I know. This is one of those things that you look at (especially if you have young children) and I know you think "Who does she think she is? People never make stuff like that! Who has the time anyway?" But, hark! Before you get all up in arms I have good news for you (further down) and an explanation for me. Me? Well, I have been participating in what I like to call "The Pastry Frenzy." I don't know why but I just got this wild hair last week and made apple strudel from my own phyllo dough, then there were the chocolate croissants from homemade danish dough and now this. I just got to thinking why doesn't anyone make their own pastries? Why does everyone buy store bought puff pastry and phyllo dough? Why do you hear people always cautioning you to never attempt to make your own dough unless you want to pull your hair out over frustration by the end of it all? I pondered such things. Then I decided I needed to know. I had to find out how hard it was. I had to feel the pain! Mostly, I needed to know whether homemade was worth putting in the effort or if store bought was just as good.
My findings so far are this: if you were ever thinking of trying to make your own phyllo dough for apple strudel, DON'T BOTHER! Just buy phyllo dough. It's not necessarily hard, per se, but tedious and extremely time consuming and unless you are a VERY patient person (and even if you are) you will inevitably rip the tissue thin dough while you are stretching it to a see-through almost unachievable state, thus resulting in thought of "this better be damn good!" only to realize upon the first bite that store bought is perhaps, gulp, better. NOOOOOOOO!
Danish dough, for things like chocolate croissants and this raspberry cheese braid is a whole other animal. It was great! Sure it takes something like 6-7 hours to complete, but it's not hard! Just time consuming. So I say, if you are feeling methodical and have the day to blow make homemade dough as it is better than store bought puff pastry. However, if that isn't even a remote option for you, you can still make this recipe using the store bought (the good news) and it's still really, really good and fast! See? Your "I would not, could not with a goat, I would not, could not on a boat, I would not could not....attitude about this braid just turned into "I could, I would with a goat, I could, I would on a boat, I could, I would wearing mittens, I could, I would make this in my kitchen!!!! I do like raspberry cheese braids Sam I am, I do like them, but not with green eggs and ham....eeer, or something like that.
Let me explain a couple things first. I find much more success in an otherwise complicated recipe if I fully understand exactly what is going to go down and why. Here are my pointers about this one. You are basically going to make a simple dough for your first step. It will take all of 5 minutes. You will then let it rest in the fridge for a half hour and you will be feeling victorious. In step 2 you will make a butter block. A butter block is cold butter (it has to be cold so don't try and bring it to room temp) that has been blended with flour. This is done easily in a stand mixer, but can also be done by beating the butter and flour together with a rolling pin until combined (Just mash over and over until there are no more lumps). It's cinchy (especially if you use the kitchen aid) and you will still be feeling victorious. The butter block will be folded into your dough several times later on to fully incorporate layers of butter throughout, thus making it a flaky light pastry. (you cannot achieve this by just blending it in, trust me. So don't try, this is an art people!) In step 3, you roll the dough out into a lightly floured surface (so it doesn't stick) into a rectangle about 18x13 inches and 1/4 inch thick...This is where people freak the heck out. Don't. It's just a measurement, so get your your trusty ruler out or if you are lucky like me you own a pastry mat that has measurement already on it. The measurement doesn't have to be exact, but make sure you're pretty close. Step 4: You situate the dough so that the short side is facing you (so you have a longer, narrower strip of dough going out like you are on an airport runway. Then you spread that butter and flour mixture you made over only the top and middle thirds, leaving a inch border around the dough so that when you fold it together the dough can stick to itself to seal shut rather than onto the butter to squish out. So now you should be left with 1/3 of the dough on the bottom of your runway closest to you, bare, no butter, non. Then you fold that naked 1/3 up over the butter like you are folding a business letter. Then you fold the top third over that (like you are folding a business letter). Now there should be no butter visible. This is called your "first turn" and you will have to do 4 of those before the dough is done, between refrigeration. In step 5, you will refrigerate the dough for another 30 minutes (this is to keep the butter cold) before you will roll it out again (situating it so that the folded side is to your right and the open sides is to your left) in an 18x13 inch rectangle and fold like a business letter. After doing this the third or fourth time, butter inevitably squirts out, but it's OK. Just flour over it so your rolling pin doesn't stick and keep going. In your step 6, you refrigerate the finished dough again for a longer period of time (at least 5 hours or overnight) perfect if you are having this for breakfast really, because you can do all of the prep the night before and finish it in the morning. Just make sure you get up early, because you still have to roll it out, fill it and let it rest for 2 hours at room temperature before baking. But, it's worth it. You'll see. But guess what? All you people who are going to skip the whole making your own dough thing and use puff pastry...all you have to do it thaw your dough, roll it thinner, fill it and bake it. No waiting, no proofing, just instant gratification! And, who couldn't appreciate that?
Something to note; This recipe for dough makes enough for 2 large braids. The filling recipe is enough for only for 1 braid. I like to freeze half of the dough and keep it for another time and make the braid with the remaining dough. I just cut the dough in half after it has refrigerated overnight and roll it out to an inch thickness (detailed instructions below) and freeze before rolling out my dough for the braid.
Danish Raspberry Cheese Braid
adapted from Sherry Yard's "The Secrets Of Baking" by way of Sass & Veracity
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped (optional)
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Egg wash: 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (to be used later)
Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds if using, eggs and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt and flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing the speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough with the dough hook for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap (I just skipped the baking sheet and wrapped it in plastic wrap). Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2 sticks cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
While your dough is resting in the refrigerator, make your butter block. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature until you are ready to use.
After your dough has chilled for 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter top and roll it out into an 18x13 inch rectangle. (Just lean all your weight onto the rolling pin if it seems like it is hard to roll. However, if the dough ever shrinks back after you roll it at any time, let it rest for a couple minutes and then try rolling again). position the dough so that one of the short ends is facing you. Cover the upper two thirds of the dough evenly with the butter leaving a 1-inch border of the dough along the sides and at the top. Fold the bottom third of the dough, without the butter, on up over the middle third of the dough with butter.Fold the top third of the dough, with the butter, down over the middle third like you are folding a business letter. Press the edges of the dough together on all 3 sides to seal in the butter. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. your first turn is now done. After the 30 minutes, position the dough onto the floured work surface and position it so that the folded side of the dough is to the left and one of the short ends is facing you. Roll into a 18x13 inch rectangle and fold the bottom third up and the top third down, as if folding a business letter. wrap in plastic and put into the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes. The second turn is now complete. After 3o minutes, take the dough out and rotate it so that the folded edge is on the right and roll again into an 18x13 inch rectangle. Fold again like a business letter, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for another 30 minutes. The third turn is now complete. After the 30 minutes give the dough it's final turn, making sure that the folded edge is on the right before rolling. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 5 hours or overnight. At this point, if desired, the dough can be frozen for up to 1 month for future use. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then foil and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Before you are about to roll out and fill your dough to bake, place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, vanilla and salt until just combined. Don't whip. Set aside until ready to use. Later, you will spread some raspberry preserves over the cream cheese filling. How much you use is up to you. I used about 1/3 cup for the whole thing.
When the dough has been chilled for 5 hours or overnight, cut into half as you will only be needing half of the dough to make 1 braid. save the other half to make another braid (or freeze for later use per the instruction above). Roll out the dough on a floured surface into a 15x20 inch rectangle (mine was a little smaller, but not by much, maybe 14x18?) if the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on a baking sheet that has been covered with parchment paper or a silpat. VERY IMPORTANT! Place the dough on a baking sheet! (I totally skipped this step and assembled the braid on my counter and had a heck of a time transferring it to my baking sheet)
Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5 inch long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you've already made.
Spoon the cream cheese filling down the center of the braid, making sure to not spread it right up to the edges of the cuts or it will leak out during baking. Keep about 1/4 distance from your filling and where the cuts start. Spoon the jam over the filling (use lemon curd, alternately if you like lemon better). 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. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.
Cover the braid with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with Pam or oil so it doesn't stick and leave out at room temperature for 2 hours until it's almost doubled in volume. (I cheat a little, which I encourage, and warm up my oven to the lowest temp possible, then let it cool off a bit so it's around 100 degrees in there. Then, I place the braid in the oven and the heat helps the rising process along.)
After the 2 hours is up, heat your oven up to 400 degrees. Beat 1 egg and an egg yolk together (to create an egg wash) and brush it over your braid. When the oven has reached 400 degrees, put the braid in and bake for 10 minutes. Then, rotate the braid so that the side previously in the back of the oven is now in front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
Stir and drizzle over the cooled braid. Use more milk for a thinner glaze, less for a firmer glaze.
You. Are. Done.Pheww!
For all the rest of you who are going to cheat and use frozen puff pastry, just make the filling as directed and thaw the pastry per the package directions. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin to roughly 1/8 inch thickness. Make cuts as directed for the danish dough above, fill with you filling of choice per instructions above, braid, brush with egg and bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Glaze. Enjoy.
Other filling options are to substitute lemon curd for the raspberry filling. Sauteed apple filling or chocolate or nutella and raspberries. The list goes on, really and that is what google is for. Some people just put fresh fruit like strawberries inside. For me though, it's got to be the cream cheese and raspberry filling because it tastes exactly like a fresh Entemans Raspberry Danish, like they sell in grocery stores, except, like, a million times better. I used to love those Entemans Danishes! But, I'm never going back.