(Recipe from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking)
I am what I would call a casual baker -- I bake once or twice a month and usually stick to simple recipes. I am not, however, a casual eater. I have an insatiable sweet tooth, and have been sampling pastries my entire life. A good bite of say, chocolate soufflé, or a cold piece of leftover pie for breakfast, are the types of things I dream about. My interest in tasting has inspired me to experiment with more serious baking from time to time, including a 4 month stint as an assistant baker at an adorable family-owned bakery just outside San Diego. But professional baking is not for me; I find the hours intolerable and the work physically taxing while mentally unstimulating. So I have chosen to pursue other topics for my career, and the time I spend baking now is minimal. I have recently joined the Daring Bakers - an online baking club - to challenge myself to more difficult recipes, even if only once a month. This was my first challenge.
I was really looking forward to this recipe because I absolutely love pastry, and particularly fruit-filled pastry. I had a few road-bumps early on in the recipe -- not able to obtain a vanilla bean and not having a proper mortar and pestle to grind my cardamom pods -- but both were solved easily enough. I skipped the vanilla and ground the cardamom pods as best I could with a regular household hammer. This worked reasonably well, but I have to admit my dough ended up faintly dotted with coarse cardamom shrapnel.
Once the dough was made, I was out of the woods. I had no trouble adding the butter block, folding, chilling, rolling, etc. It was time consuming (watching Inside Man with Denzel Washington helped with the wait periods) and slightly messy (a hot day in
I chose 2 fillings for my braids. One is my favorite pie filling – a simple mixture of peeled peaches, blueberries, cinnamon, sugar, and a bit of flour, none of which are measured and each of which I could eat on its own. The other I found in one of the great pastry cookbooks of all time: Bernard Clayton’s The Complete Book of Pastry. I took the recipe for the filling for his almond tarts, and made it as listed. The recipe called for grated lemon rind, which I thought would go nicely with the orange zest in the dough. I spooned these into to center of my unfolded braids, and then crossed the arms of the dough over the fillings. I brushed with egg wash at the last minute and popped them in the oven.
My first bite of dough hot out of the oven was one of the best bites in my history. AMAZING. I was slightly less pleased 2 hours later when the braids had cooled a bit, but it was still delicious. My test tasters (a group of 7 family friends, plus my boyfriend) raved. It was a success!