Last summer my cousin Emily pulled a tray of exquisite Danish pastries from the oven. She had been working for hours to roll out the dough, layer it with butter to get the puffed effect, and twist it into beautiful spirals filled with cream cheese and jam. To say they were divine is an understatement.
Ever since, I’ve been consumed by the desire to learn how to make them myself. With the arrival of a lovely Kitchen-Aid mixer on my birthday, I no longer have any excuses. Yesterday’s project was a crash course in Danish-making, self-taught by reading Rose Levy Beranbaum’s tome of expertise, “The Pie and Pastry Bible.”
The result was pretty darn good, if I may say so myself. Not perfect – I overbaked them slightly and they weren’t quite as puffy as commercial varieties, but delicious nonetheless. The process, though time-consuming, was much easier than I thought. Here’s how I did it, so you can give it a try, too.
Authentic Danish Pastry Dough
2/3 cup milk
2 tbsp (1 oz) sugar
1-1/2 tsp (0.5 oz) instant yeast
2-1/4 cups (10.5 oz) unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1 large egg (approx. 3 tbsp)
18 tbsp (9 oz) cold unsalted butter (soften 1 tbsp)
In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, place all but 1 tbsp of the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and cardamom. Add the milk, egg, and the 1 tbsp of softened butter and, with the dough hook, mix, starting on low speed, until the dry ingredients are moistened. Continuing on low speed, beat for 4 minutes. The dough will be silky smooth and have cleaned the sides of the bowl, but it will stick to the bottom and be very soft.
Lightly oil a medium bowl and, with an oiled spatula, scrape the dough into it. Turn it over to oil the top; cover with plastic wrap and allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Using the oiled spatula, gently fold the dough to deflate it slightly and refrigerate it for at least 2 and up to 8 hours.
Place the remaining 1 tbsp of flour on a large sheet of plastic wrap and place the remaining 17 tbsp of butter (straight from the refrigerator) on top. Wrap it loosely with the plastic wrap. Pound the butter lightly with the rolling pin to flatten and soften it, then knead it together with the flour, using the plastic wrap and your knuckles to avoid touching the butter directly. Work quickly, and, as soon as the flour is incorporated, shape it into a 5-inch square (no thicker than 3/4 inch). At this point, the butter should be cool but workable, 60F. Use it at once, or keep it cool. The butter must not be colder than 60 F when rolled into pastry, or it will break through the dough and not distribute evenly.
On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to an 8-inch square. Place the butter square diagonally in the centre of the dough square and lightly mark the dough at the edges of the butter with the dull side of a knife. Remove the butter and roll each marked corner of the dough into a flap. The dough will be slightly elastic. Moisten these flaps lightly with water, replace the butter on the dough, and wrap it securely, stretching the flaps slightly to reach across the dough package. Refrigerate it for 30 minutes (not longer).
On a well-floured surface, keeping the dough seam-side up and lightly floured, gently roll the dough package into a long rectangle 7 inches by 16 inches. Brush off all the flour from the surface of the dough and fold it into thirds as you would fold a business letter. This is the first “turn.” Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes and up to 40 minutes between each turn.
Before each subsequent turn, position the dough so that the closed side faces your left. Clean the work surface, reflour it, and then press down on the edges of the dough with the rolling pin to keep them straight. Roll and fold the dough and second time exactly the same way, but turn the dough over occasionally to keep the seams and edges even. Be sure to roll into all four corner of the dough and use a pastry scraper to even the edges. Do a total of 3 turns, resting the dough for 20 to 40 minutes between each. Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours before shaping it.
Danish Pastry Twists
1 recipe Danish Pastry Dough (above)
optional: 1 recipe almond paste (below)
1 recipe Honey-Stung Cream Cheese Filling (below)
sour cherry or other jam
Transparent Sugar Glaze:
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tbsp + 1/4 tsp water
1-1/2 tsp lemon juice
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes. On a floured counter, roll the dough to a rectangle 6 inches by 14 inches. It will be about 1/2 inch thick.
If using optional almond filling, cut the dough lengthwise into 2 strips, each 3 inches wide. Spread one with the almond paste and carefully place the second strip on top, lining up the edges. Roll the rectangle back to 6 inches.
With a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Twist each strip tightly. Keeping the end of the strip against the counter with your left hand, lift the strip so that the rest of it is raised off the counter and coil the strip around the end, maintaining the twist as your spiral around and allowing the rest of the strip to fall on the counter as you go. Tuck under the last 1 inch of dough to keep the coil from unrolling and lift it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Continue making twists, placing them at least 2 inches apart. They will now be about 3 inches in diameter.
Cover them lightly with plastic wrap and set the pans aside in a warm spot. Allow to rise for about 2 hours. They should almost double in size and be very light to the touch.
Preheat the oven to 400 F at least 2o minutes before baking. Set an oven rack at the middle level before preheating.
With lightly greased fingers, gently make about a 2-inch depression in the centre of each twist. Spoon about 1 tbsp of cream cheese filling around the outer edge of the depression and spoon about 1 tbsp of jam into the centre.
Five minutes ahead of baking, place a pan with an inch of boiling water in the lower part of the oven. Place the twists in the oven, lower the temperature to 375 F, and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. (After 10 minutes, turn and reverse the positions of the baking sheets.)
While the twists are baking, prepare the transparent sugar glaze: In a small bowl, place the powdered sugar. Whisk in the water and lemon juice. The glaze should be the consistency of egg white. If necessary, add a bit more sugar or water.
When the twists are done, remove the sheets to racks and brush immediately with the glaze. Cool for 20 to 30 minutes.
These are best eaten warm, while the outside is crisp and light and the center soft and tender, or within 3 hours of baking. They can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Almond Paste (from Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid)
1 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg white, briefly whisked
1/2 tsp pure almond extract or vanilla (optional)
Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse briefly. Add the sugar, butter, egg white, and extract, and process until smooth. Use immediately or refrigerate in a well-sealed container . Let it stand at room temperature before using.
Honey-Stung Cream Cheese Filling
1 package cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp honey
Beat together in a bowl until light. Use immediately.