hours. The dough rests in the fridge for five. So, you’ll need to set aside an afternoon or evening to prep the dough. The process isn’t all that intense, but you’ll be rolling and folding the dough four times, with 30-minute breaks in between. Plenty of time to catch up on the laundry, take a multivitamin, or watch way too much Law and Order. Guess which one I did.
2. If you’ve neither seen nor eaten a Danish braid before, it’s basically a glorified Hot Pocket® with buttery, flaky layers. You can fill it with roughly a cup of anything you like: ham and cheese, apples and almonds, Nutella and hazelnuts, spinach and feta, cherries and cream cheese. The dough recipe you’ll find at the end of this post makes two Danish braids. My first was cinnamon, sugar, and toasted pecans. The second was pepperoni, ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, and basil. If you decide to make a savory braid, use the given dough recipe, but leave out the orange zest, cardamom, vanilla, and orange juice.
3. The braiding is no big deal. A Danish braid is a laminated dough. Instead of combining the butter and a flour mixture, you keep them separate and fold the butter between the layers of dough. Your first one or two turns of the dough might look pretty ragged; just keep going. With every turn, the dough will get smoother. And, if you can lace your shoes, you can braid this dough.
Once you’re done, you’ll have two rich, buttery braids that look impressive, taste delicious, and contain 100 percent of your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. And by “vitamins and minerals,” I mean butter. Enjoy!
Adapted from Sherry Yard’s “The Secrets of Baking”
For the Dough:
- 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:
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 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 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.
- For the Butter Block: 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 beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
- After the dough 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 dough 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. 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. 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. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used.
Makes enough for 2 large braids
- 1 recipe Danish Dough (see above)
- 2 cups filling (your choice)
- For the Egg Wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
- 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, 1/4-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 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.
- Whisk together the egg wash in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.
- 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.
- 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.