Long title? It is, indeed. The hardest part of the new challenge was to choose just one or two fillings for the Sherry Yard’s Danish dough. As soon as the new challenge was announced, my mind got overwhelmed with the filling ideas, not to mention – pastry forming ideas, as well. The first braid was the attempt to combine a lot of my favorite things inside one Danish crust. It was natural to me – I like my Danish filled well: it’s not all about the crust, I believe. It seemed logical to go with fresh seasonal fruits, so I chose Bing cherries as one of the filling components. I marinated them in Kirsch which enhanced their flavor (oh, well… I just like booze in my desserts, I guess…). The cherries was placed on the chocolate (brownie-like, almond flavored) and the home-made curd cheese (with addition of sour-cream and lemon zest) fillings that I formed into the logs and placed side-by-side in the center of the rolled dough. As I mentioned, the cherries was a second deck. And toasted coarsely chopped whole almonds went on top of the cherries. After the braid was baked and cooled, I drizzled an icing sugar glaze (diluted with Kirsch again) over the top and sprinkled some toasted sliced almonds over the glaze. I really liked the outcome. All flavors complemented each other nicely without overwhelming or competing. As you can imagine, one moderate slice was quite satisfying with all this filling inside.
Makes one very large or two, more reasonably sized, braids
For the dough:
Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough
For the dough (Detrempe):
- 1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
- Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 2 large eggs, chilled, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the butter block (Beurrage):
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
For the chocolate filling:
- 4 cup (3/4 lb) chocolate cake scraps
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 tbsp Kirsch
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 1/8 tsp salt
For the curd cheese filling:
- 1 ½ cups (12 oz) fresh curd cheese 
- ¼ cup + 2 tbsp sour cream
- Zest of 1 large lemon
- 3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted (or to taste)
- 1/8 tsp (pinch) salt
- ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
For the cherry filling:
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup Kirsch
- ¼ cup brandy (you can use all Kirsch or all brandy, whatever you have in your home bar)
- ¼ cup water
- ½ scraped vanilla bean used for making the dough
- 2 cups Bing cherries, stemmed and pitted
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup whole toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
For the egg wash:
Makes enough for all pastries below
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp milk
For the clear glaze:
Makes enough to glaze all pastries below
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tbsp light corn syrup
For the sugar glaze:
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- About 2 tbsp Kirsch
- A drop of almond oil (or pure almond extract)
- ¼ cup toasted sliced almonds for sprinkling
Make the dough:
Combine the flour and salt together, set aside.
Warm the milk to 105F. Pour the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the milk, let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk to fully dissolve. Stirring with a wooden spoon, slowly add the sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Start adding the flour, one cup at a time. After about 2 cups of the flour have been incorporated, attach the bowl to the mixer base, and gradually add the rest of the flour mixing with the dough hook on low speed. After all flour has been added, increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and pat into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Combine the butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
After the detrempe has chilled for 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with the flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right third of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you are not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do so, roll the dough out to about 1 inch thick, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. The Danish dough can be kept in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Makes enough dough for 2 braids
Make the chocolate filling:
Process the cake scraps in the food processor until fine crumbs form. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine. The mixture should be soft but firm enough to hold its shape. Add a little bit more Kirsch or water to archive the right consistency if needed. Transfer the filling onto a large piece of plastic wrap, shape into a sausage, and refrigerate until needed.
Make the curd cheese filling:
Put the curd cheese through a sieve. In a medium bowl combine the cheese with the remaining ingredients, mix well. You can cover the bowl with the filling with plastic wrap and refrigerate; or scrape the filling onto a large piece of plastic and form into a sausage. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Marinate the cherries:
Combine the sugar, Kirsch, brandy, water and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cherries. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract. Cover the pan and let the cherries steep for 1 hour. Cool to room temperature. At this point the cherries are ready to be used. The cherries can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, tightly covered.
Make the clear glaze:
In a heavy saucepan, bring all of the ingredients to a rapid boil. Remove from the heat and let cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Form and the braid (or braids):
Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle (if making one huge braid) into ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the 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.
Form the chocolate and the curd cheese fillings into the logs, each is about 2 inches wide and 2 inches shorter than the length of the rolled dough. Place these two logs, side by side, down the center of the rectangle leaving one inch at the top and bottom of the dough free. Drain the cherries (reserve the syrup for another use) and place them on the top of the chocolate-cheese filling. Sprinkle the chopped almonds over the cherries. 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. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of the dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.
Whisk together the egg and milk in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.
Proof and Bake:
Spray some cooking oil onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
Near the end of proofing, position a rack in the center of the oven and
preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
If possible, place the baking sheet with the braid on into another baking sheet of similar or larger size to protect the bottom from overbrowning. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. If the top of the braid is getting brown too quickly, cover it loosely with foil. Cool for 5 minutes, then brush the clear glaze over the top of the braid.
Make the sugar glaze and finish the braid:
Whisk the ingredients together until completely smooth. If the glaze is too thick, add a little bit of Kirsch or water until the glaze reaches the right consistency for drizzling.
When the braid has cooled, set the rack with the braid over a baking sheet and drizzle the sugar glaze over the top. Then sprinkle the toasted sliced almonds over the glaze.