I love to bake bread, especially specialty breads. And this lovely braided creation is no exception. Even the precarious step of transferring the 2 lengths of cut dough to the baking pan is my kind of fun. (And yes, I know I have a warped sense of what’s actually “fun”!) It’s just that it is such an exciting challenge to see if I can actually perform this task when it appears that the bread is just aching for the chance to jump out of my hands and land “jelly side down” on the floor. But I was given some advice, maybe the most important advice I ever received regarding working with food, from a cake decorating instructor I had many years ago. (I’ll tell you why I took the class after I finish telling you about my instructors’ sage advice. Don’t let me forget.)
Anyway, she said, and I quote (not quite verbatim of course because it was 30 plus years ago) – “always remember, you are a human being and have a brain; whatever ingredient or ingredients you are working with are inert and if they ever had even the tiniest of brains, like a pig or a chicken, it’s gone by the time you get it under your fingers. Therefore fear not, You Are in Charge!”
OK, so maybe those weren’t even close to the words my instructor used. She only informed us that any boo-boo made while building a wedding cake can be fixed by the judicious use of frosting. I just naturally took it to the next logical level. And I have kept it at that level ever since.
Food ingredients are inanimate. They can’t fight back, and even though it might feel like an ingredient or group of ingredients is being extremely recalcitrant, I’ve learned to not take it personally. I just get even. I wrestle the ingredient(s) until I have it or them under my thumb. (You too are welcome to adopt my very practical approach to working with food.) So where was I? Oh yes. Why I took a cake decorating class.
Our extended family decided we would cater the appetizer and cake reception for our good friend Jim’s wedding to Margo, the girl of his dreams (and ours too if truth be told). Fixing the appetizers was no problem. We had all been fixing party food for years. However, none of us had ever baked, let alone decorated a wedding cake. So my good friend Dodie and I decided to take a class. We did, we did, and the food was. We did take a class, we did bake 2 wedding cakes, and all the food including the cake was a success. Now I know you are asking yourself what all this has to do with a braided Danish? It has nothing to do with a Danish per se, but in practicality, it’s my way of reminding you not to be afraid of any recipe just because it might look a bit intimidating. And I have to admit, braiding this bread is a bit of a pain. But so what? Paying taxes or going to the dentist is no walk in the park either. Just think of it as an adventure and know that the rewards will be ever so worth the effort.
So next time you need a beautiful breakfast bread, give this recipe a go. Just put on your best “Atilla the Hun” persona, and manhandle the dough like you have been building this bread since you were 14 years old. You are in charge! Power to the people!
- 1 scant T. or 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- ¼ c. warm water
- ½ c. warm milk
- 3 T. sugar
- 4 T. (½ stick) un-salted butter, room temperature
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground cardamom
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 3½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour (more or less)
- canola oil
- ¾ c. dried cranberries or cherries
- 1/3 c. brandy
- 6 T. butter, room temperature
- 1/3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¾ c. finely chopped almonds
- 3 T. sugar
- 1 tsp. almond extract
Powdered Sugar Glaze:
- 1 c. powdered sugar
- 2 T. brandy (use the leftover brandy from re-hydrating the dried cranberries or cherries)
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let it proof for about 5 minutes. Add the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, and eggs. Stir to mix. Add three cups of the flour, one cup at a time. Beat for 2 minutes after each addition. Add enough remaining flour, a small amount at a time, until you have a soft dough. Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add more flour if needed to prevent sticking. Pour a little oil over the dough and roll up into a ball with your hands, making certain the dough is completely covered with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours. Meanwhile prepare the filling.
Place the dried cranberries and brandy in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir the cranberries and let them cool. Drain the dried fruit reserving the liquid to use in the glaze. In a small bowl, combine the drained fruit, butter, flour, almonds, sugar, and almond extract. Set aside.
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and place it on a lightly floured board, kneading just enough to release any air bubbles. Roll the dough into a 9×30-inch rectangle. Crumble the filling over the dough to within 1-inch of the edges.
Starting on a long side, tightly roll up the dough, (just like for cinnamon rolls) pinching together to seal. With a sharp knife, cut roll in half lengthwise. Carefully transfer each half (cut side up) to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Loosely twist the halves around each other, keeping cut sides up.
(And you’re right, not an easy step.) Shape into a round, pinching the ends together to seal. Let it rise, uncovered, in a warm place for about 45 minutes.
Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. While the bread is baking, whisk together the powdered sugar and reserved brandy and set aside.
When the bread is done baking, remove it to a rack to cool, pan and all. Let it sit for a few minutes then drizzle the glaze over the warm bread. Allow to cool completely before serving. Best served the day prepared. Based on a recipe on the kitchn.com website.
Note:For Christmas, decorate with red and green candied cherries and holly.