Baking to soothe the soul

Nothing like digging into scary dough to keep my mind off of scarier things

Today was unbelievably tough. It all started yesterday night, actually, when we got the call that our beautiful one-year-old nephew Xavier was in critical condition at the Children’s Hospital, in infectious diseases. They didn’t know what’s wrong, and after a day of surgeries and crashes, they still don’t know what’s wrong. Z spent most of the day at the hospital, but I was banned from getting anywhere near infectious diseases. So, I’m at home and freaking out, feeling completely helpless.

To keep my anxious hands busy, I decided to tackle a recipe that scares me: Apple Danishes.

The reason why this scares me is because I am a truly atrocious baker. I’m not looking for sympathy, I think I’m a pretty decent chef, but there is something about baking, particularly about making dough, that I have just never gotten the hang of. But with many empty evening hours to fill, why not give it a try?

The first part of the danish is the toughest, the dough.

Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

3/4 cup hot water

2 tablespoons butter at room temperature

Combine 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and instant yeast in a mixing bowl. Add the water and room temperature butter and beat for 1 minute. Stir in the remaining cup of flour and mix well. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to an oiled bowl, turning to coat the surface of the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Transfer the Danish dough to a floured surface and punch the dough down. Let the dough rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Roll the dough out into a 13 x 8-inch rectangle. Place the dough on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

I was actually able to get it to a decent consistency, smooth and elastic as the recipe called for. However, for whatever reason, I can never get a dough to actually rise. When they say dough should rise to twice it’s size? Nope. When you need to punch the dough down, I’m not sure the tough, dense dough is supposed to keep the shape of your knuckles quite so much.

Oh well, the next part is my favourite. Cooking up delicious, tart apples with butter and sugar.

Filling:

2 1/2 cups apples – peeled, cored, and chopped

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Place the chopped apples and 3 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan. Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix well; add the mixture to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the apples are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the filling to cool.

Luckily, I made way too much of the filling, so I have tons of leftovers. Perfect for dripping over vanilla ice cream as a treat.

Next up, the part where you make it look beautiful.

Turn the baking sheet so that you face the short side of the dough. Spread the apple filling down the center third of the dough. With a sharp paring knife, make cuts in the dough along the right side, starting each cut about 1/4 inch from the apple filling. Cut to the edge of the dough strip, with each cut angled to about 4 o’clock. Each strip of dough should be about 1-inch thick. Repeat on the left side of the dough, angling the cuts to 8 o’clock.

Starting at the top, fold the dough strips across the apple filling, alternating left and right. The pastry will look like a long braid. Pinch the top and bottom ends of the braid to seal in the filling. Cover the pastry and let it rise at room temperature until the dough is puffy, 30 to 40 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Bake the braid for 20 minutes, covering it with aluminum foil during the last 10 minutes of baking to prevent over-browning. Remove the pastry from the oven and allow it to cool.

So, as I brought this out of the oven, the kitchen filled with … sworls of smoke. I was a little perturbed, but under the layer of smokiness, the danish was still doing okay. All the sugary bits on the paper had burnt up, but left the pastry in pretty good condition. The one (big) disappointment. I had put this on parchment paper to bake, and bake it did. Right into the bottom of the danish. There was no real saving it. I had to cut off the bottom. I guess next time, both greased and parchment paper?

And lastly, and probably most importantly, the delicious glaze that turns this into a sugar-lover’s dream, is the glaze. So delicious.

Glaze:

2 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 teaspoons milk

To make the glaze, heat the 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Swirl the pan occasionally and cook until the milk solids turn brown and give off a nutty fragrance, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool slightly. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Mix in the milk a teaspoon at a time until the glaze is thin enough to drizzle. Decorate the Danish braid with the glaze.

The end results were … okay. This danish was not mind blowing. Forget about having to cut off the bottom or risk a mouthful of paper. The dough was tough and had a vague yeasty flavour. Certainly not anything you would drool over in a bakery. I certainly looks pretty, though, doesn’t it?

Oh well, I’ll file it away as a good effort. Someday, I’ll learn to make beautiful dough. In the meantime, it took my mind off of plight of the little guy struggling right now. All our thoughts and love to him and his parents tonight as we wait to hear how he is doing.

Word of the day:

Tenacious: holding fast; characterized by keeping a firm hold; highly retentive: a tenacious memory; holding together; cohesive; not easily pulled asunder; tough.

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