Danish has long been a favorite breakfast treat of mine, though I rarely indulge in it.  In fact, when presented with an assortment of doughnuts and Danish, I’m bound to choose the danish nearly every time as long as it has a yummy filling.  But I’m also of the school of thought that if you’re going to eat something with that many calories it had better taste amazing, which is why I often find myself disappointed by the Danish served at some coffee houses, etc.  They may look appealing but if the filling is the only good thing about it, why bother?

Thankfully Baking Illustrated brings us this recipe and it is spot on – flaky, buttery pastry, rich filling, and a glaze that helps keep the whole thing moist when all is said and done.  The spiced apples were my own addition and so perfect for fall.  After the dough is made and all the turns are complete, it can be stored in the refrigerator overnight (or maybe longer, but that’s as long as I tried.)  So, this could make for a really impressive breakfast treat if you have company visiting.  Once the dough is made, and fillings can be made in advance too, all that remains is to assemble and bake.  I am looking forward to trying this as individual Danish and with all sorts of fillings.  This was my first time working with a butter square and it was much easier than I would have expected.  I’m glad to have tried this because I’m sure croissants aren’t far off now :)

Spiced Apple Cream Cheese Danish Braid
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For the Danish dough:
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1½ tsp. instant yeast*
¼ cup sugar
¾ tsp. salt
1/3 cup whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the butter square:
12 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

For the cream cheese filling:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ tsp. finely grated lemon zest
2 tbsp. sugar

For the apple filling:
1 tbsp. butter
2 medium apples, peeled and sliced thin (I used Granny Smith)
2 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

For the glaze:
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 tsp. milk, plus more as needed

For the drizzle:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp. milk, plus more as needed

*Instant yeast = rapid rise yeast = bread machine yeast

To make the dough, combine 1¼ 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 ¼ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed.)  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

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 against the work surface…

until they have combined 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.

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 the dough and remove the plastic wrap.

Fold the corners of 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, re-flouring 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 the other direction to make a square.  (This completes two turns.)

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

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.  (At this point the dough can be refrigerated overnight).

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.

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.

When you are ready to shape and bake the danish, preheat the oven to 400˚ F.

On a large, very well floured sheet of parchment paper roll the chilled dough into a 14-inch square.  (I’m very serious about flouring the work surface.  Trust me on this – you can brush off excess flour but if you don’t use enough, you’ll experience a lot of difficulty.  I speak from experience.)

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 dough into ¾-inch strips so that 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.  (This is where you will be cursing everything if you didn’t use enough flour.  See the sticky dough?  It got even worse.  Good news though – you won’t even notice this after baking, so don’t throw in the towel just because of sticky dough.)

Transfer the braid, still on the parchment, to a baking sheet.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and rise at room temperature until slightly puffy (it will not double), about 30 minutes.

Bake until the braid is golden brown, 22-26 minutes, rotating halfway through baking.

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.

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.

Yummy flaky goodness.

Source: Baking Illustrated