Monday, December 21, 2009

Braided Danish Coffee Cake

Braided Danish Coffee Cake from The Art and Soul of Baking

Serves 6 to 8

This beautiful coffee cake, woven in a braid, never fails to bring a gasp of delight. If you use half the recipe of the Danish dough, you can put together two coffee cakes at a time—one to bake today and the other for the freezer, ready to be thawed and baked for an easy weekend surprise. The filling can be either Almond or Cream Cheese Filling (page 119). If you assemble two coffee cakes at a time, you might want to try a different filling in each coffee cake.

For an extra layer of flavor, sprinkle the top of the filling with finely chopped dark chocolate, and/or a ½-inch-wide length of raspberry or apricot jam. In the summer, use fresh raspberries, blueberries, or sliced plums instead of jam.

¼ recipe (about ¾ pound) Danish Dough (page 114)
½ recipe (about ¾ cup) Almond or Cream Cheese Filling (page 119)
1 recipe Apricot Glaze (page 119)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk or cream
3 tablespoons (½ ounce) raw sliced almonds (if using almond filling)
Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting), or Confectioners’ Sugar Icing (page 415), for garnish

Rolling Pin, Pastry Brush, Parchment Paper, Ruler, Chef’s Knife, Silicone or Offset Spatula, Baking Sheet, Small Bowl, Cooling Rack

1 Roll and shape the dough: Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Place the dough in the center and dust with flour. Roll into an 8 by 12 by ¼-inch rectangle. (If you are using half the Danish dough and making two coffee cakes, roll the dough to 16 by 12 inches, then cut in half to form two 8 by 12-inch rectangles.) Brush any flour from the surface of the dough. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit the baking sheet, transfer the dough to the paper, and position so that a short edge is parallel to the edge of your work surface.
2 Using the ruler and the back of a chef’s knife, mark a 2-inch-wide strip down the center of the dough, from top to bottom. This is where the filling will go. On either side of the filling area, make diagonal cuts in the dough, 3 inches long and 1 inch apart. Use a silicone or offset spatula to spread the filling down the center strip of the dough. Braid the dough by crossing alternating strips of dough over the filling from the right and left, working from the top down. When you reach the bottom, press the dough to seal it, then tuck it under slightly. If you are making two coffee cakes, braid the second rectangle of dough the same way, then freeze to bake another day (see “Getting Ahead,” page 122). Transfer the coffee cake, still on the parchment paper, to the baking sheet.
3 Proof the dough: Cover the braid and baking sheet loosely with plastic wrap and let the coffee cake rise in a cool room-temperature spot until it has nearly doubled in size and looks like it has taken a deep breath, about 1 hour. Don’t try to rush the rise by warming the coffee cake—you don’t want the butter to melt.
4 Wash with egg and bake: Preheat the oven to 400°F and position a rack in the center. Chill the coffee cake in the freezer for 10 minutes or in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. This will firm the butter and create a flakier texture. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and milk, and brush the top with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sliced almonds, if using almond filling. Bake the coffee cake, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, for 22 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and immediately brush with a thin layer of apricot glaze. Use a fine-mesh strainer to dust the coffee cake with the confectioners’ sugar, or drizzle with icing. Cut slices with a serrated knife.

The coffee cake will keep, unwrapped at room temperature, for 1 day. For longer storage, double-wrap in plastic and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw at room temperature for 1 hour, then reheat in a 350°F oven for 9 to 12 minutes, until the crust is crisped and the center is warmed through.

Getting Ahead
You can spread the process of making the Danish dough and baking the coffeecake over 2 days, as described in the “Getting Ahead” notes for making croissants, page 110. You can also freeze the coffeecake already shaped (through Step 2). Freeze on the baking sheet until firm, then wrap twice with plastic wrap. Freeze for 4 to 6 weeks. To bake, transfer the coffeecake directly to a prepared baking sheet and let it defrost and proof at room temperature, covered loosely with plastic wrap. It should be ready for Step 4 in 2 to 3 hours.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fleur De Sel Caramels

From Tips Cooks Love: Over 500 Tips, Techniques, and Shortcuts That Will Make You a Better Cook!, by Sur La Table, and Rick Rodgers

Makes 36 Caramels

Salt is usually considered a savory flavor, but it is often sneaked into caramel desserts where it acts to heighten the interplay between bitter and sweet. A pinch of crunchy sea salt flakes on each caramel identifies it as an out-of-the-ordinary candy experience.

• 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
• 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
• 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon, plus more for topping
• 1 2/3 cups sugar
• 1/3 cup light corn syrup
• 1/3 cup water
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Lightly butter an 8-inch square metal baking pan. Line the bottom and 4 sides of the pan with parchment paper, allowing the paper to overhang the rim on all sides by about 2 inches. (The overhang will be used as “handles” to remove the caramel slab from the pan.)

2. In a saucepan, bring the cream, butter, and salt to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often until the butter melts. Remove from the heat.

3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring just until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to boil without stirring, occasionally swirling the pan by its handle and wiping down any sugar crystals that form on the sides with a natural bristle brush dipped in cold water, for about 6 minutes, or until the syrup is dark golden brown—about the color of a new penny. The syrup should have a slightly acrid aroma, and a whiff of smoke should rise from the surface.

4. Gradually and carefully add the hot cream mixture—it will bubble up—to the caramel. When the bubbles subside, clip a candy thermometer to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often to avoid scorching, until the temperature reaches 245° to 250°F (firm-ball stage). Remove the heat and stir in the vanilla.

5. Pour into the prepared pan. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let stand until tepid, about 30 minutes.

6. Using an oiled chef’s knife, score the top of the candy into 36 equal portions. Sprinkle a tiny pinch of salt into the center of each portion, and press with your finger to help it adhere. Let cool completely, 3 to 4 hours.

7. Lift up the paper handles to remove the caramel slab in a single piece. Peel away the parchment paper. Using the oiled knife, cut the caramel through the scores into 36 individual pieces. Wrap each caramel in a square of waxed paper, twisting the ends to seal. The caramels can be stored in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to 1 week.

Tips for Caramels

• Do not stir the syrup until the butter and cream are added.
• Wash down any crystals that form on the inside of the saucepan with a natural-bristle brush dipped in cold water.
• Judge caramel by color and aroma, not with a candy thermometer.
• Add vanilla extract to hot mixtures after they are finished cooking.