Danish Braid - Daring Bakers June Challenge

By far this has been my favorite Daring Bakers challenge. This month we tackled yeasted laminated dough and made the Danish Braid from Sherry Yard's book The Secrets of Baking. Having never made yeasted laminated dough... nor anything even remotely resembling a Danish Braid... I was intimidated to say the least. But taking it step-by-step I was able to convincingly complete this totally tasty treat :)

This month our hosts were Kelly of Sass & Veracity and Ben of What's Cookin ... and I have to thank them for a phenomenal choice. When I joined the Daring Bakers I really wanted to expand my baking abilities. Break out of my comfort zone of baking cakes, cupcakes and cookies... and branch out into areas that on my own I'd never attempt. This month's challenge really did just that and satisfied me on so many levels. I enjoyed this challenge so much that I baked it not just once... but twice! As I'm typing this post I have a second set of pastries baking in the oven and the aroma is downright intoxicating! The dough can be used to make danishes as well as croissants so I made apple-filled danishes... raspberry cream cheese danishes... marzipan danishes.. cheese danishes... braids... folds... stars... rounds... and of course croissants too :) If you're trying to sell your house, bake this dough!!! LOL!!!

I started off by making the filling... apple... almond paste (marzipan)... cream cheese... why decide on only one when you can make all three :)

First... the apple filling. Peel, core and dice a few apples... add sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean, lemon juice and butter... then sauté to caramelize them. M'mmm m'mmm does this make an awesome apple filling :)

Next the almond paste... (yup, it's aka marzipan). Combine ground almonds and confectioner's sugar in a food processor, blender or Magic Bullet... then add an egg white. Couldn't be simpler :)

The cream cheese filling is out of this world.... cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and an egg. It's also from Sherry Yard's Secrets of Baking book.

Making the dough itself isn't that hard... yeast, milk, sugar, orange zest, ground cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla bean, eggs, orange juice, all purpose flour and salt. The best part is you get to use the dough hook on your mixer! I love getting to use the dough hook - makes me feel all "real baker" like ;-) And I love this photo showing the dough hook in action!!! (of course, you can always make the dough by hand... but that's more work than I'm up to usually! LOL). In French, this dough is called the detrempe... but I don't speak french so I just call it the dough :)

Then comes the butter block... who knew that butter and flour whipped up to be nice and light could make such an incredible contribution to the delicious pastry we're making! In French the butter block is called the beurrage but again, since I struggle to get words correct in English, I just call it a butter block :)

Okay now that we've got the dough made, it's time to roll it out into a biiiiiiiig rectangle... 18 x 13! That's big, especially considering most rolling pins are only 10" wide. After making this challenge recipe the first time I figured it was time to get a french pin... or at least a longer rolling pin since I really struggled with the required dimensions using a standard sized pin. Then I caught an episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats on Food Network and he said to just head over to the hardware store and get a length of PVC pipe for a lot less money. Dang that Alton is one smart cookie! DJ has a veritable hardware store in our garage and low-&-behold he had extra PVC pipe laying out! He cut it to 24", sanded the ends, made it all purdy for me and voila! I now have my very own custom sized pin. WOOHOO :) Thanks for saving me $50, Alton!! But anyway... roll out the dough to the biiiiiiiiiiig rectangle

Visually divide your rectangle in thirds... and on the center and right thirds spread out the beurrage... yeah... the butter block ;-)

You're read to make the first turn of the dough... we're gonna fold this up like a tri-fold letter. Take the left third... the one with no butter-block... the nekkid one ;-) ... and fold it over the center third...

... then take the right third and fold it over the the left part that's already been folded over the center part. Whew, that's a mouthful... a picture wouldn't hurt and luckily I happen to have one right here (hehehe I take pics of alllll the steps... I hope they're helpful to you cuz I know they're helpful as heck when I'm trying to make a new... and complex... recipe)

... and there you have it... you've completed the first turn!! Woohoo!!! Nice job! Now stick this in the fridge for 30 minutes... then roll it out into that familiar 13 x 18 rectangle again... visually divide it in thirds... and fold it up. Only this time there's no butter block to add since all the butter is already in there :) That will complete the second turn of the dough and you refrigerate it for another 30 minutes. Repeat this two more times to complete the third and fourth turns. You make a total of four turns of the dough. At the completion of making the fourth turn, refrigerate the dough for at least 5 hours... or overnight.

Now the dough has had a nice long resting period... and I needed that resting period too because all those times of rolling it out with my lil pin on wretchedly-hot 108F day was w-o-r-k... WORK. Good thing I rested up because next we have to take that final turn and roll it out into an even *bigger* rectangle... 15 x 20 this time. Holy mother-of-pearl I thought the rolling would never end... but blessedly this was the laaaaaaaaast one :) Uhm... at least for this danish braid... I made a few ;-) Hey, who can stop at just one when you have such fabulous fillings, right? LOL

After rolling the dough to the 15 x 20 rectangle, visually divide it in thirds. The center-third is where you'll put the filling.. and the left- and right-thirds are where you'll make the angular cuts that will "braid" across the top to give this pastry the name "danish braid"... yeah... see... now you're getting it :)

ooooooh yes... all that aaaaah-MAY-zing filling... this one is apple but I also made almond, cheese and raspberry cream-cheese as well :)

Start braiding... fold down the top and bottom ends to keep the filling inside... then take the strips on the left and right side and start folding them across, alternating left then right,

...keep braiding until it's all corsetted up :)

After all this, the dough is exhausted... and guess what? It wants to rest... again. But this time it won't be in the fridge, instead we'll brush egg on it first (gives the final product a glossy appearance) and proof it in a 90F controlled environment for about 2 hours until it doubles in size. While you're waiting you can start cleaning up the kitchen... or have a glass or two of wine. Hmmmm.... let's see... clean the kitchen or have some wine? Have some wine or clean the kitchen?? Yeah, I choose the wine :)

Once the wine-drinking... err... proofing is done (heh heh heh) pop it in the oven and bake to golden brown deliciousness... it's very simple, no glaze, no decorations, just an amazing caramelized apple filling... OMG... positively delicious

Here is the almond one... it's filled with homemade almond paste and after it was baked, I drizzled with a glaze of confectioner's sugar and milk... then sprinkled slivered almonds on top

This one is raspberry puree layered on top of sweetened cream cheese... and with a streusel topping. To make the streusel I combined 1/4c sugar, 1/4c flour and 1T melted butter...

... and the cheese danish... drizzled with a glaze of confectioner's sugar and milk...

The dough is incredibly versatile. Along with the braids, I made other shapes/sizes of filled danishes too... stars... rounds... folds... and I even made a few croissants. It's feels great to be able to make these fantastic pastries. Once again I thank Kelly of Sass & Veracity and Ben of What's Cookin for such a challenging... and rewarding... recipe choice this month. If you want the full recipe, it's on Kelly's site... but do yourself a favor and go buy Sherry Yard's book The Secrets of Baking. On the right side of my blog page I have a list of cook/baking books on my shelf... Sherry's book is listed and there's a link that provides more information on it. If you're interested in expanding your baking horizons, I really recommend Sherry's book!!!

And now that you've seen the fruits of my labors, please check out some of the other Daring Bakers and what they did with this same challenge.

Have a delicious day!

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Looking for low-cal?

Recently I've been toying with the idea of starting a new group-blog. I love how The Daring Bakers has a monthly challenge... and I like how Tuesdays with Dorie has a weekly challenge... but the idea of a group-blog where we cook or bake Weight Watchers recipes has taken shape. If you're interested in finding out more, check out the Weight Watcher Wednesday blog for more details This is going to be a LOT of fun and I hope some of you will join up - no blog necessary ;-)

Have a delicious day!!
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Vanilla Bean Cupcakes w/Vanilla Bean Frosting

I've made a lot of cupcakes in the past 6 months. Dark chocolate cupcakes... milk chocolate cupcakes... marble cupcakes... red velvet cupcakes... lemon cupcakes... tropical cupcakes... "shirley temple" cupcakes... and classic, traditional vanilla cupcakes too.

To me, being able to bake a really good vanilla cupcake matters. When I get a new baking book one of the very first things I make from it is a simple vanilla cake recipe. Luckily most of my baking books have at least one ;-) A few weeks ago I picked up the book Hello Cupcake! and of course had to try out their vanilla cupcake recipe :)

While the book is full of creative, imaginative and fun decorating ideas, they also have recipes. And not just "from scratch" recipes but also recipes for jazzing up box cake mix as well... in case you want to go that route. What I tried was their "from scratch" recipe and I was underwhelmed with the results as I found them to be dry. Did I overbake them? Perhaps. But in my own defense, I made full-size, not mini, cupcakes and I took them out after only 15 minutes of baking. My rule is to never open the oven in the first 15 minutes. Does my rule need to be adjusted? I thought it was possible. Luckily I'd only made one tray as a test - so I made the other tray (this time with a few mini chocolate chips in the batter and I'll blog those at some point I'm sure! LOL) and baked only 13 minutes but still too dry for me.

I should mention that I included vanilla bean in the batter. I don't think that caused these cupcakes to be dry - but anything's possible.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
adapted from "Hello, Cupcake"
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean pod
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350F
Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
Combine the milk, oil and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Scrape the insides of one vanilla bean pod into the same bowl.
In another medium bowl, using a stand or electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture... combine just until blended
Add 1/2 of the milk mixture... combine just until blended
Add 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture... combine just until blended
Add the remaining milk mixture... combine just until blended
Add the remaining flour mixture and combine just until blended. Ensure the entire mixture is blended.
Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full... as written the recipe states to bake 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Be very careful of the bake time - check them at the 10 minute mark to be safe - do not overbake these or they will be dry.
Remove from oven and cool on wire rack for 10 minutes... then remove from pan and place on wire rack until cooled completely

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
This is very simple. Use my favorite buttercream icing recipe posted here and to it add the scraped inside of two vanilla bean pods. If you choose to scale the buttercream recipe in half, use one vanilla bean pod instead of two.

If you've made these cupcakes before using the Hello Cupcake! recipe, please let me know if yours were dry as well. I certainly don't want to think poorly of it if the dry result was because of me. If you give this recipe a try, I'd love to know your results too. I had high expectations that these cupcakes just didn't live up to. Oh well, at least the icing was fantastic ;-)

Have a delicious day!
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Mixed Berry Cobbler

Before making this recipe, I thought a cobbler was just an upside down pie. But according to Merriam-Webster a cobbler is a deep-dish fruit dessert with a thick top crust. The selected recipe this week for our Tuesdays With Dorie group was the Mixed Berry Cobbler... and I love any opportunity to bake something new from Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home To Yours. This was no exception... and our host, Beth from Our Sweet Life made a nice summertime selection.

My family is not a fan of "mixed berry" anything. But I made a slight alteration to the recipe and instead made an apple-cranberry cobbler. DJ's daughter made a special request for peach cobbler so I made an individual size just for her :)

But... I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning...

As I was in the market buying apples, I decided to try a variety called Pink Lady. The name sounded interesting so I thought "why not".

And then check out these peaches... they're Disney peaches! I hadn't actually bought them "on purpose" but when I got home and saw the tags, the fam thought that was pretty neat. DJ's daughter decided to save the peach pit and plant it hoping eventually it would grow a peach tree. Hey, anyone who knows about this sorta thing, please let me know since I know about baking fruit, not growing it ;-)

I peeled and cored the apples, sliced them up, added the requisite spices and mixed in whole bunch of dried cranberries then let the whole thing sit for a while to start making its' own juicy goodness.

Then I started in on making the topping. And I'll letcha know that after reading the recipe, I decide it needed a little "something" to give it some ooompfh! No offense to the baking goddess Dorie Greenspan but I thought the recipe, as written, seemed a little (oh gosh I hate to say this)... dull. I added more sugar and a heaping amount of cinnamon to make the topping just as appealing as the wonderful apple-cranberry mixture it would be covering. Before baking I also topped with a bit of coarse white sparkling sugar to give it some added texture.

During the hour-long baking period, my house smelled ahhh-MAY-zing. Cinnamon... apples... cranberries... peaches... nutmeg... dough... oh my!!! And here's what the baking dish with the finished Apple-Cranberry Cobbler looked like when I took it out of the oven... (and yes, I did bake it in my 3.5qt enamel-on-cast-iron pot {grin} - thanks for noticing!)... along with the individual ramekin of peach cobbler...

At first, I was very upset that my topping was so thick. When I rolled out the dough/crust for the top, I tried to be very aware not to roll it too thin. But I still saw fruit pieces trying to poke thru the top so I thought it was severely too thin and I started piecing together more dough to cover it. As a result, the top was VERY thick and I thought I'd really done it wrong. But when I look at the picture in Dorie's book... and when I read the Merriam-Webster definition that a cobbler has a thick top crust, well, maybe mine wasn't all that far off the mark

Topped with some vanilla ice cream both the peach cobbler and the apple-cranberry cobbler came out deeeeeeeeeeelicious!

Now that you've seen my results, please take a moment to check out the others who also bake Tuesdays With Dorie.

Have a delicious day!

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Yes, it's summertime in the northern hemisphere... and where I live the temperatures have been over 108F for the past week. Some may think it inappropriate to make cornbread this time of year - but it's not! If nothing else, bookmark this post because come the fall/winter holiday season someone's gonna ask "do you have a good recipe for homemade corn bread" and you can reply "why yes... yes I do"...

One of my favorite side dishes with Thanksgiving Dinner is cornbread dressing. In our family, I'm the one who has been trusted with our "secret family recipe" for it and I'm expected to bring it every year. Not a problem since I love, love, LOVE to not only EAT cornbread dressing, but I love the process of making it too!! In order to make a really good cornbread dressing... well... ya gotta start off with a really good cornbread itself.

Now, this isn't the high, fluffy, uber-sweet stuff. Don't get me wrong, I love that kind of cornbread - especially when I'm just eating it by itself or alongside a bowl of chili or with a meal of bbq ribs/chicken/tri-tip. But for cornbread dressing I prefer something that's more rustic... and holds together well without getting sogged-down when all the liquid ingredients and butter are added.

In the hot summer months, the last thing we're thinking about making is cornbread dressing. I understand that, trust me... I do! LOL. But it's a good time to test drive this recipe as a side dish for a BBQ or cookout. Then you can decide if it'll make a great base for YOUR secret family recipe for cornbread dressing. What? You don't have a secret family recipe? Never fear - I'll post a good one for you when we get closer to the Holiday season :) But for now... try the cornbread ;-)

HomeMade Rustic Cornbread

3/4 cups cornmeal
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil

In a bowl, combine cornmeal and milk - let stand for 20 minutes. --- THIS IS IMPORTANT... you really REALLY have to let this mixture stand for AT LEAST 20 minutes to soften the cornmeal. As it is, cornmeal is very grainy - if you don't let it soften up for AT LEAST 20 minutes your cornbread will be pretty much inedible. Let it sit for 30 minutes if ya got the time :)

Spray a cast iron skillet -OR- cast iron scone/cornbread pan with baking spray
Preheat oven to 400F degrees

In a separate bowl, whisk together by hand the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients with the cornmeal/milk mixture, eggs, oil and honey... and mix on a medium speed until smooth. Once smooth, continue mixing at a medium-high speed for another 5 minutes.

Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake 30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 8 servings

Have a delicious day!
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Who doesn't enjoy bagels? I guess there's gotta be someone out there... but no one I know, that's for sure! There's sweet bagels.. (cinnamon raisin, blueberry, chocolate chip)... there's savory bagels... (onion, garlic, rye)... there's bagels & cream cheese... there's bagel-bites... there's even bagel-dogs. While I know a lot about bagel-eatin, I didn't know much about bagel-makin until I enlisted help from the fab folks at the King Arthur Flour Company...

The King Arthur Flour Company has one of the best instructional websites around. At least in my opinion. I can't count how many times I have turned to them to learn new techniques. And their blog is one that I read regularly. Not just recipes... heck, anyone can post a recipe and leave it at that... but these folks give you a step-by-step tutorial in words and pictures. Now THAT'S what I'm talkin about! When I'm trying something completely new I like the step-by-step pics so I have a clue if I'm on the right track.

Case in point... the first time I attempted to make the bagels I didn't know there was a difference between Active Dry Yeast and Instant Yeast. Okay, yeah, I know, the *name* is different but color me clueless because I thought yeast was yeast. HA! Now I know better. I made the starter at night and in the morning expected it to have thinned out and gotten bubbly. Well, it didn't. It was like a super-mini rising bread. But even after looking at the pics of how it was *supposed* to look (and I shoulda stopped right there knowing mine didn't resemble their pic AT ALL) I valiantly marched on-ward. Uhm... big mistake. 4 cups of flour + other ingredients and a one hour rising-period later, my dough did not rise. Nope, no way, no how, uhn uhnnn... it wasn't goin anywhere. But... not to be deterred in my enthusiasm... I left it alone for another three-and-a-half hours thinking it was maybe just a slower-riser. HAHAHAHA Yeah, right. Good one, huh? On more than one occasion I dejectedly walked it toward the bin but decided to give it "just a little more time". When I'd had enough and decided it WAS getting binned, DJ convinced me to just try baking it to see what would happen. He loves bread, btw ;-) To make him happy I kneaded in some garlic powder and italian seasoning... then pressed some sesame seeds into the top and tossed it in the oven on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Lo-and-behold if that thing didn't bake up into one delicious loaf of artisan-looking bread which I promptly named "Ooops Bread" hahahaha

As good as the Oops Bread turned out, I still wanted to, yanno, make **bagels** :) I went to the store and purchased Rapid Rise yeast (closest thing I could find to "instant" yeast)... then one morning before work got the "starter" going. Hey, I figure bagel-makin can't look at the clock and tell time and if it needs an overnight resting period, that's no different to starting it before I leave for work and then come home 10 hours later to finish it off. The starter still didn't look like it did in the King Arthur pictures... but it was closer to that - much much closer. After all of the requisite needing and proofing periods... then rolling into balls... then putting in the holes and shaping like bagels... then boiling in a mixture of water and brown sugar (cuz, yanno, I just don't *have* non-diastatic malt in the cupboard! LOL)... and then baking... I HAD BAGELS :) :) :)

Okay so they don't look like professional bakery-style bagels, but for a first attempt I'm pretty darn proud of em! LOL. The idea of making a dozen plain bagels didn't rock my world so I made 2 of each of the following variations... Cinnamon Raisin, Sesame, Garlic, Sesame Garlic, Onion Garlic and Cheese-&-Pepperoni. And ya know what? They're pretty darn tasty... each and every different kind. DJ loves sesame bagels (heck, sesame ANYTHING) and he said the sesame and sesame garlic bagels are as good as the bakery makes. HA! I don't think they're THAT good but it was super sweet of him to say it, huh? What a guy... gotta love him :)

Here is the step-by-step how to for making bagels. I learned a lot in this process and I can't wait to make bagels again. Hopefully it inspires you to try making bagels too. It's really not that hard... and they're really very good :)

Have a delicious day!
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Behold... the power of two great basics...

If baking is something you want to do... often... and well... it's essential to find your "go to" recipes. Having them in your repertoire is the first step to making your baking life easier and less time consuming. Never underestimate the power of a good basic cake recipe... and a good basic frosting recipe too :)

For me, the recipe for Dorie's Perfect Party Cake (DPPC) has proven time and time again to be the best basic cake recipe I have in my baking arsenal. I've shared it with you guys in in this post and I've heard from so many of you that it is indeed the perfect basic cake recipe.

I used it here for lemon cupcakes that I topped with cream cheese icing

I used it for the orange cupcakes and raspberry cupcakes pictured below (as well as the first/cover photo)...

But it started here when I baked it as the recipe was written for one of our Daring Bakers challenges (really really bad pic below, sorry, it definitely does not do the recipe justice)

The recipe itself is so incredibly versatile that I recommend it every time I get asked if I have a good basic cake recipe. I've made it more often than I can count and I don't have pictures of each time. DJ's son "graduated" from 5th grade yesterday and I'm going to use the recipe again for the cake I'm making for his party this weekend. Some of you have read the recipe and told me "but I don't want to make a *lemon* cake". Okay fine... omit the lemon zest in the batter and you have a basic white cake... a VERY GOOD basic white cake :) The point is that by having a good basic cake recipe, you can add extracts/flavorings and colors (like I did with the orange cupcakes and raspberry cupcakes posted a couple of times above) and play around with it and customize it to your liking. Heck, add chocolate chips or pistachios if they float your boat. As long as you have a good solid consistently performing basic cake reicpe, you've opened up a world of possibilities!

Dorie also has a really great Cocoa Buttermilk cake recipe too... it's in her book Baking From My Home To Yours (available thru Amazon.com at an amazing STEAL of a price!). I used it to make these cupcakes pictured below...

And I've already pointed you guys to my absolute favorite buttercream icing in this tutorial of how to make it. I wish I could take credit for creating that recipe... but it's just something I came across one time and found it to be so perfect that I recommend it anytime someone asks "do you have a good buttercream icing recipe". Same rule applies here about having a good basic recipe and being able to add to it. I've added lemon zest to it (paired it with the DPPC recipe) and created these...

... paired it with the DPPC recipe and just colored the icing to create these...

... added cocoa powder to it and created chocolate buttercream... added peanut butter to it and created peanut butter buttercream... added mint extract and icing color to it and made mint buttercream as well

But these are my no-brainer, go-to, consistent performers. You probably have others in your toolkit that are perfect for you. I've found that if you don't have great basic recipes, you end up in a never-ending-cycle of time-consuming experiments... sometimes at the expense of your guests taste buds.

I recently made three dozen cupcakes for a pot-luck dinner and instead of using my tried and true DPPC recipe, I decided to try something new. In a word... no good. They were dry and lacked flavor - redeemed solely by the beauty of the frosting. But beautiful and delicious frosting can only hide so much and more than half the cupcakes were untouched. Sure didn't make me feel very good but I learned a valuable lesson... to trust what had proven itself worthy of being called my go-to white cake recipe... to trust in Dorie's Perfect Party Cake :)

If you're going to invest the time and money (hey, ingredients aren't cheap! LOL) to make something from scratch, you owe it to yourself (and your guests) to make it look **and** taste good too. So invest the time and find your great basic recipes... then trust them :)

Have a delicious day!
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