Saturday, June 28, 2008
The Butter Braid: Daring Bakers do Danish Pastry
It's hard to believe that it's already the end of June - almost as hard as it to believe how much butter is in the latest Daring Bakers adventure: the Danish Braid. Ok, there isn't really that much butter in this month's recipe, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Once again, I griped about making this month's Daring Bakers challenge recipe for about three weeks, and then, once I finally took the plunge, was extremely happy that I completed it and had the chance to learn something new about baking.
At this point, I see the Daring Bakers fulfilling two primary functions: 1) teaching me new baking techniques and 2) providing Jonathan with his monthly fix of butter-rich, white sugar-laden, refined flour-filled treats. And this month was no exception.
As is probably obvious from the platoon of pastry braids marching around the blogosphere, this month's challenge was Sherry Yard's version of the traditional Danish braid. A Danish braid is simply a gigantic Danish pastry, filled with some type of sweet and sticky filling, and (you guessed it!) braided. For those of you who aren't familiar with Danish pastry....um, hello? It's that sweet, sticky, buttery stuff you see populating every bakery case, ever. It's not quite a croissant - it has less butter (yeah, if you knew how much butter is required to make croissants, you'd never eat them again), and is made with yeast, so it's slightly breadier and not quite so flaky.
Although I have to say I'm usually grossed out by the limp little danishes I see in most bakeries, the homemade version is really beautiful. This particular recipe called for a cardamom- and vanilla-scented dough, and it smelled absolutely heavenly while baking in the oven. I have to say though, this type of pastry is not something I'd see myself making again. Although it turned out well, the richness of the dough and of the pastry itself is a bit overwhelming. One feels like it should be a decadent dessert, but it doesn't quite have the wow factor of something like chocolate cake or a really good brownie. And for a breakfast treat, I'd much prefer a more wholesome muffin or some homemade English muffins.
But then again, being a Daring Baker is really more about the process than the product, and I am very glad to have made my first laminated dough. A laminated dough is one that is made by encasing a block of butter in dough, and then folding, rolling, and chilling ad nauseum until you have a multi-decker sandwich (well, kinda) composed of thin layers of dough and butter. The idea is that the butter, when baked, allows for the flaky effect that you find in things like croissants and puff pastry. Oh, and a note about that butter: O. M. G. it was a lot of butter. In reality, two sticks of butter for a two gigantic pastries really isn't that astonishing, but when a recipe requires you to take that butter, beat it until soft, and then spread it all over the surface of your dough, it seems like a lot. This isn't butter that you cream with sugar and dilute with eggs. This is in-your-face, no denying it, boatloads of butter. But whatever. Half a pound here, half a pound there...it's just butter, right?
It's the butter, though, that makes the whole dough-making process a bit tedious, as it necessitates very careful chilling and rolling of the dough. However, I found the dough to be quite easy to work with, and didn't have any major butter-oozing incidents. Once you get used to working with whole wheat doughs, I guess anything white and buttery feels divine. Remember that French bread I told you about a while ago?
The entire Danish project was a two-day affair; I made the dough on day 1 and then assembled the pastry on day 2. We were provided with a traditional apple filling for the pastry, but I chose to fill mine with a cheese and blueberry filling. The cheese was a mixture of neufchatel, ricotta, egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla, and the blueberry was a simple sauce that I made by reducing some (frozen!) blueberries with a bit of sugar and citrus juice. I find that most commercial pastries are too sweet for Jonathan's and my tastes, so I used only a bit of sugar in the fillings, allowing their flavors (and not their sweetness) to stand out.
I'm happy to say that there were no major glitches during this challenge; my butter block stayed cleanly put in between my layers of dough, and, although the pastry didn't rise very much during the proof (before baking), it puffed up nicely in the oven and came out with a lovely crumb. As always, though, check out the Daring Bakers blogroll if you want to see some really outstanding pastry specimens.
The major downside of this challenge, I think, was the quantity of dough it yielded. I still have half of the dough in the freezer, and the braid that I baked was basically enough to feed all of Denmark for breakfast. I pawned off some of the braid on some unwitting dinner guests the other night, but there is still a hefty hunk of it in the fridge that Jonathan may or may not be up to finishing. I prefer to waste my calories on different types of treats, so who knows what the fate of my giant Danish braid will be.
As I said before, though, all in all, this was a welcome challenge and an educational one, to boot. Thanks to Kellypea and Ben, who hosted this challenge and chose the recipe. Now that I've crossed laminated dough off of my list, I'm anxious to see what my next Daring Bakers challenge will be. Oh, the calories...oh, the suspense!