Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Laminated Doughs - Daring Bakers, June

At first glance, this month's Daring Baker challenge made me cringe, and then I got excited. June's recipe is Danish Braid, a filled coffee cake made from laminated dough. The pastry itself is flavored with vanilla bean, cardamom, and orange zest, lending itself to many kinds of fillings.

I haven't laminated dough since pastry school, when I had an entire class devoted to it. Danish, coffee cakes, croissants, and sweet rolls are made from laminated dough. There are two parts to the pastry; the detrempe and the beurrage. The detrempe is flour, yeast, sugar, and flavoring, which are mixed with a dough hook to incorporate and then kneaded by hand.

The beurrage is a butter smear that is incorporated into the detrempe through a series of four "turns", or rolls and folds. Each turn involves rolling the dough into a thin rectangle, then folding it into thirds and chilling before beginning the next round. Chilling allows time for the gluten in the detrempe to relax, and for the butter to solidify a bit. Try doing the turns in quick succession, without chilling, and the butter will to ooze out the sides of the rubber band dough. It's much easier to just let it sit in the fridge for a while between turns. The process of turning and resting the dough is called "lamination." Each turn creates more layers of pastry and butter, which equals flakiness. When the turns are done correctly, the layers of butter create steam in the hot oven, which make the pastry light and flaky. If your morning croissant is more cake like, you can be sure that the dough wasn't laminated correctly.

Danish, and other laminated doughs, are really a two day process. The mixing, turning, and resting happened yesterday, and then the dough rested in the refrigerator overnight. Today the dough was divided in half, and rolled into a large thin rectangle, cutting slats on both sides.

I filled my Danish Braid with fresh blueberry compote. The pastry is closed through braiding and left it to proof. It took several hours to double in size. After brushing with egg wash and sprinkling with slivered almonds, the braid is finally baked. It's a long process, and left me yearning for the laminating machine at work, which does all of the rolling for you.

So, how did it turn out? (No pun intended. Okay, it was intended.)

The pastry at the bottom of the braid melted away, and there's nearly nothing holding the blueberry filling in. Although I was careful when rolling, it was probably too thin. The pastry is not as flaky as I had hoped, so I must have done one of my turns incorrectly. The cardamom and vanilla bean give it nice flavor, but it just doesn't warrant 2 days of prep. The filling though, would be excellent for a pie. Contrary to popular belief, I don't use canned fillings.

Danish Braid
from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking

Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes enough for 2 large braids

1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Blueberry Filling a la Beth
16 oz fresh blueberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
zest of one orange
1/4 cup fresh orange juice

Mix together the sugar and starch in a sauce pan. Add all other ingredients. Cook until boiling and thickened. Cool completely before filling the Danish Braid.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Blueberry Pancakes


I must have been seduced by the growing selection of produce available at the vegetable market last week. I came away with strawberries, cherries, nectarines, blueberries, sweet corn, scallions, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, and a bunch of other stuff that would take forever to list. What small nation did I think I was feeding? I blame the vibrant colors of summer crops. It's difficult to resist those beautiful shades, every color of the rainbow, from strawberries to blackberries. Five days later, and I am frantically searching for ways to use all of the food before it spoils.

The strawberries have become ice cream, and the sweet corn went into salads. Having the day off, and no where to be until much later, I embarked on a breakfast project. Blueberry cheese pancakes served two purposes - use up the berries and the buttermilk that's about to become Gouda, and satisfy my love for the day's first meal. I love a leisurely breakfast.

For perfectly browned pancakes, with a slightly crisp exterior and a giving middle, nothing cooks better than cast iron. When it's hot, rub with butter to prevent the cakes from sticking. The flavor it imparts is just an added bonus. I served with Trader Joe's Grade A Maple Syrup, which has a robust flavor. I recommend it.

Blueberry Cheese Pancakes
1 3/4 cups All Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons Sugar
1 tablespoon Baking Powder
pinch salt
3/4 cup Buttermilk
1/4 cup Cottage Cheese
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 pint fresh blueberries

Preheat griddle above a medium flame. When the pan is hot, grease with butter.

Mix all ingredients, except blueberries, until smooth. Drop by 1/4 cup onto hot griddle. Scatter blueberries on top of cakes. Cook about 2 minutes on each side, or until browned. Serve with extra berries and warmed maple syrup.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Grilling Out

After much procrastinating, I finally bought a propane tank for the grill. Let the summer begin!

What's the best part of living in the Midwest? Contrary to popular belief, it's not the mild, predictable weather. For this girl, the best thing about living in Illinois is the close proximity to sweet corn. In the summer months, when it's available everywhere, five ears for a dollar, there is nothing better. I love corn, and have fond memories of eating it straight off the cob, glistening with butter and salt, during the summers of my childhood. Nowadays I'll eat it any way I can get it when it's at it's peak. Earlier this week I bought my first ears of the season. I shucked, oiled, and grilled them up before slicing the kernels off to toss into this salad.

"Kick ass" and "salad" are two words that I never thought I would use together, but this one fits the bill. The dressing doubles as a marinade for the shrimp, so long as you discard the portion the raw shrimp swims in. It's very tasty, refreshing, and would have been even better if I had accompanied it with a margarita.

Lime, Cilantro, and Garlic Dressing

Juice of 5 limes
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
6 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Use as a salad dressing, or a marinade for shrimp, fish, or chicken.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Life is Just a Bowl of Egg Yolks

I don't remember what I was making when I took this picture a few weeks ago. I simply liked the way the bright egg yolks looked against the pattern of a bowl my grandmother gave to me when I went away to college. It looked like edible sunshine.

It's time to face the facts. I am just no good at photographing food. Pictures of otherwise good looking, good tasting food come out looking like S.O.S. Thank heavens for professionals.