DB Challenge: Danish Braid

I love the Daring Bakers because they push you out of your comfort zone with the challenges. I had no interest in making danishes. After all, it's so easy to just go to a bakery and pick them up. And I usually only eat danishes when I'm at some hotel offering only a continental breakfast or at some breakfast buffet. They aren't exactly high on my list.

But lo and behold, the challenge for June was to do a Danish Braid. The requirement was to make at least one braid and you could do whatever you wanted with the other half of the dough. You could fill it with whatever you wanted, as long as you made it. I went a little hog wild. You'll find below recipes for the different innards I used and I'll just link here for the actual dough recipe/instructions.

I was intrigued by the challenge because it would never cross my mind to make danishes, but at the same time, I was surprised to see how easy the instructions were. It really isn't that hard to make the dough. But I think most of us do take the easy Pillsbury way out and buy some refrigerated dough and then just plunking filling in it. And, after all, that is the typical Pampered Chef way to do things. Take a short cut and use a pre-made product.

I spent part of a Saturday making the dough. It's not difficult, just time consuming. You have to roll out, fold, and chill the dough four times, each spaced 30 minutes. So this day alone took close to three hours. During each 30 minute wait I'd be mixing up another filling. Then on Sunday I got up bright and early to head to the Farmers Market (conveniently located two blocks from my house). You see, the instructions say that after you fill and construct your braid, you have to wait another two hours for the whole thing to proof before you can actually bake it. Since I wanted this for breakfast, I was at the market at 6:30 a.m. to pick up apricots, cherries, and berries.

For the braid I made a pistachio frangipane, then pastry cream, then topped with apricots. Yummy.

For the pastries I made the following:
- some cinnamon sugar snails (the most boring of the lot, but used up remnants of dough)
- croissants with almond paste and chocolate chips
- sweetened cream cheese and lemon curd
- pastry cream or cream cheese topped with cherries or berries

Interestingly I thought the cream cheese/lemon curd ones would be pretty dull and they ended up being my favorites.

So I had mentioned the almond paste earlier this month and you can look at that if you want that recipe.

For the cream cheese I just took a 16 oz package and mixed it with a 1/4 cup of sugar.

I got the pastry cream from Dorie Greenspan. Since pastry cream is pretty basic, I'll go ahead and put it down.

Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk.
Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, contstantly and thoroughly bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.
The pastry cream can be kept, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Pistachio Frangipane

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons shelled natural unsalted pistachios (about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

Process 1/2 cup pistachios, 1/4 cup sugar, orange peel, and baking powder in processor until nuts are finely ground, scraping down sides occasionally. Add butter and egg; process until blended.