This month’s Daring Baker’s challenge, hosted by Kelly of Sass and Veracity, and Ben of What’s Cookin’ was to make a braided Danish. The second I saw the challenge, I started sweating bullets. This seems to be a theme for me with Daring Bakers. I had no idea how gluten-free flours would behave in a laminated dough, and I planned for failure. Actually, I planned for multiple failures, going so far as to find an alternate recipe in case I really struggled. Surprisingly though, my braid came off without a hitch. I tried sharing my technique, but other gluten-free bakers using similar flours struggled (nobody used the exact same combination). Over the course of the month, it became clear that part of the problem was the way gluten-free doughs behave in the fridge. Sweet rice flour (also known as gelatinous rice flour) holds up to refrigeration better than most, but refrigerating a dough overnight or for five hours, might not be the best plan. Several other gluten-free bloggers had success cutting the fridge time down to 10 minutes between turns and 30 minutes in the freezer before the final shaping. I think these times sound a little quick… the butter needs a chance to harden again or you will lose the flakiness. If I did it again, I would still let the dough rest 30 minutes between turns. But I would definitely cut the final fridge time down from five hours to something more like one or two (or use the freezer for 30). I have changed the directions to reflect these changes.

For the record, I would definitely make these danishes again. In fact, I meant to, all month. But, I’m trying to look good in a bathing suit this summer, and I devoured my entire braid in less than 24 hours, with minimal sharing. Needless to say, a repeat performance was not going to help my waistline. Still, my braid was flaky and flavorful. I loved the flavor of cardamom and orange in the pastry and the simplicity of the cinnamon-sugar and walnut filling. I will play more with the filling next time, but sometimes combinations are classic for a reason.

You can almost see the flakiness in this picture:

Recipe after the Jump

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This cake almost killed me. Or, at least, the buttercream almost did. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more frustrating sojourn in the kitchen, and I definitely have new respect for the “daring” portion of the name “daring bakers.” Of course, it was largely my fault. For the record, you absolutely cannot use salted butter in buttercream frosting. Also, it is not a good ideas to add a sugar syrup that has crystallized, unless you want chunks of sugar in your buttercream. If you use a crystallized sugar syrup and salted butter together, I guarantee you, you will be dumping your buttercream down the drain.

Which explains why there had to be a second attempt at the buttercream. On the second attempt, I decided to throw caution to the wind, and make a honey syrup instead of a sugar syrup (it was actually part honey, part sugar), but it wouldn’t get up to 225 degrees. I used it anyway. I ended up with liquid buttercream. Apparently, if I had stuck part of the frosting in the freezer and the rest in the fridge and tried beating again, I might have been able to rescue it. I didn’t know that at the time, down the drain it went.

Which explains why there was a third attempt at buttercream, with my last two sticks of butter. I almost followed the recipe the third time. But, I cut down the sugar, so there would be room for the sweetness of the honey. After some frantic whipping, and a moment of panic when this buttercream too seemed headed for soup, the buttercream pulled together beautiful. Still, exhausted and cranky, I vowed I would never make an Italian buttercream again.

Until, I tasted this cake. It was wonderful, restaurant-worthy, wedding-cake-worthy, cure me of my baklava cravings-worthy. I had worried that the cake would be too sweet, with honey flavoring so many layers. I had also worried that the pistachio flavor wouldn’t come through. But mostly, I worried that the entire cake would end up in the trash, inedible. But instead, I couldn’t have been happier with the results. I would make this cake again, and not change anything. Each layer of this cake really does sound a distinctive note, and they blend together in beautiful harmony. The joconde is light and airy, with a hint of cardamom and a strong pistachio flavor. The buttercream is creamy, and tastes of honey, but the flavor is muted, almost subtle. The syrup adds hints of lemon and cinnamon and a rich jolt of honey that plays off the mellowness of the buttercream. With a rich taste of pistachio and a creamy decadent texture, the mousse was my favorite layer, and would make an excellent dessert by itself. Finally,the glaze, which I almost couldn’t bring myself to add, cuts the richness of the mousse, picks up the lemon notes of the syrup and gives the cake balance.

I know this recipe looks intimidating. But if you want an adventure in the kitchen, and a rich reward at the end, give it a try. This was my first Daring Bakers’ challenge, and I look forward to many more

Recipe after the jump