Let me tell you, friends, I am having some crazy adventures this week. I’ve eaten some amazing food, too (don’t worry, I took photos). I’ve eaten some great and delicious things, like a cream puff the size of a softball, and also some things that I’m glad I tried, but probably will not try again, like fried beer (shudder – nothing like warm Budweiser!). And that is only the beginning. Posts and pictures to come, of course.
In the meantime, let’s make some pastry! Yesterday we talked about laminated doughs – a very important thing in the world of baking. Laminated doughs are what’s known as “rich doughs” because they contain more fat and sugar than, say, a bread dough. They are also sweeter and more dessert-y, although you could easily make spanikopita or croissants with laminated doughs as well and have them not be a dessert.
With one half of the dough made in yesterday’s post, I made a Danish braid with an almond filling made of homemade almond paste. However, if you want to mix it up you could use all kinds of fillings – chocolate, jam, etc.
Here’s what you need to finish up this pastry:
- 1 1/2 cups of raw almonds
- 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
- an egg
Before we get started – did you freeze your pastry? If so, take it out of the freezer early so it can thaw!
To make the almond paste filling, your almonds need to be blanched. This is much easier than it sounds – it’s actually exactly what you do if you want to get the skin off of tomatoes. Kind of odd, but it works.
Boil some water, and then dump your almonds into it and boil for two or three minutes. Then drain the hot water and put the almonds in a bowl of cold water and ice. In just a couple of minutes (5ish) the skins will be too big for the almonds inside and you can just pop the skins off. Next, put the almonds into your food processor and grind to a pretty small grain.
Add the powdered sugar on top and then take for another couple of spins until they are combined:
Because of the oil in the almonds, there will be some liquid but to get it to a true paste consistency you may need to add water – about a tablespoon at a time.
And now, we braid! Roll your pastry out to a sheet that is about 10 inches by 18 inches, and back at that 1/3 of an inch thickness we used a lot yesterday. The thing about this dough is that its density makes the baking time and temperature a lot more important than some less complicated doughs. So for a relatively thick final product like a braid, you don’t want your pastry to be too thick.
Use a pizza cutter to make a very light impression showing the middle third of the dough. Then spread your filling in the area you just marked off.
Next, use the pizza cutter to cut a fringe on both sides. The fringe should be at about a 45-degree angle downward. Start from the outside of the dough and cut towards the middle, but stop at the line you drew earlier. On each end there will probably be an almost-triangle shaped piece that doesn’t get fringed. That is a good thing.
Brush all of the fringes lightly with the egg plus a tablespoon or so of water, and save the remaining egg wash for later. Start braiding from the end that all of the fringes point down toward. Fold the end piece inward, and then alternate sides of the fringe. Fold them one at a time and make sure they overlap as much as possible – while my pastry turned out delicious, it definitely rose so much that the braid in the middle separated a little.
When you’ve braided the whole thing, brush with the remaining egg wash and then cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place (80 degrees is ideal) to proof for 30 minutes or until it looks puffy:
After it has proofed, bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. The crust will look delicious and golden-brown when you are done.
So pretty. So delicious.
This braid makes about 8 breakfast-sized servings and will keep for over a week in the fridge if you need it to. I recommend making it as close as you can to actual consumption, but it is easily warmed up (and I definitely recommend eating it while it is warm).
I have made laminated doughs before but I don’t think any of them have turned out this well. I’m looking forward to doing big things with the other half of my dough!