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spiced apple cream cheese danish braid

January 5, 2011

I’m not a huge breakfast-pastry person. I’d much sooner eat a chocolate donut than a bearclaw or anything like that (surprise!).

But when Annie posted this recipe on her blog, Annie’s Eats, I knew I’d have to try it. I mean, not only did it have an excessive number of steps, and not only was it originally from a cookbook published by America’s Test Kitchen, but it also included a method I’d never tried before: the butter square. (Seriously, with a name like that, how can you go wrong? I’m considering it for my first pet.)

Mmmm, look at all that butta.
I decided to make one to bring down to New York when I visited Allia right after finals—because what better time to embark on a complicated recipe than when I have a property exam to study for??

Actually, the recipe itself didn’t take much time; like most bread recipes, the bulk of the prep time was resting and rising and whatnot. So I was able to do it all up in between flipping through my notes and casebook and finishing up my outline without too much stress.

Plus, bonus point: pounding on the dough with a rolling pin is a pretty effective stress-reliever when I’m getting tired of the Rule Against Perpetuities. Who knew?

More important to most normal people, though, is the end result. And it was tasty! (Big sigh of relief, I know. Butter and sugar are tasty together? SHOCK AND AWE!) Despite the fact that I’m incapable of creating good bubbles in normal bread, this recipe was really successful at creating a pastry flaky enough that it could probably maybe be sold in a bakeshop. And the apple filling paired really nicely with the cream cheese, despite the fact that I avoided cream cheese-filled pastries like the plague when I was little for no apparent reason. I guess I didn’t really know what was good for me.

A couple of notes: Annie really strongly emphasizes flouring your rolling surface very heavily before braiding it, and I definitely agree. I probably sprinkled about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour on the parchment paper, which was certainly enough, but I could tell from the few spots I didn’t flour that if you don’t put that much on your board, it could be a real pain in the butt. Also, I wound up with way, way too much glaze, and I really tried to cake it on there at the end, so you can probably cut that part of the recipe in half unless you want to start glazing random items in your kitchen, too. (Toast? Bananas? Cat food?? The possibilities are endless.) Finally, I skipped the drizzle part because by that point, we were already running late for our yay-finals-are-over dinner reservations, and I didn’t really miss it. But obviously, more sugar categorically is not a bad thing, so feel free to go either way with that one.

Spiced Apple Cream Cheese Danish Braid
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest [I left this out and it seemed fine]
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 medium apples, peeled and sliced thin
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 [or 3/4] cups confectioners’ sugar
1 [or 1/2] teaspoon freshly squeezed [or bottled] lemon juice
5 [or 2 1/2] teaspoons milk, plus more as needed
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk, plus more as needed

1. To make the dough, combine 1 1/4 cups of the flour in a bowl with the yeast, sugar, and salt. Place the milk and egg in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and knead until a smooth ball of dough forms, about 7-8 minutes. The dough should be sticky, but if more dough sticks to the bowl than the dough hook, add the remaining 1/4 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. To make the butter square, toss together the butter pieces and flour on a clean work surface. Smear the butter back and forth using a bench scraper [I used the back of a butter knife, but pleeease only do that if your knife’s really dull!] against the work surface until they have combined it into a smooth, homogenous mixture. Wrap the butter mixture in plastic wrap and use the edges of the plastic to form it into a 5-inch square. Refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
3. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Lay the chilled dough on the work surface and roll into a 9-inch square. Place the butter square diagonally on top of the dough and remove the plastic wrap. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter so that they meet in the middle of the butter square. Pinch the ends of the dough together to seal. Using a rolling pin, tap the dough from the center outward until the butter begins to soften and become malleable. Gently roll the dough into an 11-inch square, reflouring the work surface as necessary to prevent sticking. Fold the outside edges of the dough in toward the center in thirds, one overlapping the other, like a business letter. Repeat this process, folding in the other direction, to make a square. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
4. Roll the dough into an 11-inch square once more and repeat the two turns as before—business letter, then square. Wrap in plastic wrap again and chill once more for at least 4 hours or overnight.
5. To make the cream cheese filling, combine the cream cheese, lemon zest, and sugar in a small bowl. Mix well until smooth and blended. Refrigerate until ready to use. [I just waited until I was about to make the braid to mix this stuff together—I was worried that if I did it too early and refrigerated the mixture too soon, it would get too cold/stiff to spread on the squishy dough.]
6. To make the apple filling, melt the butter in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Combine the apple slices, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and toss well to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the apples are tender, about 15-18 minutes. Let cool before using.
7. When you are ready to shape and bake the danish, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
8. On a large, very [seriously] well-floured sheet of parchment paper, roll the chilled dough into a 15-inch square. Spread the cream cheese filling evenly down the middle third of the dough. Lay the apples over the top of the cream cheese mixture. Using a pizza cutter or a paring knife, cut the outer thirds of the dough into 3/4-inch strips so the cuts are diagonal to the filling. Alternating sides, fold the strips of dough over the filling, crisscrossing the strips over the center, until the entire danish is braided.
9. Transfer the braid, still on the parchment, to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until slightly puffy, about 30 minutes.
10. Bake until the braid is golden brown [with a pan on the shelf below your braid to catch drippage!], 22-26 minutes, rotating halfway through baking.
11. To make the glaze, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time as needed to thin the glaze. Transfer to a cooking rack and brush with the glaze while still hot. Cool to room temperature.
12. To make the drizzle, combine the confectioners’ sugar and milk in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time as needed to make it a drizzle-able consistency. Drizzle over the finished braid. Slice crosswise and serve.

Source: Annie’s Eats

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