Well it’s that time again – Daring Bakers challenge! This is my second challenge as part of this illustrious group of intrepid bakers and again it was an exercise in culinary calisthenics. The June DB challenge is, cue music please…Danish Braid, an exercise in laminated dough. We were required to make at least one braid (the recipe makes enough dough for two) and allowed to use any filling we desired as long as it was homemade. The recipe provided included an apple filling which I opted to use in one of two braids. I did a raspberry and cream filling for the second. I also made some small danishes with the dough scraps left over after the braiding process.
Though challenging, this was an incredibly rewarding experience. Working with dough in this way is something I’ve always wanted to try but never got around to – so many thanks to June’s DB hosts, Kelly of Sass & Veracity and co-conspirator Ben of What’s cooking? – you guys picked an awesome challenge. The day I finally got around to making the pastry we were having some truly wicked weather. One violent storm after another kept rolling through and all I could think was, please, don’t let us lose the power. Here we go.
Warning: extra super long post ahead.
My first reaction upon the challenge reveal, after clearing the rather large gulp in my throat, was excited anticipation tempered with a healthy dose of trepidation. I have never made laminated dough before. In fact, I have never really made dough at all. I mean, I’ve made cookie dough that you spoon onto baking sheets but never ever have I made dough that you roll out. And this is dough that gets kneaded and everything, and rolled out many times over. Trepidation aside I embarked on this unfamiliar doughy journey with gusto and saw this opportunity as a chance to stretch my culinary skills – this is exactly why I joined the Daring Bakers after all.
First step, as a vegan baker, would be to study the given recipe (from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking) and technique extensively and make some decisions regarding the necessary substitutions. For this recipe I would be looking to replace the butter, whole milk, and eggs. I’m rarely concerned about replacing butter, especially in an application such as this one – Earth Balance is just so innately buttery and it has never let me down. Replacing milk, again, rarely a big deal – and for this particular application I wasn’t concerned: full fat plain soy milk would be my substitution of choice. Eggs, as always, are tricky little buggers to replace in baking.
The trick with replacing eggs in baking is determining what role they play in that particular dessert. Eggs can be binders, softeners, and leavening agents. They also add liquid to a recipe. There is also the protein component of eggs to consider – proteins provide structure as they are cooked. All these eggy elements needed to be carefully considered in order to choose an appropriate replacement. I had several possibilities to choose from: the trusty flax meal and water option, soy yogurt, soy sour cream, and tofu. The first thing the science nerd in me did was compare the nutritional content of eggs with each of my replacement options, specifically looking at the fat-carb-protein ratios. I needed to replace two eggs for the dough. The recipe also called for an egg wash at the end which I could very easily replace with something I like much better – an apricot glaze which worked beautifully. But back to the two eggs to be replaced in the dough. I figured the best way to go would be to choose two different substitutes and thus cover more chemical bases. I decided on 1 Tbsp flax meal and 3 Tbsp water in place of one egg, and a 1/2 cup of plain soy yogurt in place of the second.
I recently learned that, due to their possible leavening role, it is advisable to increase one’s leavening agent by 1/4 tsp for each egg omitted. Okay, in the danish dough the leavening is yeast. I pondered increasing the amount for some time, going back and forth between adding none, adding 1/4 tsp, and going all the way and adding a full 1/2 tsp extra. I wavered up until the very last second, spoon in hand over the bowl, before finally going for it and adding the full extra 1/2 tsp. This resulted in much comical panic as the day progressed, through the night and into the next day as I lay awake in my bed with visions of my dough bursting out of the fridge. I couldn’t wait to check on it the morning after its overnight rest to find that it was considerably fatter but thankfully still contained beneath the plastic wrap.
With the big substitution decisions made it was time to tackle the Danish beast.
One thing included amongst the instructions for this month’s challenge, which I found invaluable, was a link to a YouTube video demonstrating the technique for making Danish Pastry or laminated dough – the main difference in the video is that they did double turns throughout and we would be doing single turns for this exercise. Still, I found the video to be extremely helpful – there’s nothing like a good visual.
Also priceless, all the awesome support and friendly advice from my fellow Daring Bakers – what can I say except, what a great group. I am especially grateful to Sandra, of Le Pétrin, who generously posted tips for those who would be baking non-dairy. One of her suggestions included adding a double turn after the final single turn. One need only look at the awe-inspiring photo of her incredible pastry layers to be seduced by this idea. I was definitely in. Thanks so much, Sandra!
Making the Danish Braid:
FYI, the pastry terms I was introduced to translate like so:
- laminated dough – layered dough created by sandwiching butter between layers of dough
- detrempe – ball of dough
- beurrage – butter block
- turn – each folding & rolling out of the dough produces a single turn in a 3-step process where the dough is folded in thirds like a business letter (with each single turn creating 3 layers).
The recipe for making the Danish Braid is divided into three main parts:
- making the danish dough (consisting of the detrempe and the beurrage)
- making the filling(s)
- constructing the braid
When tackling this recipe it is advisable to keep the following in mind:
- Use well-chilled ingredients, including flour if your kitchen is above 70F (21C) – I chilled everything.
- Use long, continuous strokes to roll the dough, rather than short, jerky ones to ensure the butter block is distributed evenly.
- The 30-minute rest/cooling period for the dough between turns is crucial to re-chill the ‘butter’ and allow the gluten in the dough to relax – this is not negotiable.
- Excess flour accumulated on the surface of the dough after turns should be brushed off so it doesn’t interfere with the rise and toughen the dough.
- Know what temp your proofing environment is and proof the braid accordingly – refer to the proofing chart.
We were given the option to use a stand mixer or to work entirely by hand. Given that I am not the proud owner of such a sexy beast I was relegated to making the dough entirely by hand. And I’m so glad I did – it was so much fun. Okay, it wasn’t fun when, after I had sifted my dry ingredients onto the counter and made a fountain for my liquid ingredients, the liquid burst through the flour walls and made a bee-line for the counter’s edge. But I caught it in time. If only someone could have taken pictures of me at that moment – those would have been sure to amuse. Note to self: make a fountain in a large bowl next time. But back to making the dough by hand – what an amazingly pleasant, cathartic experience. Dough feels good. Really good. I love working with dough. Why have I never worked with dough before? Working with dough is awesome. But I digress – this is how the braid making goes:
For the Danish Dough (Detrempe):
1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup full fat plain soy milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp flax meal + 3 Tbsp water
1/2 cup plain soy yogurt
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt
For the butter block (Beurrage):
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold Earth Balance (or other vegan buttery spread).
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Danish Dough (Detrempe):
- In a small bowl, combine flax meal and water and beat together with a fork. Set aside.
- Combine yeast and soy milk in a bowl with a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, orange juice, flax mixture and soy yogurt and mix well.
- Sift flour and salt onto your working surface and make a fountain, ensuring that the walls are thick and even.
- Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain and, using your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. Alternatively, you can do this in a bowl and then transfer to your working surface when everything is combined (which I plan to do next time round).
- 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. Mine was probably done after 6 minutes of kneading but I went for the 7th because it just felt so damn good. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour .
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Then onto the beurrage (butter block).
Butter Block (Beurrage):
One of Sandra‘s tips for working non-dairy was to skip the flour in the butter block (since most margarines are much harder than butter and the additional flour might make it harder to spread). I was fully prepared to do this until I evaluated my Earth Balance more closely. It is very butter-like and extremely soft – so I treated it like butter and kept the flour in.
- Combine Earth Balance and flour in a large bowl and beat on medium speed for 1 minute (I used a hand mixer). Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat until smooth. Set aside at room temperature.
- After the detrempe has chilled in the fridge for 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 cannot be thinner than 1/4 inch, the other dimensions may vary. If the dough is sticky dust it lightly with flour.
- I took a ruler and marked my rolled out dough rectangle at third points along the long side. The butter block is spread over the middle and right thirds, but not the first. I made sure to leave a tiny border of butter-free dough all around the perimeter of my buttered thirds. I wanted to ensure a tight dough seal to keep that butter in (I heard many a horror story from my fellow DB-ers regarding butter that persisted to burst out the edges as the dough was being rolled out during subsequent turns).
- The left (unbuttered) third is folded over the middle third. The right third is then folded over the middle – like folding a business letter. I pressed lightly around the sides to ensure that my beurrage was well sealed.
- The dough is then placed back on the lightly floured sheet, covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated for 30 minutes. The first turn is complete.
- This process is repeated three more times for a total of four turns.
After the fourth turn I refrigerated for a further 15 minutes and then did Sandra’s recommended double turn (also known as a full book turn).
- To do this, the dough is rolled out again to 18 x 13 x 1/4″. By this point I had become quite adept at rolling out a nice rectangle. This time, use a ruler to mark your rectangle at quarter marks along the long side. The first quarter is folded over the second to touch the centre line. The fourth quarter is folded back over the third to also touch the centre line, and thus meet the edge from the other side. The entire thing is then folded along the centre line and closed like a book.
At this point, I cut the dough in half (one for each braid). Look at all those layers. The two halves then went back onto the sheet, wrapped in plastic wrap and into the fridge for an overnight rest (the dough must rest in the fridge for a minimum of 5 hours or overnight). This is the part where I panicked about that extra 1/2 teaspoon of yeast and lay awake wondering if my dough would burst out of the fridge.
The next morning I peaked inside the fridge – my dough was distinctly fatter but still contained. I made my fillings. They need to be used at room temperature and, for this reason, could (should) have been made in advance.
Apple Filling (makes enough for two braids):
4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 Tbsp Earth Balance (or other vegan buttery spread)
- Toss all ingredients except Earth Balance in a large bowl.
- Melt Earth Balance in a pan over medium heat until slightly golden in color, about 6 – 8 minutes.
- Add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Fuji apples will be caramelized but will 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. Any left over filling can be used as a topping for ice cream or other desserts.
Raspberry and Cream Filling:
10 oz .frozen raspberries
1 Tbsp sugar
pinch of cardamom
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 tsp cornstarch
- Combine all ingredients and cook, stirring until slightly thickened. Cool.
1/2 container vegan cream cheese (I used Tofutti, non-hydrogenated)
1 Tbsp vegan sour cream (I used Tofutti, non-hydrogenated)
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- Blend everything in a food processor until smooth and creamy.
With the fillings done it was time to assemble the first braid.
When I rolled out the first half of dough into a rectangle, my dimensions were nowhere near as large as that which the recipe indicated they would be. I ensured that I had the requisite 1/4″ thickness and ended up with a rectangle somewhere along the lines of 13 1/2″ x 10 1/2″. At this point, the dough rectangle should be transferred to your parchment lined baking sheet for braid assembly. I managed to remember to do this for the first braid but forgot to do it for the second. Note the photo of the raspberry braid erroneously sitting directly on the counter, compared with the apple which is sitting properly on the baking pan. This meant that I had to transfer my nice neat braid from the counter to the baking sheet. This very easily could have been a disaster but the baking gods were smiling upon me that day and I was able to move it without destroying it. Don’t do this at home.
When the rolled out rectangle was transferred to the baking sheet I used the following method for making the braid: I used a ruler to mark third lines along the short side. I chose to visually divide my rectangle into thirds in order to ensure that my braid pieces were long enough to be firmly tucked in. One of the problems many of my fellow DB-ers ran into was having their braids burst open like spread ribcages during baking. I used a pizza cutter to make very light indents (being careful not to cut into the dough) up the third lines, dividing my rectangle into thirds. I then used the ruler to make marks along both sides at one-inch intervals for my braid strips and used the pizza cutter to cut them. I also cut my strips at a 45-degree angle, making them longer still. When cutting the strips, I recommend cutting from your third line outwards towards the edge of your dough, rather than inwards. If you drag the cutter inwards your dough rectangle will shrink. Trust me on this.
After the cuts are made you can spoon your filling down the centre. Don’t over fill and stay near the middle (I did an apple filling for the first braid and raspberry and cream for the second). Then it’s time to braid, one strip from one side alternating with one from the other, and so on and so on. My one caveat here is to ensure that your strips are long enough to reach over your filling and touch the base on the opposite side. I also tucked each end under successive braid strips as I went along. It’s easier to visualize with the pictures.
After the braid is assembled it’s time for proofing. Spray some plastic wrap with cooking spray and lay over top of your assembled braid. We were provided with a chart to refer to for the proofing stage. Depending on the temperature of your environment, you proof the dough (allow it to rise) for the appropriate amount of time before baking. The recommendation is for a controlled 90-degree environment, but it can also be done at room temperature.
I was able to get my oven to hover somewhere between 80F an 90F degrees by turning it on and off in bursts and staying nearby at all times to continually check the thermometer. I opted for 1-hour of proofing. I then had to remove the braid while I heated the oven to 400F which took another 15 minutes or so. While the oven was heating up I garnished my braid with sliced almonds and struesel.
With the oven heated to 400F, in went the braid. After ten minutes the braid was turned 180-degrees (so that the side that was facing the back was now facing the front) and the oven temp reduced to 350F. The instructions were to bake for a further 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. I only needed 15 minutes for this stage.
With the braid removed from the oven I got started on my apricot glaze ‘wash’. This was simply a matter of melting apricot jam over medium heat diluted with a small bit of water to reach the desired brushable consistency. The glaze was then brushed onto the warm braid to give it a lovely shine.
With the dough scraps that I had left from making the two braids, I made three impromptu danishes.
The day after baking I woke up with unbelievably aching feet and killer sore quads which I just found hilarious. I’d been standing for two days straight working on the dough, and during baking I’d been maniacally checking on the braids, literally watching them bake through the oven window – for both braids. I don’t know exactly how many squats this equaled but on the third day it felt like I’d done at least a thousand. I was exhausted in the end. It’s funny, looking back, at first I thought I’d be bored and impatient during all those 30-minute rests between dough turns but, in truth, I was happy to have them and sit down for a bit.
So after a few sleepless nights, some nightmares involving out of control dough bursting out of the fridge, some very sore feet and thighs, and almost losing the power several times during some wicked weather, it was done. I am so very pleased with the results. This is the best danish dough I have ever tasted – and I haven’t been baking vegan for very long at all. I remember what non-vegan danish tastes like, feels like, smells like. This danish rocks the house my friends. It is flaky yet tender. It is filled with layer upon layer of wondrous soft, flavourful dough. It is delicious. If it hadn’t taken me two days to make I would be making it again right now. Oh, how I long for one filled with some of those luscious peaches I picked up yesterday. Or apricots. Chocolate. Oh my, yes. I loved every second of this baking challenge and can’t wait to give it another go. I was exhausted yes, but also feel very satisfied with my efforts and the delicious results.
Best of all, there were several delicious days that followed, filled with tasty danish and coffee. Be sure to visit the awesome talent on the Daring Bakers Blogroll – click on the DB logo below to be taken there.