Making this large braid is easier and quicker than forming individual Danish pastries. Though the beautifully woven top of the pastry looks complicated, it is not difficult to do.
One 4 x 12-inch braid, about 10 servings
1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 recipe Danish Pastry Dough (see below)
Egg wash: 1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon milk or water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
One 12 x 15-inch cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
- To make the filling, place the walnut pieces in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse 5 or 6 times at 1-second intervals. Remove 1/4 cup of the chopped walnuts and set aside for finishing the braid. Continue to pulse the remaining walnuts until they are finely ground, but not pasty. Combine the milk, sugar, and butter in a heavy nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Add the ground walnuts and breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until the filling thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and cinnamon, and scrape the filling into a bowl to cool.
- Lightly flour the work surface and the dough and roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Slide the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until the filling has cooled to room temperature.
- Remove the pan of dough from the refrigerator. Mark but don’t cut the chilled dough into 3 sections, each 4 inches wide and 12 inches long. Slash through the 2 outermost sections diagonally downward at 1/2-inch intervals. Spread the cooled filling over the center (unslashed) section. Fold the slashes one at a time over the center filled section, alternating a strip of dough from first one side then the other. Cover with a dry towel or plastic wrap and allow the braid to rise at room temperature until the braid puffs slightly, up to 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
- Paint the braid with the egg wash. Draw the brush against the rim of the bowl to remove excess wash, to avoid having the egg wash puddle under the braid. Sprinkle the braid with the reserved chopped walnuts. Bake the braid for about 20 minutes, until it is well risen and a deep golden color.
- Slide the braid, still on the paper, onto a rack to cool.
- To make the icing, combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth and place over low heat, stirring constantly, until the icing is warm, about 110 degrees. Drizzle the icing from the end of a metal spoon into the braid in an irregular pattern. Slide the braid off the paper onto a platter or cutting board.
DANISH PASTRY DOUGH
1 cup milk
5 teaspoons (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
14 ounces(3 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
About 3 pounds dough
- In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the milk just until it feels warm, about 110 degrees. Pour it into a small bowl and whisk in the yeast. Set aside.
- Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade; pulse several times just to combine. Add the 4 tablespoons of butter and pulse 6 or 8 times, until the butter is absorbed and the mixture looks powdery. Add the eggs and yeast mixture and continue to pulse until the dough forms a ball. If the dough refuses to form a ball, add up to 3 tablespoons of flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice after each addition. To mix by hand, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir well to mix. Rub in the butter by hand, being careful to leave the mixture cool and powdery. Beat the eggs into the yeast mixture and add to the bowl. Stir vigorously with a rubber spatula until the dough forms.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (you may need the help of a scraper) and fold the dough over on itself 6 or 8 times. Sprinkle with up to 3 tablespoons more flour if the dough is very soft. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 8 hours.
- To prepare the butter layer to be incorporated into the dough, scatter the flour on the work surface. Remove the butter from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and roll the butter in the flour to coat it. Pound the butter with a rolling pin, gently at first. Turn it often to keep it coated with flour. The butter should become soft and malleable, but not begin to melt. Press the butter occasionally with your fingertip to check its consistency—it should be cool and pliable. Flouring your hands with any flour left on the work surface (up to 1 tablespoon additional flour), quickly knead the butter into a solid mass and set it aside for a moment. If the room is warm, refrigerate the butter.
- Scrape off any bits of butter stuck to the work surface and flour it lightly. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn the dough out in one piece onto the surface using a rubber spatula. Make sure the dough does not fold over onto itself or it may become too elastic to roll. Lightly flour the top of the dough and, using the palm of one hand, press and pull it into a 6 x 12-inch rectangle.
- Divide the softened butter into 8 fairly equal-sized pieces and press each quickly between the palms of your hand to flatten it. Distribute the flattened pieces of butter in a 6 x 9-inch rectangle over the bottom two thirds of the dough.
- Fold the top (unbuttered) third of the dough down over the middle (buttered) third. Then fold the bottom (buttered) third up over the other layers to make a 5-layered package of dough and butter.
- Position the dough on the work surface so that the fold is on your left. Lightly flour the work surface and dough and, with a rolling pin, press a series of horizontal lines in the dough to flatten it gently. You don’t want the butter to squeeze out the sides or the dough to become thinner at the edges, so when the dough is approximately 1/2 inch thick, roll it, without rolling over the edges, to make a 12 x 24-inch rectangle. Fold the two narrow ends of the dough to within 1/4 inch of the middle, leaving a 1/2-inch space between their ends. Fold over again at the space to make 4 layers.
- Repeat step 8. Loosely wrap the dough in plastic wrap, then slide it into a large plastic bag, to allow room for it to expand.
- Refrigerate the dough for 2 t o 24 hours after preparing it. Freeze for longer storage: Allow it to rest in the refrigerator for several hours, then remove it from the refrigerator, deflate it by pressing it gently with the palms of your hands, and cut off the amount you wish to freeze. Double-wrap the portion in plastic wrap and freeze for as long as several weeks. Defrost frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight before using it.