I’m putting together our latest family album, and while I was mercilessly eliminating photos, I came across this tutorial I had intended to share last winter. It shows how to make a Danish braid, which is probably the most time-consuming recipe in my cookbook. You make your own Danish pastry, for one thing, but then the process of shaping the dough is really hard to describe without visuals. I did my best to explain it with words, but if you think you might attempt a Danish braid on one of these (many!) snow days, here’s a little something to help you along.
Danish Braid Technique (to supplement the recipe in WINTERSWEET, page 204-7)
First, mix together your dough ingredients into a shaggy ball.
Knead it for a minute until it comes together into a smooth dough. Roll out the dough on a floured surface into a 16-inch (41-cm) square. Spread the softened butter over the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1-inch (2.5-cm) margin around the edges. Or, if you’re like me and you forget to set your butter out to soften, you can slice the cold butter and arrange the pieces as pictured.
Fold the top half of the dough over the buttered bottom half, and pinch the edges closed.
Now imagine that the dough is a piece of paper. Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter.
Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter again, this time bottom to top. Then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to relax the gluten.
Roll out the dough to about 12 x 16 inches (30 x 41 cm). Then cut the dough in half so you have two 12 x 8 pieces of dough. Gently transfer each to a separate baking sheet. Spread your cream cheese filling down the middle third of the dough as pictured, and top with your favorite jam.
Using a sharp paring knife, cut a slightly diagonal line from each of the top corners toward the filling, stopping just short of the filling. Continue cutting parallel lines beneath those lines about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, until you reach the bottom. Trim off the upper and lower triangles from each side (save them to make little crescent rolls!).
Starting from the top, fold one strip over the filling and gently tuck it underneath. Now take a strip from the other side and fold that one over the filling, criss-crossing the strip from the other side, and tuck the end underneath.
Repeat, alternating sides. Do the same for the second sheet of dough (or try making the other Danish shapes shown here).
Let the braids rise until nearly doubled in bulk. Then brush the pastry (not the filling) with beaten egg and bake 20 to 24 minutes at 375°F (190°C). Remove the Danish from the oven and brush with sugar syrup before letting it cool completely. Once cool, drizzle with icing if desired and serve.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that this isn’t the same braid as the one pictured at the beginning of this post. I’m notorious for eating the thing before I have a chance to take the money shot. But luckily I found another photo from a previous year.
If you attempt it, let me know how it turns out!