Sometimes, the Universe is cruel. I am not a morning person, but one of my favorite things to eat is morning pastry — and I’m not talking about biscuits, scones or quick breads. Morning pastry involves yeast, butter and waking before dawn to ensure fresh, buttery love on your breakfast table. You see my struggle: the pre-dawn part.
Accepting this as my cross to bear, I am always on the look-out for pastry recipes that can be adapted to my lazy schedule. Enter the Danish Braid. This recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Baking With Julia, and in addition to being delicious, almost all of the recipe can be assembled well in advance.
At first glance, you may think, “This is an excessive amount of work. Why not just drive over to Clear Flour Bakery, buy myself a morning bun and a cup of fair trade coffee and call it a day?” Here’s why:
- This Danish is among the best things I have ever eaten;
- You won’t have to take out a second mortgage to feed your butter/yeast habit (I love CFB, but, dude, I cannot walk out of there for less than $20);
- Maybe you want to be able to eat warm, delicious pastry without leaving the comfort of your own home.
1 cup (packed) dried, unsulphured apricots
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon almond extract
Stir apricots, water and sugar together in a large, microwave-safe bowl (or 1 quart Pyrex measuring cup). Put the bowl in the microwave and cook on full power for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The apricots will be puffed and will have absorbed most of the liquid.
Pour the mixture into a food processor and pureé until smooth. Transfer apricot mixture to a bowl and stir in lemon juice and almond extract. Cool filling to room temperature and then chill. Filling will keep up to two weeks, refrigerated.
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whisk together cream, cornstarch and sugar in a large, microwave-safe bowl (or 1 quart Pyrex measuring cup). Put the bowl in the microwave and cook on full power for 1 minute. Stir the mixture and cook 2 –3 minutes more, a minute at a time, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened slightly.
In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolk and vanilla extract.
Slowly whisk a little of the hot cream mixture into the yolk. Pour remaining yolk mixture into cream mixture, whisk well, and return to microwave to cook for 30 seconds more. The cream, once cooked, will be the consistency of lemon curd. Put mixture in a small bowl, and cover the surface of the cream with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming). Cool to room temperature and then chill. Cream will keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
½ cup warm (105º — 115º) water
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup milk at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups AP flour
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into quarter inch slices*
Pour the water into a large bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let soften for a few minutes. Add the milk, egg, sugar and salt and whisk to mix.
Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Drop butter on top of flour and pulse, 8 –10 times until the butter is cut into pieces about ½” thick. Empty this mixture into the bowl with the yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold the ingredients together until the dry ingredients are just moistened. The mixture will look sloppy and there will be large, discrete chunks of butter. Fear not, that’s what makes Danish delicious!
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight (or for up to 4 days if more convenient).
Lighlty flour a work surface, turn the dough out onto the surface and lightly flour the dough. With clean, floured hands, lightly pat the dough into a square. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 16” square. Fold the dough in thirds, up from the bottom and down from the top. Turn the dough so that the closed fold is on your left, like the spine of a book.
Roll the dough again, this time into a rectangle, about 10” x 24”. With the short end of the dough facing you, fold the dough in thirds again. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, cut the folded dough in half so you have two equal portions. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill, at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days. You will only need one piece of the dough for the Danish Braid, so you can freeze the other piece for up to 1 month.
1 egg white, beaten
¼ cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted lightly
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 – 3 tablespoons milk or coffee
Cut a large sheet of parchment paper, about 12” x 18”; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll one piece of the chilled dough out to a rectangle, about 10” wide and 16” long. Carefully lift this rectangle of dough onto the piece of parchment. Spread about half of the apricot filling down the length of the middle third of the dough. Top the apricot filling with about half of the Confectioner’s Cream, allowing some of the apricot filling to peek out around the edges.
Using a sharp knife, cut 14 or so slanting lines down each side of the filling, angling the cuts from the center of the pastry to the edge. The strips should be about ¾” wide. Fold the strips of pastry into the center, criss-crossing the filling by alternating one strip from the left and then one from the right. Lightly press the ends of the strips together.
Slide the pastry, parchment and all, onto a large baking sheet. Brush the Danish with the beaten egg white and sprinkle the toasted almonds. Cover the pastry with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 400º.
Bake the Danish in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes, until golden. Transfer the pastry to a cooling rack while you make the glaze. Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar and milk (or coffee) until you have a smooth glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the warm Danish, allow to set for 5 minutes and serve.
* Listen, I know that’s a lot of butter, but how much fat do you think was in that Dunkie’s mediocre muffin you grabbed on your way to work the other morning? All I’m saying is, if you’re going to consume the calories, they might as well be blissful.