For our lovely beach vacation I wanted to do something special for one of the meals we had at the house. I’ve been reading this book on professional baking – it’s more a textbook than a cookbook – my favorite kind! And I decided to make a Danish braid with almond filling. But if you want a pastry, you must first make pastry dough.
Not bad, eh? It tasted pretty good, too 🙂
This is a long process that took several hours on a Thursday evening, but probably only two of those hours were active time. That is why I’ve divided this post up into two entries. One for Danish dough, which you can use in any number of ways, and one for the Almond Danish Braid, the specific pastry that I made. These recipes are all adapted from the book “About Professional Baking” that I wrote about earlier this week.
You will need:
- 1/2 cup of water at 110 degrees
- 1/2 cup of milk, scalded to about the same temperature
- A heaping tablespoon of active dry yeast
- 4 cups of flour (the book splits this, 2 of AP and 2 of bread flour)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tablespoon of melted butter
- 2 eggs
- One pound of butter. Yes, you read that correctly.
At the very beginning, set out your eggs and butter so they come to room temperature. This is especially important for the butter. Slowly heat the milk to scald it, making sure it doesn’t form a skin on top. Scalding the milk kills a compound that is called protease that is not good for gluten formation.
Add the milk to the warm water and yeast, and let it stand for 5-10 minutes while the yeast wakes up and starts metabolizing.
In the meantime, put all of your dry ingredients in your stand mixer or mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Then, with your (hand or stand) mixer, slowly add in the yeast mixture, the eggs and the melted butter (the 1 tbsp. portion). A soft dough should form. Bread dough – be it for a loaf, a pizza or a pastry almost always looks the same when it’s done right. It should be smooth, not stringy, and you should be able to handle it without it sticking to your hands too much. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes or so in the freezer.
While the dough is chilling, it’s time to roll out the butter. Almost all pastry is made with laminated doughs, which means that the dough is rolled out with butter and folded on top of itself over and over. What results is hundreds of tiny layers alternating between dough and butter. That’s why your Danish is flaky. 🙂
So, roll out a sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface and put your pound of butter on it in a row. You are going to be rolling this into about a 1/3 inch thick sheet of butter that is 6 inches by 12 inches. Cover the sticks of butter with another sheet of plastic wrap and then grab your rolling pin.
Use a rocking motion to flatten each stick a little bit. During the making of this dough, you will be using almost exclusively short, rocking motions to create little dents in the dough or butter, eventually ending up with a flat surface. Keep rolling, very gently, until you have a sheet of butter.
Once the dough is done chilling, take it out of the freezer and roll it to about the same thickness, but bigger – 9 inches by 18 inches. The dough should wrap around the butter, ideally so nothing can get through. In reality, something will get through, but don’t worry! It will be OK.
Taking off one of the sheets of plastic and using the other to move the massive sheet of butter, put the butter on top of the rolled-out dough, but keep it to one side. Leave about 4-5 inches at one end.
Start by using that open end to wrap over the butter, and then fold the rest of the dough together in thirds. In kindergarten, I think we called this fold “the burrito.” You’ve just made your first fold! We’re going to do three sets of three folds after this.
Right now your dough should be in a rectangle shape and kind of look like a smooshed burrito and is probably pretty thick. Turn it so the long way is facing you and use the rolling pin to make little dents with that rocking motion again until you’ve rolled the whole thing out to be a flat 1/3 inch surface – it’s about the size of a small baking sheet (not a half-sheet size). You should always end up with about 10-12 inches by 18.
When you get to the correct thickness, fold your pastry dough again into thirds. If there are places where the butter is peeking out, try to cover them up as you fold (i.e., if one end has butter peeking out, fold that one first so you can ditch it in the middle of the dough 🙂 ). Turn the dough and repeat the roll out, then fold pattern twice more, and then let the dough rest in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour. Then, do the whole thing two more times. The cool thing is, the dough will look better and better as you go along. It will start to look like real pastry dough! It’s encouraging. And it’s an arm workout. Fair warning.
In the end, this is what the dough will look like:
Whoa, lots of layers!
This is plenty of dough and for the Almond Braid recipe I’ll write about, you’ll only need half of it. The great thing is, it freezes really well. Just wrap what you don’t use in plastic, and then in aluminum foil.
That was a lot of work! But I promise you it is worth it. More on how in my next post. In the meantime, go buy some almonds 🙂