Sunday, June 29, 2008

The hardest braid I ever made

When I first read that the June Daring Bakers Challenge was laminated dough I was filled with excitement followed quickly by dread; followed by immense excitement followed quickly by immense dread... I'd heard the war-stories from family of attempting puff pastry and croissants and all the pain and suffering that apparently came along with it. BUT, they didn't have hundreds of Daring Bakers at their fingertips from whom they could ask any myriad of questions. Mine was "do you end up rotating the block of dough 90° at every turn?" and within hours I had my answer: "yes".

Ahh thank goodness, 'cuz I was choreographing the dough turns in my head and it just wasn't working out right. Fortunately, I think this turned out right. My 2nd Daring Bakers challenge (post HEAVY on the pictures) - Danish Pastry Braid:
I think this was the most difficult single object I've ever made

The two women on this planet topping my list of people who have influenced me in my cooking would without a doubt be my mom 1st and Auntie Betty a close 2nd. I excitedly called each of them to let them know the June challenge was laminated dough -- a term neither of them knew by name but they definitely KNEW; "oh you mean like croissants? ugh..." "Oh gaawd did I tell you about when we made puff pastry?" I was even more scared now...

But if you FOLLOW THE RECIPE and don't rush anything and don't get too excited and don't skip any steps - it works. Beautifully.
Oooh just perfectly flaky on the outside

Kelly and Ben hosted this month's challenge of not just laminated dough but yeasted laminated dough! Not only did we have to worry about layers appearing (and butter not oozing all over the counter) but we had to worry if the thing would rise! Sheesh!

The recipe is from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking, which we had to follow and from which were required to make at least one braid, but we could use whatever fillings we liked as long as they were homemade (no canned cherry pie filling here - eww). After making at least one braid (the dough recipe was enough for two) we could do whatever we wanted with the extra dough: another braid, a bunch of small danishes, "croissants" etc.
Kneading the dough ------------------ I love how you can see the vanilla specks in it!

Deciding on my fillings was the best part. A little daunting and a lot of fun. I finally decided to make pear and apricot with a dollop of pastry cream to lighten it all. I put a spin on the pear filling from a pear tart tatin I made last winter and created "caramelized pears with cinnamon & vanilla-bean". Then followed Julia Child's Danish Pastry authority Beatrice Ojakangas's very easy "apricot-almond purée".
Apricot-almond purée, vanilla pastry cream, caramelized pears with cinnamon & vanilla-bean

I did my braid half and half - pear with pastry cream at one end and apricot with pastry cream at the other end. My favorite was the apricot - but it was incredibly rich. In fact, we ate it with vanilla ice cream for dessert as opposed to breakfast! Oooohh it was good.
Pear half ------------------------------------ Apricot half

I called last month's Opera Cake the "most complicated single food item I've ever made". But I take that back now. This tops it!! Wanna see what it took?... Read on...

First things first... yeast and vanilla bean

The thing that's so difficult about laminated dough is that you're basically rolling layers of butter into the dough. As you fold it (aka "turning") you create 2, 6, 18, 54 layers of butter and end up creating flakiness as the dough bakes and the water in the butter evaporates. But working with that butter on each turn is challenging. The more layers you put into that dough, the more (obviously) buttery and dense it becomes. If your kitchen is at all warm - like over 70° (umm mine was about 83°) the butter melts quickly and sticks to the counter you're rolling it on. So you MUST pay close attention, use flour liberally and throw it into the fridge the moment you see butter seeping out. It can take a long time......

I ridiculously, started this late on a Saturday night and it took me over 4 hours to just get the dough made. A 3:30am bedtime for moi. During the time the dough rested in the fridge between turns, I made my fillings: pastry cream, pear and apricot. All was ready for tomorrow!

Roll out the dough ---- Spread butter/flour mix on 2/3 of it ---- Fold left third over

Fold right third over ---- A bubble of butter popped, eeks! ---- All four turns done

After the heavy, buttery, layered dough is completed - it must sit in the fridge for at least 5 hours; I chose to leave it there overnight which by 3:30am wasn't a whole lot more than 5 hours! At this point I cut my dough in half for the 2 braids it could make. If you look closely you can even see some layers in there.
See some butter layers?

I rolled out of bed way too early Sunday morning (try 5 hours of sleep? what a crazy baking freak I am!) to put this braid together - knowing that the hardest part was thankfully over!

I had plans for those corner scraps --- Cut the strips at an angle --- Pastry cream down first

Caramelized pears on half --- Apricot almond purée on half --- Fold up the ends first

Start braiding one side ------ Then the other ----- Little ugly in the middle but all was fine!

Whew - it was almost like a craft project! After brushing it thoroughly with egg wash and letting it proof for a couple hours - it went into the oven for about 25 minutes. Something about that humored me. ~8 hours of prep work for 25 minutes of baking. But oh was it worth it... especially after drizzling a powdered sugar glaze and toasted almonds all over it. GORGEOUS!

Oh yah, and remember those scraps from the corners? I made a chocolate "croissant" that might just have been my favorite! Yah, yah doesn't look like a croissant but it sure tasted good!
My chocolate "croissant" looked like a hot dog bun ---- But it was WAY tastier... mmm!

I plan to use the rest of the dough to make some more pastries sometime in the next week. There will most definitely be some more chocolate filled ones and I'll probably use up my apricot and pear fillings as well as perhaps trying my hand at an almond filled one. I absolutely adored this challenge and the myriad of possibilities we had to play with. It's truly the epitome of doing something together while still being creative to make it your own.

I think this post is long enough as it is without my including the 2 page long recipe here but if you visit the Daring Bakers' Blogroll and click on a few of the other talented bakers - someone will have the recipe so you can see it (and all the intricacies) in its entirety.


  1. I REALLY like that you posted all those pictures too! They must fill up your Blogger limit fast. I am going to mention your blog for a 'how to' link on this recipe, if you don't mind.

    Anzj from

  2. Really beautiful! Your braid looks gorgeous and very tempting! Yummy!



  3. i agree with you. this is really the hardest braid ever. and yours look really wonderful! great job!

  4. Yum, chocolate croissant. That's what I'm planning on doing with the other half of my dough, actually.

    I think the apricot sounds divine!

  5. Love all the pictures, you did a fantastic job on your braid. I wish I had some to taste. :)

  6. Nicely documented! I'm sure the photos will help a lot of people out. Your finished product looks very professional.

  7. Gorgeous braid! The step by step photos are very helpful too!

  8. I'll have to add almonds to a future one: they look like a great added touch!

    And chocolate croissants, too. It all looks delicious!

  9. What a great idea to have 2 fillings! Great pictures!

  10. Beautiful post, great pictures...delicious looking danish!!

  11. I love the frosting on top! I may have to steal that idea next time I do it :)


  12. you really did a good job, everything looks so good!

  13. Your braid is beautiful. We also think everything is better with ice cream, although, this braid is pretty darn good on its own! Enjoy! Liz

  14. I enjoyed readin your write-up, thank you. Well done, it looks great. This one was hard huh!

  15. This is a lovely delicate looking braid, finely plaited. Great job!

  16. Thanks everyone! I'm always so flattered at the support and kind words for every DB post!!

  17. Difficult...but you made it look fun. It looks fabulous!

  18. Great looking pastry, congratulations on a job done amazingly!

  19. Nice braiding pics, and that glaze looks amazing! Nom nom nom.


  20. Excellent job on your danish this month!

  21. Lisa- you made a fabulous braid! Good for you for feeling the fear and doing it anyway :) See you can do anything!Lovely job.