A flaky braid holds a filling of roasted rhubarb and almond paste—and memories of a long-ago lesson in the art and science of puff pastry.

By Leah Eskin
February 22, 2021
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Credit: Brie Passano

Michael arrived, blinking through bright blond bangs. In one hand he gripped an enormous suitcase, in the other a tiny snapshot of his girlfriend back in Denmark. He moved into my older brother's vacant bedroom, ours for a yearlong high school exchange. By coincidence, I was stuffing my own enormous suitcase for a college year in France.

During the few days we counted as brother and sister, I offered to bake Michael something familiar. He called his mom long-distance and took down a list. Ordinary ingredients (flour, eggs, butter) destined for something extraordinary. I beat and baked, producing a loaf that was low and dense and—from the look on Michael's face—unrecognizable.

What did I know of Danish pastry? Nothing, save those sticky sweets curled into cellophane.

Abroad, I studied rich runny cheeses, crisp tender breads and tall delicate desserts. My favorites were constructed from puff pastry— butter wrapped in dough, then rolled and folded, over and over. While baking, the butter lets off a puff of steam, separating dozens, even hundreds, of flaky layers. This alchemy, I learned, leavens the Austrian strudel, the French croissant and the Danish, well, Danish. No wonder my first effort fell flat. I practiced the roll-and-fold over and over, working my own exchange: ignorance for bliss.

Almond-Rhubarb Braid recipe I make my pastry from scratch using a technique that fans of The Great British Baking Show may know as "rough puff." The recipe also includes a Shortcut Danish Braid method that uses package puff pastry.