Denmark // Wienerbrød // Danish Braid

We’re at D now.  D as in Denmark. D as in… Danishes.  Oh yes, I am going there.  I’ve kept it pretty serious up until now with entrees and mostly solid, hearty fare with only a little bit of sweetness in the Belgian waffles.  So now it’s time to break out the sugar, jam, and puff pastry.

These are pastry perfection.  They are essentially puff pastry (which equals LOTS OF BUTTER) filled with the perfect amount of lightly sweetened filling.  Fun fact—the name Weiner points to the history of the pastries.  In the 1850s, Danish bakers went on strike, forcing owners to hire from abroad.  Viennese bakers answered the call, bringing with them their very own recipes and traditions to Denmark and becoming quite popular with the tempting new dainties.  Once all of the ruffled feathers were smoothed and the Danish bakers went back to work they kept the new recipes around, tweaking them to align with Danish traditions and preference, and what we know as the danish was born.

Usually, danishes in America are served as individual pastries, which are completely acceptable and adorable.  But I wanted to try my hand at the other traditional way to make them by creating a sort of braided loaf.  And I loved the way it turned out!  It was beautiful and elegant, and even if it didn’t look perfect, it tasted it. 

The cardamom was a new flavor for me to work with, and though I wasn’t sure about it at first, the flavor is perfect.  A more floral, aromatic spice, it seems to be felt in your mouth rather than tasted, and doesn’t have the punch of something more pungent like cinnamon. 

I love the flexibility that these afford.  You can choose different flavor fillings (I opted for wild blueberry jam), and while it’s lightly sweet and delicious on it’s own for a weekend breakfast, a little drizzle of icing can add to the dessert wow factor.  

Wienerbrod // Danish Braid
Makes two 16" braids

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cold unsalted butter
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100 – 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Preserves or jam (blueberry, strawberry, or seedless raspberry are all wonderful options)
  • 1  egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons water

Optional Toppings

  • Sliced Almonds
  • Pearl Sugar

Icing:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

Directions:

Cut butter into ½” chunks, and place into a large mixing bowl with flour.  Cut flour and butter together with a pastry blender or knives until the butter is the size of small beans.  You want to leave large enough pieces to make nice butter layers in your dough, which create a puffy, flaky texture.

In a small bowl, dissolve active dry yeast in warm water (between 100-110 degrees). Let stand for 10 minutes before stirring in the cream, cardamom, salt, eggs and sugar. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour and butter, and use a large spoon or spatula to turn the flour/butter mixture into the liquid. Carefully mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated and a dough is beginning to form. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours, overnight or up to 4 days.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn out onto a floured surface. Roll out dough to make a 16 to 20 inch square. Fold dough into thirds, rotate dough a quarter of turn and fold into thirds again, making a small square. Turn over dough. Repeat rolling and folding another three times (for a total or 4 times folding). Divide into to small squares, then wrap dough and chill for 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll each square of dough into a 12” x 16” rectangle. If not making both braids at the same time, you can leave the second square in the refrigerator.

Spread filling down the length of center of your rectangle, covering the center third of the dough. Cut slanting strips at 3/4 inch intervals (see picture) along both sides towards the center. Criss-cross strips over the filling. Carefully move braid onto your baking sheet and let dough rise for 15-30 minutes, or until pastry looks slightly puffy. Beat the egg and water together and gently brush onto the dough with a pastry brush and if you want to, sprinkle with pearl sugar and/or almonds.

Bake 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. To make icing, mix together powdered sugar, warm milk and vanilla or almond extract. Drizzle icing on top and let set before cutting. Enjoy!