[And I would eat your hair - Chocolate chip and vanilla pastry cream danish braid]

When I found out about what Kelly and Ben wanted us to make for June’s daring bakers challenge, I was thrilled.

Danish braid.

Read, layers of sweet buttery dough enclosing whatever filling you can dream about. And shaped into a lovely-looking braid.
Oh so marvellous!

The experiment
As said above, the Danish braid is made from:
- a pâte briochée feuilletée [egg-based yeasty laminated dough]
- a simple vanilla crème pâtissière [custard]
- a sprinkle of insanely good dark chocolate chips

Before I begin, let me assure you that unlike most yeasty doughs, Danish pastry is very quick to make.
The recipe calls for a five-hour rest once the final turn is made, but trust me, I started making the dough at two in the afternoon, and by six o’clock, the braid was out of the oven.
Sure I did bypass – or at least, reduce – a couple of steps, but the end result was beyond my expectations. Taking risks sometimes pays off.

Anyway, let’s move onto what I first intented to start with. The dough. Perfect as it is.

Made from flour, yeast, sugar and salt, to which milk, eggs and vanilla extract are added, and into which a beurre manié (simply butter mixed with a little flour) is encased; it is one of the most forgiving doughs I’ve ever worked with.

The détrempe is chilled for 30 minutes before the beurre manié is spread onto its lower two thirds. The dough is then folded into what could be called a business-letter fashion.
This is the first tour [turn].

After another chill in the fridge, the dough is rolled and folded; into three, according to the recipe, and into four for me. Making a double turn makes for a quicker process, without a loss in quality.
I love double turns.

The dough is chilled again and then folded in order to complete a single turn.
Then, the recipe calls for a long rest in the fridge. And well, I’ve been a bad baker here. Daring, but still bad.
I managed to wait for a dozen of minutes before rolling out the dough into a 1/2cm thick rectangle. I guess the fact that I kneaded the détrempe for almost ten minutes helped the gliadin and glutenin to come together into the darling gluten.
I love double turns and relaxed gluten.

Quite evidently, I put all those resting time to use by getting the filling – a vanilla speckled pastry cream – ready.
And this is all simple. Egg yolks, cornflour, vanilla seeds, sugar and milk. The milk was brought to the boil, along with the vanilla seeds and sugar.
I mixed the egg yolks and cornflour into a smooth paste; tempered this mixture with the warm milk, then put everything back in the pan and cooked the cream over low heat until thick.

As you can see, left the cardamom and orange juice out. Ornage juice isn’t a great thing to use in baked good. Sure it does bring flavour, but also acidity. Hence, it’s way better to use orange zest instead of juice.

Once I the dough and filling were both put together, it’s time for some shaping action.
The dough is cut to a mere 20 x 30cm rectangle. And cut into what reminds me of an Indian totem shape.

I then piped the crème pâtissière onto the centre of the dough, sprinkled with chocolate chips – yes, you do read right: amazingly delicious Barry Callebaut chocolate chips –, and folded the lateral dough stripes over so the whole thing forms a pretty braid.

Since my braid was around 30 cm long and 8cm wide, it fitted perfectly the Pyrex loaf pan I took from my parents house the last time I visited.
I left the braid in there for an hour, until it doubled in size, then baked it – still in the pan (to prevent it from ‘opening’) in a hot oven for 30 minutes.

Sooooo…
This challenge is one of my favourites so far. The braid was so very yummy. I love how the pastry turned out: flaky, yet très-brioche. And I think the crème pâtissière brought a pleasing softness.
I’ll definitely make this again.

Tresse danoise à la crème pâtissière et aux pépites de chocolat

makes two small braids or a large one

for the détrempe
225g flour
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
40g caster sugar
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
80g milk
1 egg
1 tsp natural vanilla extract

for the beurre de tourrage
125g butter, at room temperature
1 heaped tbsp flour

Combine the flour,yeast, sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix in the milk, egg and vanilla extract. When the ingredients have been incorporated, start kneading the dough 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. Form into a rough rectangle, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes, while you get on with the butter block.

Cream the butter and flour. Shape into a rectangle and wrap in cling film.

You now have a little spare time, just enough to make the crème pâtissière (recipe below).

After the détrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 20 x 30 cm and 1cm thick. Spread the butter evenly over the centre and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the détrempe 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. Wrap the dough in cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the dough on a floured work surface – the spine (picture a book spine) should be on your left. Roll the dough into another approximately 20 x 30 cm rectangle, and proceed with a tour double (what is a tour double?): visualise the middle axis of the rectangle, grab the lower end of the dough and fold it over so it meets the middle axis. Do the same with the upper end. I’ll call this an open book. Finally, close the ‘book’ and wrap it in cling film. The second and third turns have now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Do a final simple turn: place the ‘book’ in front of you, spine on the left and roll it into a rectangle slightly larger than a sheet of A4 paper. Brush the excess flour away and fold in three, just like you would do with a business letter.

Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 2 hours; however, I tried with a short 20 minute rest and it worked perfectly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish dough into a 20 x 30 cm rectangle, approximately 1/2 cm thick. Transfer onto baking paper. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 10cm long cuts with a knife, each about 2cm apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
Pipe the filling down the centre of the rectangle, and sprinkle with chocolate chips. 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. Tuck in the ends.

You can either place the braid into a loaf pan, or leave it rest onto a baking sheet.
Both ways, allow the braid to double in size at room temperature, for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°C and bake the braid fopr 10 minutes; turn around, lower the oven temperature to 180°C, and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until golden.

for the filling
2 egg yolks
20g cornflour
250g milk
one vanilla pod
50g caster sugar

2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

Combine the egg yolks and cornflour in a small ball. Heat the milk, sugar and vanilla pod into over medium heat.
Pour half a cup of hot milk into the egg yolks, and quickly mix to a smooth paste. Strain over the pan containg the remaining milk, then cook until thick.

Pour into a container, cover tighly with cling film and chill until needed.