Firstly, I want to sincerely apologise for missing 3 Daring Bakers challenges in a row. But if anyone has noticed, my blog laid dormant for the months of March and April, which explains my absence from 2 of the challenges. As for the month of May, the call to make the Spring-inspired Opera gateaux, well, I was on the road, so that in itself presented a few of its own difficulties (map reading has never been my forte).
I have to admit I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of having to make and work with a laminated dough because I envisioned the buttery mess I had to contend with and clean afterwards (and I am most certain, for many Daring Bakers hailing from North America who experienced the heatwave earlier this month and those living in the Tropics, this would have been the case). Let's all face it folks, butter is great in food and not so great on the kitchen counter. Nonetheless, I completed the challenge with an apple-custard Danish braid and 2 pairs of generously-sized bear paws bursting with walnuts and chewy dried figs.
Before I get into technical details, I have included some terminology below:
detrempe : ball of dough
beurrage : butter block
turn : each “fold & roll” of the dough produces a single turn. It is a 3-step process where the dough is folded exactly like a business letter in 3 columns. Each single turn creates 3 layers with this method.
laminated dough : is layering dough (detrempe) with butter (beurrage) by performing turns.
The key to achieving a golden, flaky, soft and deliciously crisp Danish pastry, is in the incorporation of butter into the dough, a process known as lamination. Commercially, pastry margarine is favoured over butter in the production of Danish pastries because it is more malleable and has a higher melting temperature thus making it easier to distribute evenly between layers of dough. However, I find the palate cling in vegetable-based fats very unpleasant and prefer to use butter as prescribed in the recipe for our challenge.
To achieve an even distribution of fat between layers of dough, firstly, ensure the dough has the same temperature and "consistency" as the butter. This is to say, they should both offer a similar resistance when you press down with a finger. I prefer working with a slightly stiffer dough which is more difficult to knead but I find it aids the lamination process greatly. As the dough rests in the fridge, begin to plasticise the butter. This sounds more complex than it actually is and only involves beating a pat of cold (but not stone hard) butter with a rolling pin until the desired thickness is achieved. This is best done on a piece of baking paper or plastic wrap so the butter can be lifted off the work surface easily. It is very important to allow the dough to rest and chill sufficiently before rolling and in between turns in order to maintain a fairly constant temperature and consistency.
With adequate lamination, steam is released by the butter between the layers of dough as the pastry cooks yielding a light and puffy product. If the butter layers between the dough are too thick and few, a greasey and flat pastry will result as butter melts and seeps out of the dough as it bakes. Conversely, if the layers of butter are too thin and many, a dense and bread-like finished product will be obtained. Technically, 27 even layers of butter between the dough which equates to 3 turns, will yield the qualities of a good Danish. But as if modern-day life isn't complicated enough, the laminated dough should not be rolled too thinly (3.5-4.5 mm is ideal) when shaping the braid as this will displace the butter layers causing them to fuse together thus resulting in a brioche braid instead of a Danish one.
Much attention has been placed into the even lamination of butter in the dough up to the stages of proofing and baking, it is therefore critical to ensure the right temperatures are kept at each of these stages to allow the butter to work its magic. I proof my pastries at a low temperature of approximately 22 degrees C until they double in size. This usually takes longer (about 2 hours) than other yeasted doughs I have made in the past but I promise you it is well worth the wait as the layers of butter remain intact albeit soft. I then bake them in a 200 degrees C oven for 7 minutes before turning the temperature down to 180 degrees C for the remaining baking time.
I have not included the recipe for the Danish dough in this post as it can be found on numerous DB's posts but here is how I prepared the apple compote and vanilla custard used in my Danish braid.
apple compote (enough for 1 braid plus a lil extra to enjoy with vanilla yogurt later)
peel 3 medium sized granny smith apples and cut into 2x2cm cubes. heat a saute pan until it is nearly smoking hot drop in a tablespoon of cold butter into the pan followed by the diced apples resist the temptation to stir the apples around as you want them to have a bit of colour and caramelisation add a tablespoon of sugar to the apples and give the pan a toss finish with a splash of rum or calvados and a small handful of raisins.
vanilla custard (enough for 1 braid plus 2 small danish pastries)
chill a medium sized bowl in the freezer beat together 2 yolks, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, 50g sugar and 20g cornflour in a small bowl. heat 250ml of whole milk in a small saucepan 'til just quivering add half the milk to the egg mixture and whisk combine egg mixture with the rest of the milk in the saucepan stir until mixture thickens allow to cook a little longer stirring the whole time remove custard and place in pre-chilled bowl place plastic film directly over the custard to prevent a skin from forming allow to cool completely before using.
Thanking Kelly, Ben and other fellow Daring Bakers again for another great challenge, and the endless support, advice and encouragement on the forums.