just braid some bread already, will ya?
So I braided some bread again recently and it was a blast. Well, it wasn’t really bread, technically it was Danish pastry, but that is sort of like bread except totally different. Danish is like bread in that it contains yeast and flour, but it is different in that it contains a significant amount of butter, requires more patience, attention to detail, and knowledge on how to fold a business letter. It also usually has some kind of sweet and tasty filling incorporated into it and the Danish braid that I made just so happened to look like the biggest Toaster Strudel in the history of Toaster Strudels:
l filled it with some tasty apricot jam that I made over the summer and, not to toot my own horn or anything, it blew any Toaster Strudel I have ever had (yes, I was 14 once) right out of the water.
Read more to learn how to make your own giant Toaster Strudel, I mean Danish braid!
Makes one huge braid that will easily feed 10 people as long as you keep your eye on them and make sure they don’t go in for seconds and then deny it later.
This recipe is straight out of The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, with a few minor changes in technique here and there. You should start this project the day before you want to enjoy your giant Danish braid and you should bake it off the day of. Try and use a homemade fruit filling or jam as opposed to a store bought one (but I won’t tell if you do). When making laminated doughs (that’s the fancy word for doughs with butter folded into them) the dough is called the pâton, the butter block is called the beurrage, and the butter folded in to the dough is called the détrempe. I know, I know, leave it to the French to make things nice and confusing. But, now when you serve your Danish braid to your spring brunch companions, you will sound extra fancy when you tell them how you did it because they won’y have any idea what you are talking about…
I N G R E D I E N T S
for the détrempe (dough):
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons rapid rise or instant yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk, heated to 110° F
for the beurrage (butter block):
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into three equal pieces and chilled
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
D I R E C T I O N S
Increase speed to medium and knead until dough forms a sticky ball and comes together, about 7 or 8 minutes. If after 5 minutes the dough has not come together and still looks extra sticky, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Scrape dough into a large lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place dough in the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour. That is your détrempe!
While the détrempe (dough) is chilling, make the beurrage (butter block).
Arrange the three pieces of chilled butter side by side on a half of a sheet of parchment paper or a silpat. Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon of flour over the butter and cover with another sheet of parchment (or just fold the parchment over). You can also cover it with plastic wrap if you don’t have parchment. Using a rolling pin (or similar pounding utensil) gently pound the butter pieces until the butter has softened and the flour is incorporated. In pastry school, we would do this step in the bowl of a stand mixer and simply mix the butter and the flour together using a dough hook on a very low speed. Either way is fine. Using a bench scraper or straight edge, coax the butter into a 5-inch square.
Keep the beurrage (butter block) wrapped and place it in the refrigerator to chill completely, at least one hour. That is your beurrage!
Now back to the détrempe. When the dough is completely chilled, pull it out of the fridge and place it on a lightly floured work surface.
Gently and carefully roll it into a 9-inch square, moving it often so it doesn’t stick to the work surface, doing your best to keep it square.
Pull the thoroughly chilled beurrage out of the fridge and place it in the middle of the détrempe so that it looks like a butter diamond in a dough square (just for the record, if I wore jewelry, it would have butter diamonds all up in it! Bling! Bling!).
You are now officially making the pâton (final dough)! Begin by folding all four corners of the dough square inward towards the center of the butter diamond. Gently pinch the edges to seal the beurrage nicely in the détrempe. If the dough begins to stretch too much and rip, it has become to warm and should go back in the fridge for another twenty to thirty minutes or so.
When all the dough seams have been sealed, gently and carefully tap the dough with a rolling pin, starting in the center and working outwards, to form an 11-inch square. Gently move the pâton (final dough) often and dust with flour periodically to avoid sticking. It should still be cool to the touch. If it is not, place it in the fridge to chill for twenty to thirty minutes.
Now begin the folds in the pâton (this is my favorite part!). Using a straight edge to guide you, fold down the top third of the pâton, like a business letter (see, I warned you about this part). Then, fold the bottom third up to form a long rectangle.
Then, fold the left third of your rectangle over and then the right third over that to make a square.
Your pâton is on its way!
Making these folds is called “turning” the dough and after each turn the pâton needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least two hours. After the first turn and two hour rest, repeat the process above (roll into an 11-inch square, fold into a business letter, then fold into a square) and then wrap the pâton in plastic wrap and let it chill overnight.
While the pâton is resting, maybe go to a cool new brewery and hang out with some friends and an adorable French bulldog named Oscar. Just a suggestion.
So now it is the next day and you have a beautifully rested and cooled pâton in your fridge. Preheat your oven to 350° F and set aside about 1 1/2 cups of your favorite fruit filling or jam.
Place the pâton on a lightly floured piece of parchment and using a rolling pin, gently roll it into a large 14-inch square.
Spread the fruit filling over the middle third of the dough as evenly as possible.
Using a sharp knife and a ruler, cut the dough on either side of the filling diagonally into 3/4-1 inch strips, stopping the cut about 1/4 inch from the filling. You can throw away the top corners of the dough.
Do this on both sides, the entire length of the dough.
Alternating sides, fold the strips of dough over the filling to create a crisscross pattern.
Continue folding the dough strips over the filling all the way down the pastry.
Slide the braid on to a baking sheet and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or until it is slightly puffy. Bake the braid for 20 to 28 minutes, rotating it halfway through, until it is golden brown.
Transfer the baked braid on to a wire rack to cool to room temperature before serving, And for that classic Toaster Strudel effect, drizzle on a powdered sugar glaze (about 1 cup of powdered sugar to 1 tablespoon of liquid like milk, lemon juice, or water).
So that is how to braid some bread, and by bread I mean Danish. And this is apparently how you sell Toaster Strudel in Germany in the eighties…