Once upon a time in the land of St. Honore’, there lived a king with only one daughter, and she was most lovely to look at. Many suitors vied for her hand. They all had something to recommend them, but the king wanted his daughter to be happy as well as wed, so the king decided that she should choose whom she would wed. Time was passing and the king was looking forward to playing with grandchildren, so he asked her to be quick about it. Being very fond of baked goods, she decided to set a challenge for each suitor.
The first young man, Harry, was a prince with many servants and much property. The princess’s challenge was to bake something delicious. He spent hours in the kitchen and at dinner served a cherry pie with a flourish. The princess made a face because the pie was too sour and the bottom crust was mushy. One suitor down.The next young man, Ellington, was a duke in a neighboring kingdom. He was well educated and nice looking but wasn’t terribly intelligent. The princess’s challenge was to bake something delicious. He spent hours in the kitchen and at dinner served a Gateau St. Honore’ with a flourish. The princess looked at it with dismay. The cream puffs were doughy and the caramel burnt, plus the pastry cream was curdled. Two suitors down.
The next young man, Ian, was a former soldier who had grown up on a farm. He was the best looking suitor so far, but he was sure that his simple background would eliminate him as a suitor. The princess didn’t care as long as he could bake, so the challenge was to bake something delicious.
He worried the princess because it seemed that every so often during the day she would look out the window and see Ian …and he was not in the kitchen. First she saw him playing catch with some of the stable lads, a while later he was helping the kitchen gardener fix some irrigation lines, and later still he was playing soccer with her brothers. Even so, at dinner Ian served a gorgeous Danish pastry with a flourish. The pastry was in the shape of a braid. The princess loved the tender, flaky pastry. She enjoyed the fragrance of oranges and vanilla and was delighted with the braided look of it and thrilled with the strawberry-orange-apricot filling.
Since he was looking promising, she asked him how he had made such a delicious pastry. It wouldn’t do to have a Rumpelstiltskin in the background doing the baking for him. He assured her that the dough included freshly squeezed orange juice along with lots of butter in the beurrage or butter block.He described making the laminated dough with it’s layers of butter created by making many folds after spreading the beurrage,
of repeated chilling of the dough, of careful cutting of the dough and folding over the filling to make the lovely braid effect,
and of how he checked it often as it baked to make sure it didn’t become too brown.
He explained that between each of the times he rolled and folded the dough, then set it to cool, that he had a half hour, so he enjoyed meeting people around the castle during his time outside of the kitchen. She was satisfied that this was a true and daring baker and that he was a friendly, helpful fellow, too. It didn’t hurt that the man himself was easy on the eyes. She was sure that he was a good choice for her future husband. Marriages have been successfully made for lesser reasons.
Her father the king was so delighted that his only daughter was happy and that she had made a good choice that he made the former soldier an Earl, and as a dowry gave them a grand castle with the best kitchen in the kingdom. Many fine baked goods were made there, the king happily ate there often, and the princess and her groom lived happily ever after. Did his grandchildren inherit the baking talents of their sire? That’s for a future tale.
Here is the recipe for the Danish Braid which comes from Sherry Yard’s wonderful book: The Secrets of Baking. I'm including the Apple Filling, even though I used preserves.
Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough
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
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.
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.
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.
Makes enough for two braids
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.
Makes enough for 2 large braids
1 recipe Danish Dough (see above)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (I used strawberry jam combined with apricot orange jam)
(optional)Cream Cheese on the bottom (From another Danish recipe in the same book)- combine ¾ lb. cream cheese, ¾ cup sugar, 1 egg and 1 tsp vanilla and beat together until creamy and smooth.
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.
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.
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.
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.
Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, 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.