It all started when I found some big, beautiful organic blueberries for a steal. I just could not not buy them. So, of course I went into a Google/Pinterest frenzy trying to find some yummy uses for them. I was drawn to a few different things, but one recipe that really jumped out was a braided danish. It was a blueberry remake of this Apple one from Annie’s Eats. It reminded me of the Entenmann’s cakes that I used to devour as a child, so, I bookmarked the links and then went back to the daily grind.
Fast forward ~5 days when I had finally carved out a few hours for some nostalgic baking. I pulled out my eggs, flour, sugar, cream cheese, blueberries….’wait where are those darn blueberries?!’ I’ll tell you where—my scattered brain had already used them for blueberry pancakes and then my hubby finished them off in his smoothie. But it didn’t matter. It was too late. I was already committed and salivating. I forged ahead with the original recipe by Annie, but I didn’t have apples either so we were doing this straight up cream cheese. Frankly, this is how my boys prefer it anyway. There was some talk about using fruit preserves, but I thought that would make it over-the-top sweet like the store bought variety. I switched things up a bit by using dry active yeast and proofing it, thinning out the cream cheese mixture because I didn’t have fruit to cut into the heaviness, and I left out the glaze–instead just doing a generous drizzle of icing on top.
Despite my gross lack of ingredients, this danish turned out amazing. So amazing, in fact, I made it not once; but two days in a row. My husband finished off the last of the first one after returning from the gym famished. This sent my little Asa into a tizzy about how he didn’t get his fair share, because he was busy playing. My boys have yet to learn a concept that I learned very early on: when food is on the table, you better grab as much as you can before your bear of a brother (or in their case, father) eats it all. So I promised him a new batch for breakfast the following morning.
On the second go around I did put a scant amount of chunky cherry preserves on about 1/4 of it. It was a little too sweet, but the extra flavor was worth it to me. I also cut out a substantial amount of butter. My first braid was pooled in butter when I pulled it out of the oven. I left out 4 Tbl and was still left with some nice buttery flakiness, minus the pool of butter. The recipe below reflects the butter I used on my second try. I plan on tackling the original apple version around Easter time, even if it is not especially seasonal. I highly recommend looking at Annie’s instructional photos. These are very helpful…and pretty :)
Lemon Cream Cheese Danish Braid Recipe
For the Danish dough:
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
- 1½ tsp. instant yeast*
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¾ tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup milk (Annie uses whole, I used skim)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
*Instant yeast = rapid rise yeast = bread machine yeast
For the butter square:
- 8 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
- 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
For the cream cheese filling:
- 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1 Tbl. sour cream
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- ¼ tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 2 tbsp. sugar
For the drizzle:
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tbsp. milk, plus more as needed
If you are using instant yeast, skip this step.
If you are using active dry yeast: Warm the milk slightly. Test it like you would a baby’s bottle. If feels hot, it’s too hot. You want just warm. Mix in a sprinkle of sugar and then scatter the yeast over the top. Mix lightly and let sit for 5 minutes, or until frothy.
To make the dough, combine 1¼ cups of the flour in a bowl with the yeast, sugar, and salt. Place the milk and egg in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and knead until a smooth ball of dough forms, about 7-8 minutes. (The dough should be sticky but if more dough sticks to the bowl than the dough hook, add the remaining ¼ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
To make the butter square, toss together the butter pieces and dough on a clean work surface. Smear the butter back and forth using a bench scraper against the work surface until they have combined into a smooth homogenous mixture. Wrap the butter mixture in plastic wrap and use the edges of the plastic to form it into a 5-inch square. Refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Lay the chilled dough on the work surface and roll into a 9-inch square. Place the butter square diagonally on top the dough and remove the plastic wrap. Fold the corners of dough over the butter so that they meet in the middle of the butter square. Pinch the ends of the dough together to seal. Using a rolling pin , tap the dough from the center outward until the butter begins to soften and become malleable. Gently roll the dough into an 11-inch square, re-flouring the work surface as necessary to prevent sticking. Fold the outside edges of the dough in toward the center in thirds, one overlapping the other, like a business letter. Repeat this process folding the other direction to make a square. (This completes two turns.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Roll the dough into an 11-inch square once more and repeat the two turns as before (business letter, then square). Wrap in plastic wrap again and chill once more for at least 4 hours. (At this point the dough can be refrigerated overnight).
To make the cream cheese filling, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well until smooth and blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.
When you are ready to shape and bake the danish, preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Roll the chilled dough into a 14-inch square on a large, floured sheet of parchment paper. (Annie warns to flour generously as she had some stickage issues. I did not flour too heavily and it wasn’t a problem. I did add that extra 1/4 c of flour while making the dough though so maybe that was the difference. I also cut down the butter so there’s that too.)
Spread the cream cheese filling evenly down the middle third of the dough. Spread any fruits or preserves that you are using over the cream cheese mixture.
Using a pizza cutter or a paring knife, cut the outer thirds of dough into ¾-inch strips so that the cuts are diagonal to the filling. Alternating sides, fold the strips of dough over the filling, crisscrossing the strips over the center, until the entire Danish is braided.
***Because my dough base was not that wide as Annie’s somehow, I improvised with this shorter strip method used here by Deb @ Smitten Kitchen. She just cuts the strips straight out rather than on a diagonal. ***
Transfer the braid, still on the parchment, to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and rise at room temperature until slightly puffy (it will not double), about 30 minutes. (I forgot to let it rise both times, and it didn’t really affect mine. They were both still fluffy and flaky.) Bake until the braid is golden brown, 22-25 minutes, rotating halfway through baking.
To make the drizzle, combine the confectioners’ sugar and milk in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time as needed to make it a drizzle-able consistency. Drizzle over the finished braid. Slice crosswise and serve.
Hope you enjoy this lemon cream cheese Danish braid – my family sure did!